I wrote a column about the heroes of our time, but then I scrapped it because yesterday another friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer.
Cancer has been in my life for so long now, that I don't remember a time before it. My son was diagnosed at three months with neuroblastoma, my father at 62 with pancreatic. My Aunt fought brain cancer. My friends have had breast, lung, colon, bone, liver and more.
These are my heroes. They are fighting the Great War of our time. By no choice of their own, they were thrown into the ring with this despicable disease, and they fight like warriors. They share the same enemy, they beat insurmountable odds. They battle their insurance companies over treatments, they worry about their children, their partners, their parents, their friends. They plan for worst-case scenarios, they plan for the party they will have when they hear the word “remission.” They deal with insensitive questions on a daily basis.
The doctors call it a “journey.” A cancer “journey.” I personally hated it when they said that word to me all those years ago when it was my son we were talking about, but as time has passed, I understand the meaning behind it a little bit better. It is a journey of sorts, as every emotion we are capable of surfaces. The warrior and their loved ones hear things they never expected to hear, they walk down roads they never thought they would, and go from unimaginable highs to devastating lows. And they still keep going. Journey seems like a word that choice figures into, or at least it feels that way to me. This journey is thrust upon us, with no choice and no control given to us. And what do we do? We rally. We battle. We fight. The parents of the child with cancer become warriors, the woman with breast cancer becomes a warrior, the man with colon cancer becomes a warrior. They change “cancer victim” into “cancer warrior.” And they are my heroes.
I'm willing to bet every single person reading this right now either knows someone fighting cancer, or has fought it, or is fighting it right now. Every one of us has felt that gut punch, every one of us has prayed, has cried, has sat in quiet shock. We've all asked the same answerless question: why. The low moments are shockingly bad, the angry moments are terrifying, the sadness goes to new depths. But those moments pass as the battle begins.
Don't say, "I know how you feel,” "you'll be fine,” "you need to talk about this,” "don't worry,” "what can I do?" or ask any specifics. If it's time to talk about it, you will know because they will instigate it. Tell them you are ready to listen when they want to talk. Instead of offering to do something, do something. Drop off dinner in disposable containers, and do not stay when you do. Send a card, even if it says, "thinking of you.” Drive their carpools, play with their children, do their grocery shopping, and remember always: others are hurting and scared, too. They need your love, your encouragement and your attention.
I am a true believer in the power of positive thought. I believe in the power of positive energy. I remember distinctly on days when I didn't want to cope, someone — even a stranger — that I would come into contact with would say to me, "I'm praying for all of you" or "I'm sending you all of my positive thoughts and energy.” Every single time that happened, I rallied. I have watched my friends rally when they received a phone call, a card in the mail, a hug. Those of us sitting on the sidelines have a powerfully important job to do. No matter your belief, no matter your religion, no matter how you do this, it's our job to make sure our warriors know we are with them, that they are loved, and that we are here when they want us to be.
My scrapped column started with, "who are your heroes?" Today go find your hero. Say a prayer for them. Send them strength. Touch base. Rally your warriors. We can't fight for them, as much as we would like to, but we can stand beside them, and we can make sure they know they are loved, they are not alone, and that there is always, forever hope.
To my warriors, past and present: I am proud to know you. I am proud to be a part of your life, to be a part of this journey that you did not choose. You are my heroes. You are teaching me, like you are teaching so many, the life lessons that matter. Know that you are not a victim; you are a warrior.