When Someone You Love Has Cancer

First, you don’t believe it. Cancer is something that happens to someone else, to some other family. Cancer is something to be sad about, something to wish cured, but it is not something that belongs in your own family. When you find out that, in fact, it is in your own family, you simply don’t believe it. The words rectal cancer and tumor suddenly become meaningless. They have been emptied. The words mean nothing to you. Whatever you thought cancer was, this cannot be it, and therefore everything is up for redefinition. You hear his voice and it does not sound like the voice of a man with cancer. Therefore, he does not have cancer. Not really.

You read cancer websites. You don’t think about prognosis. You want more information, but you want to remain ignorant, you want the words to keep their hollowness, you don’t want them filled up, and you don’t really want answers, because they might be answers you cannot handle. You stop thinking about next year. Facebook suddenly seems awfully silly.

But the more you read about cancer, the more you convince yourself that it’s not that big a deal. Lots of people have cancer! Tons of people have cancer! Everyone has cancer! This is nothing! Cancer becomes something else, now that it is attached to someone you love; cancer is redefined as something simple, routine, ordinary, common even. Words like radiation and surgery seem perfectly normal, just the way of things, nothing to be afraid of.

You ride those thoughts as long as they’ll take you, and you go to bed and you sleep, though before you fall asleep the word repeats itself like a mantra, to the beat of your heart: Can-cer, can-cer, can-cer… You dream of holding office hours and strange and wild things happen but in your dream no one has cancer, and when you wake up it’s the first thing you remember, and you want to go back to sleep, to return to your dream, and you can’t.

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