In honour of Andrea Cains.
Last night, my 34-year-old cousin died of cancer. We were never especially close and I hadn’t seen her for many years, so it wouldn’t be fair for me to say that I am deeply affected by this loss. Mostly, I am very sad for my family – her dad, her sisters, my mom, and my aunts who have to grieve yet another loss in our family. This is the second “grandchild” in that line to die of cancer – and the third to get it – in less than two years. My aunt (my cousin’s mom) died of cancer a few years ago. My grandfather died of cancer a few years before that. Two of my other aunts have each had double mastectomies because of breast cancer. (That’s three aunts – of four – with breast cancer, if you’ve lost track, as well as one sister and two cousins – with different cancers).
I recently read a letter written by my cousin’s doctor outlining our family history for the purpose of relatives getting cancer screenings and genetic testing. There was one line that said in essence: “There seems to be a likelihood of a hereditary link to cancer in your family.”
Here is what I know: hereditary, or not, there is altogether too much cancer. In my family. In a lot of other families. Too. Much. Cancer.
Today a few people have asked me how I feel as I process this next loss, and you know what I feel? I feel sick and I feel tired and I feel utterly annoyed with CANCER. I’ve buried too many. I’ve prayed for too many. I’ve cried with too many families. I’ve watched it do too much. I am so totally over cancer. Part of me just wants to scream: “Thirty four?? Really cancer?…REALLY?” Give me a break!! Enough is enough!
Last year a dear friend lost her sister to cancer. A mother, with two young children. Really cancer?
A few years ago a beloved member of my congregation lost her four year old grandson to cancer and not long after that another congregant lost her younger brother – in his early twenties. Really cancer? REALLY?
Less than two years ago I lost my sister to cancer. The most full of life person I’ve ever known and cancer slowly took her life away. Really cancer?? REALLY?
I’ve got a few things to say to you, cancer. It’s time to listen up.
Cancer, you have ticked me off an awful long time. Tonight, I want to say clearly: ENOUGH. I say to you: NO MORE. No more of your savagery. No more families gathering around hospital beds. No more burying children. No more sleepless nights waiting for test result. No more “I”m sorry – it’s bad news.” No more mastectomies. No more tumors. No more surgeries. No more treatments. No more destruction. No more heartbreak. No more dead 34 year olds. Oh, you are a cruel one cancer. I know you don’t want it to end. So I scream at you tonight: ENOUGH!!! My heart does not have room for any more of you, cancer. Enough. Enough. Enough.
I HATE YOU.
Oh, I know it doesn’t make a difference, cancer. I know you grow and spread and kill in spite of my rage, my yelling, my anger at you. I know there will be more. I know I will rage again.
But (and this is the other thing I wanted to tell you), I know more than that, deep down.
I know – KNOW – that you do not win. I know the end of the story. Have you read it?
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
That’s how the story ends, cancer. Not in a hospital bed. Not in a palliative care ward. Not with you.
No more mourning. No more crying. No more pain. No more of the things that you are best at. No more.
You, who seem to take so much, cannot take eternity. You cannot take my hope. You cannot take my heart, no matter how much you ask of it. To you, tonight, by God’s grace, I say: You have already done enough. I will not give you anymore.
You lose, cancer.
You can take all the cousins, aunts, sisters, friends, and grandchildren that you want. You don’t get to keep them – and you still lose.
I just wanted to remind you, cancer. Thanks for reading.