we counted off the number of people we personally knew with cancer: 7. i couldn’t bring myself to tell my 15.5 year old that 7 was a low number. in reality, i personally know many more people who have or had cancer. the thing is, at 15, i don’t remember ever hearing the word cancer. back in the dinosaur days of the early 1970’s – i guess people got cancer but none that i knew. none that i knew of in my family. i knew about juvenile diabetes and heart attacks – but never heard about cancer.
my daughter lost a teacher at school last year who did not survive cancer – and it was quite a lesson to watch my daughter navigate the formality of grieving personally and with her school community for someone who held a special place in her life. and now another teacher diagnosed…this teacher is my daughter’s touchstone. never her formal teacher but always her confidant and a warm slightly-irreverent refuge. we came back from summer break to find out that her teacher was in the fight of her life. and now i watch the waves of sheer terror mixed with utter heartache mixed with the unspoken acknowledgement that cancer kills pass through her on a nightly basis – or at least showing up when she’s most vulnerable at 10pm after a long day of school and soccer and social negotiations – none of which she can share with her charming mentor.
i am so grateful that we can have conversations at her age of 15 and mine of 52….’cancer sucks’. ‘fuck cancer’. you said it. i want to say: ‘ mine is not theirs. i will not leave you. i will never leave you.’ but even without cancer, that’s something no parent can actually say. sometimes i get knotted up emotionally and need a little space…until i look at her face and realize that she needs to hold on. so i do. to her. arms wrapped around. fuck cancer.