It was supposed to be a relaxing winter break. On December 15, 2017, I had just finished taking my last final for the fall semester and was incredibly worried that I had failed it. It was Introduction to Semantic Theory, which I needed to take for the Linguistics major. At that moment, it was the thing that weight the heaviest on my mind; what would happen if I failed it? Would I have to retake the class? Would I fall behind in the linguistics major?
That evening, my mom and I went to visit my (paternal) grandmother in the hospital, who was suffering from extreme dehydration and malnutrition due to Alzheimer's. I was so happy to see her, and yet I knew my "grandma" wasn't really there; she'd asked questions about classes, and final exams, only to repeat them moments later out of frustration with herself that she couldn't remember what her only granddaughter had just told her. My dad hadn't come with us, as he had a pretty bad cough that he feared he'd spread to his mother.
The next day, my mom told him very sternly and lovingly, to go to the doctor for this cough, and I'm so grateful she is as stubborn as she is, otherwise, it may not have been caught in time. "It just isn't normal. You've had this for too long. You need to find out what it is." I agreed with her completely, but for some reason, my stomach knotted relentlessly at the prospect. Of course, I told my self, it's just a cough; sure, he's had it for some time, but perhaps it's allergies. It couldn't be anything more than that. Right?"
What started as a trip to FastMed Urgent Care at 3 in the afternoon became a trip to the ER, per the nurse's suggestion. A scan was done (the kind, I can't recall), and the next five words the PA said to my dad kickstarted the merciless gut-wrenching I'd have for the next 8 months: "You have an abdominal mass." What I felt next was helplessness and hopelessness blended into a terrible cocktail of tears, hyperventilation, confusion, and anger. Irrationally, I looked to the PA, absolutely praying that she'd say to me, "I'm just kidding! He's fine. It's just the flu, and the mass is just a benign cyst," or anything of the sort.
I vividly remember her wearing bright pink scrubs, with a black long sleeve shirt under the scrub shirt, and a black Columbia vest over it. As I covered my face in my hands while doubled over in the chair, I felt the PA very gently place her hand on my back and heard her stifle her tears. I was simultaneously crippled with the fear that this would be the worst case scenario being brought to fruition, and the clarity and understanding that it most likely was.
That, in turn, became a transfer from our local hospital to my university's ER at 3 in the morning that night, causing my mom and me to be awake for 37 straight hours. It still sounds unbelievable to say that only one week had passed since his admittance to UNC Hospitals that the doctor walked in, and said that unfortunately, the mass was a tumor and was malignant. We learned that the cough (unrelated to the cancer, but had been exasperated by it) had irritated the tumor and caused swelling. My dad was diagnosed with colon cancer.
In February, a mere month and a half after the diagnosis, my grandma passed away, without ever knowing the plight her son had to hide from her; our rationale was that, with her memory fading each and every day, why risk cancer being the one thing she holds on to?
As I write this, I find it incredibly hard to believe that we only have about 3 months left of 2018; the better part of this year was filled with quite a bit of despair, anxiety, and grief and has pretty much continued to carry on without my entire presence of mind.
During this, however, I learned quite a bit about my own mind and my feelings, my values, my support system and how to cope when life fast-pitches a lot of lemons at you. The first thing I learned: If you let your mind control you, it will, and under no circumstances should you push down your feelings, never to acknowledge them again. Your feelings are always valid. Don't be afraid to let them show, and don't be afraid to vent to your friends. They will listen to you, and they will comfort you, and they will be there for you. I can't say how thankful I am for them. Sometimes, all you need is a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on.
The second thing I learned, is that life does not make you, you make your life. I am a person who before this, identified very heavily with my academics, and that successes and failures alike were, in a sense, reflective of my intrinsic qualities. This is not the case, nor is it to say that you should be ambivalent about your endeavors; always give 110% into everything you do, no matter what, but be cognizant that you are being the best person you can be, and that you should strive to do this is all aspects of your life, whether it be in your academics, friendships, and relationships, or your hobbies. Don't eke by with the bare minimum on your essay, be ready with open arms for your friends and family, and pour your heart and soul into your favorite activities. Yes, life may pitch some curveballs at you, but a pitcher was never the sole determiner of the outcome of a game.
As for your support system, surround yourself with people who will make sure that you know you are loved, supported, and will be there for you when you feel like the whole weight of the world is on your shoulders. Whatever it is that puts you at ease, embrace it wholeheartedly. I can and will admit that there were times where all I wanted to do was scream, and unfortunately, I took that out on people that I am closest to; in almost all cases, this was my mom. We did it to each other, but we always realized that we have each other's backs no matter what. Make sure you do that for yourself, through means which you find the most serenity. If you are religious, understand that God is not punishing you; as they say, God only gives you what you can handle. Pray that He will let it all be alright. I did, but as I became more frustrated, I found myself wanting to separate myself from religion.
Finally, know that you will get through it and that you'll be better for it in the end. I promise you will.
As for me, I sure got a sizable amount of lemons lobbed at me. I didn't want them, but myself, my mom and my dad all grabbed a bat and swung back at full force. As of August 3, after 8 months, 10 chemotherapy treatments and 4 long surgeries, my dad is officially cancer free, and I've learned to cherish every moment of life because of it.