Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Thoughts about cancer

Growing up, I remember several times hearing from teachers and charity representatives that we are all "touched by cancer" somehow. The introduction to some sort of fun charity race or game would always begin with "Who has been affected by cancer? How many of you know someone who has been affected by cancer?" And by the end of both questions, you would have pretty much 98% of the room raising their hands. I would raise my hand for the second question, knowing classmates or people I just knew who faced cancer whether it was directly or indirectly. Cancer--to put it simply-- is not pretty. But I never really thought about it because I never dealt with it. In fact, I have yet to deal with cancer. I have yet to deal with death. 

As my parents continue living honest and hardworking lives in their 50's, I see that more and more of their friends are being affected by cancer. In fact, my dad goes to a funeral about once a month and all the culprits were irrevocable forms of cancer. Liver cancer... kidney cancer... the list goes on for healthy adults who have kids in college, who want to retire soon, who never expected...well...dying.

This is the definition of cancer:
Cancer- the disease caused by an uncontrolled division of abnormal cells in a part of the body.

What really resonated with me with this definition was the word "uncontrolled".
There is nothing controllable about cancer. Sure, some people may have contributed to terminal illness with bad habits--smoking, drinking, etc... but cancer doesn't pick and choose off the naughty list. Cancer is just cancer. Cancer is uncontrollable. 

I spent the past few months working as a Pharmacy Technician at a small but busy pharmacy. In summary. I come in contact with sick people everyday. Some have the flu, most have bad allergies, but others are there bi-weekly just being sick all the time. You get used to it and it becomes your daily job to help them get in and out of your pharmacy without putting an extra damper to their day. But today was a little different. 

Today, we had a young man come through drive-thru-- younger than me-- who needed to check if we had a particular medicine in stock just like everybody else. But when we said "Hey, we actually don't have this one in stock today. Do you want us to order it?" His response was something far from "yes" or "no, I'll go somewhere else". It was "I have cancer". If you translate that into pharmacy jargon, it's "I need it now". And what was really sad about this was that he was only 21 years old. 

As my day continued with busy conversations over the phone and filling prescriptions, it got me thinking what that must feel like. To likely ignore the feeling of sympathizing with the terminally ill and then becoming terminally ill must be a strange feeling. It's undefinable really and often romanticized by the entertainment industry on what it feels like to be dying. But that's how we are-- that's how people are. As good natured and caring a person can be, we resolute to selfish pursuits. We fish for good opportunities that may be good for many people but must be somehow good for us first. And I'm not saying there is anything wrong with that-- it's just human instinct trying to help us survive. But I think that's why cancer and any form of sickness is treated the way that it is, like it doesn't touch us unless it really touches us. We see it as "bad" and "sad" but we don't see it for what it is until it defines who we are. We don't feel like we're dying even though in a way, all of us are. 

I am still that person who can sympathize but never empathize. I am still that person who has a wall up between me and cancer. I am still that person who won't be able to truly understand all the tiny but impacting facets of being sick or watching a loved one die. When older people get sick, it's less of a shock than when young people get sick. "That's such a shame", they say. "They were so young they say", they say. Yes, being young and terminally ill does suck but they could have experienced the same "amount" of life with decades worth of time between them.

This is everyone's biggest regret: I wish I spent more time with my family or doing things I enjoy. I get it. Life gets complicated and time-consuming. When life is "normal", it's all about making money and paying bills. But when people say "live like you're dying", it's unfathomable how you could actually do that without the emotional drive fueling it. How do you live like you're dying if you aren't? What mindset would provoke you from being restless, a workaholic, or indifferent to treat life as if it was an hour glass? Honestly, I don't think there is any motivation that can do that to someone accept actually becoming sick. So this is where my rambles lead me.

Maybe you won't live everyday to it's fullest (productivity is a different story) but maybe you should start treating people around you like opportunities to spread happiness. Try to make time to eat with your family and to share your seemingly insignificant but completely significant lives with one another. Try to develop strong and meaningful relationships with friends rather than just having people to hang out with. Try and make sure you treat others well because you don't know what they are going through. In fact, they might be going through what you're going through or maybe even worse. Just try to be a light to other people around you even if it's simply through words like "thank you" or "have a great day". More importantly, love yourself and treat yourself to things you enjoy rather than thinking you don't deserve it. Never think that you don't deserve something because you aren't worth it. Remember that people don't lose against cancer unless they lose against themselves. 

Cancer is uncontrollable but how you go about your daily life interactions with the people around you and beyond is controllable. Embrace what you can control and what you can feel right now. Don't deny yourself of freedoms because you don't have enough time. This isn't a message saying compare yourself to people who have less than you to feel better about yourself. It's never about comparing people's circumstances. It's just about you as an individual. It's about where you draw your energy from and how you effect yourself and how it changes the life you have. 

Long preach short, search and surround yourself with elements and people who make you feel joy. Then you'll be happy with everyone and everything around you. Then you will glow and that's what I call the happy virus. Do this now. Avidly seek to improve the quality of your life no matter your circumstances. 

My words won't solve anything. It doesn't change how life and death work but maybe it can change you how you approach it. How do you see yourself in the scope of the universe? What do you want out of today? What do you want out of tomorrow? What do you want for the people you love? The answers might all sound different but in the end, I know it's the same. It's to be happy. And that my friends is a a controllable feeling, process, and lifestyle


  1. Great piece Dana. My Dad beat cancer last year but so many don't. It really does touch all our lives. You have a wise head on your young shoulders!

    1. That's wonderful about your Dad's recovery! Thanks for swinging by and commenting. :)


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