Never before have I shed tears for complete strangers. I didn’t even know these people; all I knew was that one of the two was young, still in his teenage years, and had just passed from cancer. His older sister, an emotionally resilient young lady, had described his passing with elegance, love, and affection in a public blog posting.
I never cared about cancer before my diagnosis. I never cared about the millions affected and killed. I never paid much thought. But when I was diagnosed, I wanted, perhaps needed, to know that I was not alone. I searched online for cancer stories, shared my own thoughts and emotions publicly, and connected with oncology patients via public exchanges and private emails. These connections helped me maintain a positive spirit; I learned to deal with my pain, cope with my symptoms, and reinvent my perceptions of life. Cancer challenged me, but its patients challenged me more.
Never before have I shed tears for complete strangers. But this young man deserved my tears in celebration of his life. I could have been him, my sibling and fate his, all so easily and by nothing but chance.
My cancer is in remission but I cannot move on. I cannot compartmentalize my experiences as an occurrence of the past. And I am continuously reminded. Like a pregnant woman who markedly notices other pregnant women, I cannot seem to step away from cancer.
A childhood friend’s mom was diagnosed days ago. Her husband fought personally many years back. A stranger just passed.
Today at the store a woman about my age asked if I was an oncology patient and explained that her son was too. Despite thinking that it was somewhat inappropriate, I asked his age. He’s three. Three years old, and he’s beaten cancer into remission. His mom was smiling and kind. She showed me the fresh tattoo on her inner forearm in dedication to her son and cancer, to which I responded “cool” as I paid for my pistachios.
Before my diagnosis, I wouldn’t have cared about her and her son, his age, or her tattoo. I wouldn’t have cared about any of it; the stranger would have been simply a stranger. But not anymore.