With special thanks to Cynthia Lank for contributing this article. She is the mother of a blood cancer survivor and volunteer for the Atlantic Regional office of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Canada. Cynthia is a member of the Light The Night Walk Volunteer Leadership Committee, a First Connection Volunteer and was instrumental in the development of the Nova Scotia Resource Guide.
You’re never going to see love and cancer mentioned together in a Valentine’s Card. Could two words be more different? Love is certainly the most treasured of all human emotions, while cancer universally evokes dread and fear. Yet, far too often, love and cancer intersect and challenge how we think about both.
It goes without saying every person’s experience of love or cancer is uniquely personal. My feelings about both changed during our family’s journey.
For our family, love often came from the most unexpected places. Friends and even acquaintances shared deeply personal and private stories with us, to tell us that they had gotten through something tough and had come out the other side. They generously shared how they coped and acknowledged that it might be different for us. Family members and friends make long trips and left their own lives behind so they could simply sit with us in the hospital. Our driveway was shovelled, our fridge was always full, and cut flowers filled our vases. Some might say that this is simply what friends do. But to us, all these small and large gestures of kindness felt like a blanket of love wrapped around us in a dark night. Within our own family, we had to learn to accept that each of us was experiencing cancer in our own way and to acknowledge that it was a different journey for each of us. And above it all, we had to rise above our fears and be the best family we could be for our daughter who was at the centre of the storm. On the days when we simply wanted to curl up and hide from it all, she kept going, so we did too. And on the many days when we weren’t at our best, we had to forgive each other and ourselves and promise to just keep moving forward.
I can’t honestly say that this word has ever lost its darkness for me. But I did learn that using the one word “cancer” to describe so many different diseases is, in some ways, a misnomer. At one time, every cancer story would flip my worry switch. But I am now careful to restrict my worrying (which is still there) to the facts about my daughter’s type of cancer. I also have a little script ready when a well-meaning person informs me about some irrelevant cancer fact they think I should know. I try to calmly respond, “I didn’t know that, but every cancer is so different. We really rely on our oncology team to keep us informed about x type of cancer.” I am careful now with my reactions to the news of others’ diagnoses, as I know so many of my assumptions may turn out to be unjustified. With some distance, I am able to see the many silver linings of my daughter’s diagnosis, but I know this is because I still have her and have the luxury of searching for the good that came out of a terrifying diagnosis. Too many families don’t have this luxury. The emotions evoked by the word have also spurred me to try to be part of the solution. I am committed to finding ways to be part of the movement to cure blood cancers. There are thousands of people doing the same for every other type of cancer. I won’t be paralyzed by fear of it.
So, this Valentine’s Day, I will eat cinnamon hearts and chocolate, and will send love out to my precious children, my family, and my friends.