battle

March wasn’t a great month. It marked a significant change in my life that I’m still trying to understand.

And two of my former co-workers died within weeks of each other. Cancer.

I hadn’t worked with them in a few years so it didn’t hurt as much as I thought it might. I guess I hadn’t worked with them or even seen them in several years and didn’t think I’d be seeing much of them again anyway. In some ways, I’d already made peace with it. It did give me pause, though. Especially for one of them. Very sweet lady. Never married. No children. Didn’t have much going on except for being active in her church and taking care of her ill parents. And by the time they passed and she was able to live her own life, she got breast cancer. So then she had to put her pursuits on hold to take care of that. And she sought treatment and wanted to continue it all the way up until the end. Died a few days after her birthday. 

I looked up her obituary and it was little more than just a paragraph: she passed, her funeral was the next day, and the names of family members she left behind. A life summed up in three sentences.

People say she lost her battle with cancer. But I don’t like that phrasing. To me, people don’t ever lose to disease or depression. Because both are deadly and death cannot be defeated.

Why is it with any other form of death, it’s not a win/lose situation? You wouldn’t say someone lost their battle with a bullet or barreling bus. 

Maybe it’s just me but when someone says “lost” there’s an implication of weakness. And we often equate losing with failure. But there’s nothing weak about dealing with cancer. I can’t imagine anyone stronger. In fact, as I was writing this entry, I came across an article in my local newspaper about a woman who has had cancer 3 separate times in 21 years and has managed to get rid of it every time. Think of the toll it takes on your body, your time, your energy, your mental and emotional state, and your relationships with others. Now think about having to endure that 3 separate times. No matter the outcome of that diagnosis, that requires strength.

Because, to me, life and death is not how you measure strength. Cancer will kill you. It doesn’t clear up on its own. You can’t dissolve it away by will. It requires medical intervention. You basically have to douse your whole body in poison and hope it kills enough of the bad stuff and not too much of the good stuff. No, the real strength comes from enduring those painful treatments, the drives to the hospital, the waiting rooms, the vending machine foods, the worry of it going away, of it coming back, medical bills, puking, losing all your hair and the contents of your stomach. The pain, the radiating suffering. The surgery. The hospital stays. The antiseptic smell. The needles and gluey cafeteria mashed potatoes. The tears in your family’s eyes. The chemicals leaving traces of themselves in your skin, the sadness written across the faces of those you love. And knowing all this and picking up and carrying on for another day anyway.

And even if you don’t carry on, even if you let the disease take your body, that’s not losing either. I also recently read an article about a young woman who was diagnosed with cancer and chose to travel the world with the time she had left instead of spending it in a hospital room. She chose not to seek treatment and let her cancer run its course. It’s all a personal choice and one that should be respected. You wanna fight this head on or you wanna let nature take over? Either way, it’s a tough choice. And accepting the inevitable requires a certain strength and resolve as well. 

I think about my former coworker lying in a hospice bed. The last thing she said to her caretaker was she wanted to get out of that bad and back to a hospital for treatment. She knew if she could just get more treatment, she would be okay. She was always stubborn like that. Refused assistance. Determined to take care of her parents, and eventually herself, all on her own. But she was beyond treatment. And she lay there and she closed her eyes and her mouth and a few days later, she died. But she didn’t lose.

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