Sidebar: The Stories

New England Holocaust Memorial
A few years ago I visited Boston on a school trip and had an evening to do some sightseeing. I spent this time in the historic district downtown - Paul Revere statue, the Freedom Trail and all that - and was especially taken in by the New England Holocaust Memorial. It is artfully done, consisting of six glass towers, evoking the six main Nazi death camps and the six million Jews who died. The towers are fairly small at their bases, with just enough space for a few people to stand, and it isn't until you get up close and inside the towers that you can see numbers etched into the glass. These are the numbers that were tattooed on the arms of the victims of these camps, and the realization of this is shocking as you stand inside one tower and look sixteen metres up at all the numbers, and then look ahead to the remaining five towers. It is very moving to take it all in, and it really conveys the scope of the tragedy when you see all those numbers and imagine a person for each one of them.

Reflecting on the trip now, I keep thinking about the stories I have heard from other cancer victims or their families and loved ones. Of course, I knew some of these stories before the disease struck me, but they resonate more strongly with me now. I feel a little ashamed admitting this. I should have felt more empathy when hearing any story of a debilitating or deadly illness, not just after it had afflicted me. A little older...

Do you have any cancer stories of your own? If not, it won't be long before you do.

Here are just a few stories I know, but there are plenty more:
  • There's my Uncle Jack on my mother's side. He died of throat cancer in 1975 at the age of 51, leaving a wife and three children. I was 12 then and this was the first time I had ever heard of cancer, and I remember my mother saying that his death was ironic because he was the fitness buff in the family with a heart 'as strong as a horse's'. Cancer does not only attack the weak.
  • My friends Tania and Angela have both had scares with skin cancer as young women. Both are doing well now.
  • A business associate of mine lost her father to cancer a few years ago. He was just in his 50's and it was all through his abdomen, though they believe it started in his colon. She is the eldest of four children, and her father lamented that he wouldn't live to see his daughters married. I don't know her very well, but I think she carries some regret around with her still. It isn't just the people with cancer who suffer, it's everyone close to them.
  • I've never met Nadia before, but she commented in an earlier post on this blog about her battle. Her doctor missed the warning signs and she battled Stage IV colorectal cancer, the worst stage, and was told to put her affairs in order and prepare for the worst. She fought back and won and is still going strong many years later.
  • My Aunt Nancy (or aunt Fancy as my wee daughter used to call her) fought two separate battles in recent years with different cancers. She is ok now.
  • My wife went to nursing school with her best friend Helen. At her own wedding shower when she was just 25, Helen showed her friends some lumps on her neck. During a subsequent biopsy the doctor immediately knew this was cancer in her lymph nodes, and it was so pervasive through her body they never were able to identify where the primary cancer came from. She was dead in 5 months. Think of what a wonderful nurse and mother she would have been. She never knew she was sick, although she would complain of a little indigestion now and then. Cancer is a phantom, a wraith that stalks and kills people without them even knowing.
We know that in 2010 about 20,000 Canadians were diagnosed with colon cancer and almost half of those stories would end in tears and death. Now imagine all the other types of cancer attacking each person, and how it affects them and their loved ones, and then imagine this all around the world.

According to the World Health Organization, about 6 million people died of cancer in 2010. That's 6 million individual stories, and the stories of people close to those who died. That's one entire holocaust memorial every year.

Cancer is a scourge and a plague. I started off writing this blog thinking it would help me exorcise some of my own lingering feelings about my experience, and I've even been playing it for laughs because let's face it, that's the only way to cope sometimes. But now I can see I have another hope. I want to hear more stories like mine: early diagnosis; fast, effective treatment; cure.

And someday maybe we'll even know why and move on to prevention. When I got sick and started looking into colon cancer specifically, I was really astounded to learn that we don't even really know what causes it. Maybe it's red meat, maybe it's hereditary, maybe it's alcohol, maybe it's Obama. There's a fair bit of risk factor type data but as far as I know, not much that denotes a direct link.

9,000 Canadians gone last year and we don't even know why.

1 comment:

  1. I hear what you are going through. I am only 23 years old. Two young boys. I had ulcerative colitis for ten years and decided to get my whole colon removed as I was done with the disease. Turns out god had to throw in stage 1 colon cancer just for shits and giggles lol. My email is s.dube87@hotmail.com if you care to converse more about our series of unfortunate events

    ReplyDelete