That Time I Got Cancer
The official term: squamous cell carcinoma. A small lesion on the bridge of my nose. The girl who delivered the news didn’t sound too concerned, but nothing good ends in “oma.” It wasn’t the first time I was hit with cancer. The other “oma” was much worse. Glioblastoma Multiforme. Brain cancer. Terminal. That was in 2003. The year my twins were born. A great year. A terrible year.
How did I beat brain cancer? I didn’t. I live with it everyday. You see, it didn’t kill me, it killed my mom. Leaving me to wrestle with the pointlessness of it all. That’s the thing about cancer, when it hits someone you love, you get it too. So yeah, I’ve got cancer.
Oh, the skin cancer? I'm told it’s gone. They cut it out. But once you hear the words, “You’ve got cancer,” you’re never the same. You’re exposed. Vulnerable.
But there is an upside...
It would be cliche to say I feel blessed, but I'll say it anyway. Before my mom got sick, I was coasting. Completely unaware and self-absorbed. I was under the mistaken belief my problems were real. Life was not moving fast enough. I didn’t have everything I wanted. I hadn't arrived. I was ego incarnate.
But preparing to welcome my twin daughters into the world while saying goodbye to my mom, my best friend, has a way of humbling a guy. As my Mom’s cancer metastasized, so did my awareness. I began to see the pain and heartache all around me. Forced to confront the ugliness, I finally began to see the beauty and wisdom of tragedy. I began to understand why good people are taken from us too early and why bad ones live on to wreak havoc. This duality began to seem more logical, even intentional. The dance of life appeared orchestrated, compelling us to evolve towards a higher place, to see the world through love and compassion.
It's inescapable. Each and every one of us will be touched by harsh and harrowing realities, but it's important to recognize some of the most beautiful things in life come in distressing disguises.
Though I’d seen them countless times, it wasn’t until I faced my mother’s demise, that I began to see behind these distressing masks. To get a peak at the grand design. Pain and suffering no longer appeared meaningless, but necessary.
I didn’t come to this conclusion cheaply, I paid a heavy tax. I lost my mother well before the cancer took her life. I lost her the day she was diagnosed. Instead of soaking up life, she recoiled into a place I never knew existed. Some painful corner deep inside her. Not even the arrival of her granddaughters could coax her out. To the contrary, welcoming life into this world as she was preparing to leave it pushed her further away.
I spread my mother’s ashes on the shores of her favorite beach in 2006. But just to insure the lessons of compassions and love weren’t lost on me, life dealt me several blows shortly thereafter, namely a brutal, heart-wrenching divorce. This is when I learned what it means to live unmoored. To learn to live detached, so you can advance confidently through life with a deeper knowing. Your family, your friends, your job, your bankroll, your home, your car, your body, your sanity—we cling to these things as we freefall through an endless universe. Yet, when all is stripped away, we eventually learn that there is but one safe and secure place you can always go: inward. A place no one can touch.
Your ticket cannot be purchased second-hand. The only way you can find this sacred place is through personal pain and loss.
Many years later, after surviving several squalls, I find myself in the calm of an eddy, just out of reach of the rapids raging past. It’s a good place. A place my recent flirtations with cancer couldn’t touch. The pain I experienced in my darkest days now exists in my periphery, nearly intangible. In a weird way, I miss it. The rawness, dealing with life on the most basic terms. It’s the one time in my life I truly didn’t give a fuck about my ego. I couldn’t. I was going through a metamorphosis. I had no center point.
But slowly, as the months pass, we all return to what we know. We are all seduced by the illusion of security. And brick by brick, we build our identities from the rubble of heartache and despair. Except, unlike times before, we rebuild with a knowing that nothing is permanent and that no matter how hard the winds blow, the scars left behind are what create the beauty. They make us better people. They show us what we are all made of: love.