We Can Remember and Celebrate

Cancer is not something that we like to talk about.  Unless it is happening to them or someone close to them, most people would rather put the subject in the back of their mind.  Cancer is not a subject though that my family can ignore.  Far too many of my kin have been touched by and affected by cancer.   Some of them have lost parents or grandparents, some have lost aunts, uncles and cousins and some have lost best friends.   Some have even lost children.
My grandmothers were both strong women, full of life that worked hard every day taking care of themselves and their families.   They were well known in the community and gave as much of themselves to friends and neighbors as they did to their own family.  They knew no strangers and they offered and gave freely to anyone without asking anything in return.  To a young child growing up they seemed invincible.  But no one is immune or invincible when it comes to cancer.
I still remember my mom telling me her mother had cancer.  I can’t tell you the day or even the year anymore but I know exactly where I was and what I was doing when she called out to me and my brother from the back door of our house and sat us down out on the deck outside and told us that Mama Gladys was sick.Mama Gladys  I don’t remember the exact words or even If she said she had cancer, but we knew from what she was saying that it wasn’t good.  She fought long and hard but in the end there was nothing anyone could do.  My parents moved in with her and lived back and forth between our house and hers just before the end.  Luckily my brother and I were old enough and responsible enough to spend some time at home by ourselves.  It was our way of helping out and the least we could do as we helplessly watched my grandmother wither away and finally succumb to the disease.
I don’t remember when or where I was when my parents told me that my dad’s mom had cancer.  I was much older but still living at home when my Grandma fought the beast.  Working with my dad at the time, we went by her house at least once a day and sometimes more often as things got closer to the end.  When it got to the point that she needed to stay in a hospital bed we set it up in the back family room so there would be more space for her caregivers to get around her to work and so more family and friends could sit and fellowship as we comforted her and each other.  I was sitting in a chair just at the foot of her bed as she took her last breath. Her battle over she left the frail shell of what she had become and journeyed home where she could finally rest.
You can never really know what it is like to go through cancer unless you have the disease or you are a caregiver of someone who does.  Being there day after day and seeing how even the smallest of things we take for granted like changing clothes, going to the bathroom, feeding yourself or even taking a sip of water becomes a struggle or is impossible without help.  You can’t fully understand the feelings or emotions that go along with the battle, unless you are locked into a fight to the death or holding a loved one’s hand as they swing their sword against the disease.   I can see why some people don’t even want to think about the subject and keep it behind closed doors in the dark closet of their minds.  If you don’t pay attention and stuff too much in a closet though, sooner or later it is bound to tumble out on your head when you open the door.
In April of 2009 as I walked past that overstuffed dark closet, the door sprung open and I was knocked to the floor when my wife and best friend of 25 years was diagnosed with cancer.  I was flooded with memories held deep in the dark recesses of my mind of the battles my grandmothers had fought years ago.  Fear and anxiety take over and begin to steer you down a road of uncertainty.  You grip the wheel with all the strength you can muster as you try to keep from careening off the cliff.  Finding out someone so close to you has cancer is something I don’t wish upon anyone.  We were so lucky that through early detection, new techniques in cancer treatment that come from years of research, and the grace of God that Kim never had to go through what my grandmothers did, and will soon be celebrating her fifth year as a survivor.   As a survivor though you have to be ever vigilant not to let down your guard lest the beast will sneak up and attack when you least expect it.  Until there is finally a cure then no one is safe and we must all stand watch poised ready to fight back.
Kim’s victory over cancer is not the only successful battle that my family has to celebrate, there are many others in the ranks of our close and extended family and friends that have gone through their own battles and are still here to celebrate another year in their life.  As we celebrate victories, we must also remember our many loved ones lost.  The battles lost in this war outnumber the victories. until that day when cancer is but a memory and we can finally put down our swords.
We can’t bring loved ones lost to cancer back, but we can remember and celebrate their lives and the lives of everyone that is going through or has gone through the disease by doing what we can to bring awareness and help others to never have to go through what they went through.  We are all locked in a battle for our lives and the lives of our friends and family.  We can’t afford to forget or ignore the disease until it once again effects or claims the lives of someone dear to us.  We each can make a difference.  We ourselves may not have all the answers or have the hands on ability to find a cure for cancer but we can put the tools needed in the hands that can.
In 2011 Kim and I started Hope Floats NC.  Hope Floats NC is a Relay for Life Team made up of some wonderful people that we are proud to call friends.  Each April we slip into the waters of the Neuse River in Raleigh and begin an 8 day, 200 mile paddling  journey of celebration and remembrance while doing our part to fight back against cancer.  In the past two years we have paddled over 3000 miles combined and raised more than $27,000 for the American Cancer Society to aid in the battle against cancer, but it isn’t enough.  Until the day when cancer is history, we cannot stop fighting.  Join us in the FIGHT!
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