"It's a tumor." Three words that you never want to hear.
"It's malignant." Two words that are even worse.
We hear about cancer all the time, sometimes it's every day. When someone in your town or on your Facebook friends list says that their loved one has cancer, it seems as if the shock is absorbed. Cancer has become so common that we instinctually say the same things. "I'm so sorry, that's horrible, I'll be praying." As nice as it is that we know what comforting thing to say, it seems terrifying that we don't even have to think before saying it. It isn't the same as hearing 'He has smallpox' because we see cancer everywhere.
But what isn't talked about, is what it feels like to hear those words. So, let me walk you through it.
I've recently found out that my grandfather has a brain tumor. At first, we thought it was another stroke since the symptoms seemed similar to his first stroke. We were ready to face it head on as a family. So, the doctors conducted a routine MRI, expecting to see exactly what they were looking for.
That isn't what they found.
Instead, they found a four-centimeter tumor growing in the center of his brain. There it was, the culprit; right there in black and white. My world stopped spinning in that very moment.
I don't remember a lot after hearing the words 'brain tumor', as I'm almost certain I blacked out at that moment. I was sitting on my bed, nonchalantly holding my phone when my mom rushed in. Her words were so fast, they went in one ear and out the other. I dropped my phone, stopped breathing, and was absolutely sure that I was going to throw up.
Everything started moving so fast after that. My aunt was in my room, trying to calm down my hysterical crying. My mom was packing up, saying that they were transferring him to a much bigger hospital to discuss surgery options.
I didn't care about any of that, my mind was blank...
Shock is an indescribable feeling. Everybody knows what it feels like, but there isn't a way to explain it. I counted about 10 seconds before everything came crashing down and the tears started to pour. No. This wasn't happening, was it? We didn't have much cancer in our family, a few distant cousins and what not... how could this be?
The grief rollercoaster is something you'd think would take time to set in. No, not this time. Every stage of grief occurred in just seconds, repeating from sadness to anger to denial and back again. Somehow, my mind was both moving rapidly, and not moving at all. Someone mentioned the possibility of it being just a benign cyst, that didn't help matters much. There wasn't anything to be said that could help take away the feeling of horror. It could've been a benign growth the size of a piece of corn for all I cared, I would've had the same reaction.
After they all left for the hospital, I decided to stay back and hold down the fort. The next thing I remember is that I was standing in the kitchen, staring out the window while 'Landslide' by Fleetwood Mac was playing on my phone. I've always used music to help calm myself down, but this seemed like our family was the stars of a terrible anti-depressant commercial. I had called one of my friends who lived out of town while at college and had barely choked out the words 'cancer' before she jumped in the car and rushed out to see me.
Seeing her headlights pull up in my driveway was like seeing a shining beacon of hope.
I ran outside, sans shoes and in pajamas and collapsed in her arms in the middle of the driveway. She stood there for God knows how long, just holding me while I bawled my eyes out. I didn't care who saw me, it didn't matter. It felt like nothing mattered anymore.
I received a call that night from my mother while she was at the hospital with the family. She told me that they were sending him home and that the doctors decided against surgery. I could feel it in my bones, it wasn't good news.
When she came home a few hours later, the look in her eyes was enough to know we had a real problem on our hands. What was thought to be an operable and benign tumor, was instead very inoperable, and most likely very malignant. It felt like the bad news couldn't get worse, just piling on like dirt with a shovel. How was it possible that our world could blow up so quickly?
She had told me that he didn't look good, he was confused and the neurological symptoms were worsening rapidly. He had asked about calling his parents, not remembering that his mother died this year and his father's death being 8 years previous. I thought about climbing under the covers and never coming out again. I wanted to go permanently mute and never see the light of day. More than anything, I wanted to make it all go away. When something happens that is to this degree of terror, there is an empty void that is filled with the feeling of helplessness.
I realized that there was no amount of money in the world that could fix this problem.
A lot of times, we look to God in situations like this. But in all honesty, I wanted to be angry at God. We had seen so much death in our family this year, but this was on a whole new level. This was my Grandad, the man who raised me. He taught me to walk and talk, he potty trained me and taught me how to tie my shoes. All I could think was 'He won't get to see me graduate, he won't get to walk me down the aisle, he won't get to hold my future children.'
The truth is, as humans we tend to take things for granted. Throwing cancer into the mix can bring on feelings of guilt for doing so. But, upon diagnosis, we tend to realize how precious life really is... even if it doesn't always seem so. Life can bring you down and kick you to the dirt, but sometimes there is a lesson to be learned.
You learn a lot about family during the hard times. You learn to cherish the good times and hold each other through the bad. You learn to spend every moment like it may be your last. You learn to say 'I love you' at every goodbye because you never know if you'll get to say it again. You learn to make sure those hugs last a little longer.
You learn that time is fleeting and should be spent with laughter and love. You learn to put aside your fears and override your anxiety when the time comes where you need to step up to the plate. You learn that memories and pictures are more important than money and material items. Family is what you have to hold you together. When one of us is down, the rest of us link arms and make sure that nobody is left behind.
We underestimate the strength and importance of family when we take life for granted. We live each day believing that everything is laid out in front of us when it absolutely isn't.
We don't cherish moments when we believe we will have a million more of them.
The minute that something is at risk is when we realize how important having time and love is. Moments are all we have, and moments are fleeting.
So, learn from me. Don't take time for granted. Don't take family for granted. Don't take precious moments for granted. Hold the people you love very closely. Take time to appreciate what you have. Love everything that whatever higher power you believe in has given you. Cherish Christmas mornings and Thanksgiving evenings, or even a simple dinner together. Let your hair blow in the wind and put your toes in the sand. Watch the sunrise and sunset. Enjoy it.
Life is short, and there is so much that you need to appreciate even when things are scary. Even though there are moments of fear, life is still beautiful. Make sure every single moment counts. Although we have an uphill battle, I truly believe it will all be okay.
The girl who tries to describe the indescribable.