Cancer is Personal
Wednesday, December 28, 2016
The following is the 4th in a series of letters about how Cancer is Personal. This is a letter from the 15-year-old stepdaughter of Sheila Walsh, a member of The H Foundation Advisory Board, who is currently fighting stage 4 metastatic bladder cancer.
When I first met Sheila, she was so different than the person I know today - but it's not because of cancer. It's because she married my dad, and apparently when you marry someone, they change. Who knew? It was about two and a half years ago that they married, but I've known Sheila since kindergarten because she's the mom of my best friend. In this way, I've seen cancer up-close from several perspectives: The love of my dad's life has cancer. My best friend's mom has cancer. And, a woman who has been a friend, confidant, teacher, role model and mother to me has cancer. Cancer is personal to me. Really, really personal. That's the first thing you learn when someone you love gets sick.
The second thing is this: there's a lot of waiting. This may be the hardest part. I can't imagine how Sheila does it, and for me, cancer treatment and all of the waiting can be unbelievably hard to endure. It is horrible and scary. I've always looked up to Sheila for how healthy she is, and how determined and how brave she is, yet there's no hiding the physical toll it has taken. But harder still I think is the waiting. "Is the treatment working?" Wait and see. If not...wait for what comes next. Sheila told me this would be harder for us than for her. "I'll be gone, no more pain," she said. "You and your dad and brothers and sister will suffer longer." It takes a lot of courage to tell your daughter this.
But the third and most important thing you learn from cancer is the ferocity of love. If Sheila didn't have us, she wouldn't have chosen some terrible treatments just to buy additional time. I think she wants to show us something. I think it's that she still has a purpose here in our lives. I think she wants to show us what unconditional love looks like. She loves us. She loves my dad. My dad, the man who has always been my rock, can't bear to see us suffer. Seeing his wife suffer like this has truly shaken him, but he knows, like Sheila does, that we can take it. They both know that we will gain so much more from our time together, no matter what.
My friends sometimes ask if I think there's a cure for cancer. I do. Because cancer is personal. It doesn't just affect one person; it affects each person - each of us. And something that so negatively affects each of us doesn't stand a chance against all of us. Especially if ever we have witnessed unconditional love.
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