It's strange how when a loved one is diagnosed with cancer you sort of automatically fall into a routine, the kind of the ebb and flow of the hospital life. When my family found out that my grandfather, or Paps as we call him, was diagnosed with Stage IV Lung Cancer, I guarantee that Paps wasn't the only person who was having trouble breathing. The first thought that went through my head was "Why?" What made my Paps so “special” that he was cursed with this awful disease? After the initial pity party that I went through, I immediately turned on Olivia Pope mode, and wanted to be the official fixer. What hadn’t occurred to me was that this was something that was out of my hands. I had to leave the fixing to the professionals. But there were a few things that were possible for me to do. I could spend as much time as possible with Paps. I could try to carry on as normally as possible; and, most importantly, I could bring awareness to lung cancer. While most people look forward to November for football games, Ugg boot weather, and Thanksgiving, I will forever remember it for Lung Cancer Awareness Month.
It’s hard to come to terms with a cancer diagnosis when my grandpa was initially diagnosed with pneumonia. Pneumonia is curable; something that Paps could easily fight off. It was hard to digest the news that the doctors were wrong and my Paps, who could seemingly fight anything off, had stage IV lung cancer.
I feel like so many people are like me. They don’t really realize how much cancer sucks until they are faced with the ugly monster. Before the cancer diagnosis, I would always think about how bad cancer was, but never truly lost sleep over the tornado like destruction the big C word leaves in its wake, destroying any and all things it can get its grubby little paws on. Now, however, I have had many a sleepless night thinking about how much I want to kick cancer's butt; which, let’s be honest, is putting it lightly.
What most people don’t realize is the aftermath of the diagnosis. They can link cancer and chemotherapy, or even radiation, but the everyday life of loving and caring for a cancer patient is something that someone truly cannot prepare for. For most people, a bad nose bleed is no big deal, slap some toilet paper up the nose and call it a day. For people with cancer, it means another trip to the emergency room. One thing that you get really good at is being prepared. I often joke that my purse has turned into Mary Poppins enchanted bag, because I truly never knew what my day was going to hold once I left my house. For all I knew, I could end up spending most of the day at the hospital, which is where my abundance of quarters came in handy. I got pretty creative with vending machine meals!
However, if cancer, and the endless days at the hospitals have taught me one thing, it is that you really never know what someone else is going through. At the hospital, most people there band together and create their own community. Even though you may never speak two words to a stranger at the hospital, you usually have a common bond; you are worried to death about a loved one. So, when you pass someone in the hallway it’s almost expected of one to smile and wave and wish them a good day. You really never know how much a “hey, how are you?” means to someone until you are on the receiving end of it after a long and exhausting day. While the pleasantries can’t change the situation you are in, it most definitely lifts your spirits up. Brought together by an unspoken bond, once strangers, you feel compassion for the people that pass in the hallway because you know what they are going through first hand, and that it's anything but easy. You pass the same people in the cafeteria; find your favorite floor to park on and the routine becomes comforting. It’s one of the few things that you can control.
Not to be forgotten, are the nurses that become family. It would never occur to you that you could feel so linked to a person that you've just met. When someone you love is hospitalized, you get to know the staff and find comfort when your favorite nurse is on duty because you know they love your family member almost as much as you do. The random hugs that they would administer when it was evident you were having a rough day were usually readily welcomed.
Most importantly, I have learned to quit complaining about the small stuff. Cancer has the ability to put small stuff into perspective. When I begin to whine and moan about stupid stuff like a class I’m taking, or a horrible driver, I look to my Paps and feel awfully stupid. Here he had stage IV lung cancer and never complained once; yet I’m over her griping about some class that in the grand scheme of things, doesn't really matter.
My Paps; A True Patriot.
My Paps will always be a Marine; he enlisted at 17 and retired at 37. He was used to fighting in the trenches, fighting against an enemy. The one thing that is different than when he was an active Marine, is that he’s fighting the enemy on home soil. Cancer isn't an enemy that he can battle with the stone cold Marine stare down.
What most people don't realize, is that lung cancer is the second most common cancer in both men AND women, and around 1 out of every 15 people will be diagnosed with lung cancer. This statistic drastically rises if you are a smoker. Over 400,000 people who are alive and well today have battled and won the fight against lung cancer. Many don’t realize that, at some point in their life, they will tangle with the horrible beast known as cancer. It may not be lung cancer, but they will likely be impacted by its merciless destruction. This makes it even more dire that people stand up against cancer, speak out for a cure and refuse to stop until there’s a solution to the problem.
I have always worn those rubber bands around my wrist for different cause: a pink one for breast cancer, a red one in honor of the horrible plane crash that killed a whole Russian Hockey League team; and now I have added a white rubber band. This rubber band will stay on my wrist from here until it wears out, and at that point I’ll probably just get a new one. The color white or clear symbolizes lung cancer, a color that will now forever have a place in my heart. To be honest, the only way I’ll take my white band off is if scientists find a definite cure for cancer. Until then, it will be an accessory I don with pride; always.
In the Marine Corps, the motto is Semper Fidelis, or Semper Fi, which means “Always Faithful.” I will be always faithful to, not only to my Paps, but to raising awareness for cancer. So please, fight with me in the battle that rages within so many families. Fight for those who can’t fight anymore. I wish more than anything that I could be writing this in honor of Paps, and that he could see this. Unfortunately, he just couldn't battle this terrible disease anymore, and passed away on November 1, 2014. One thing I know for sure is that my grandpa fought with everything he had, and that was evident. So now, I write in memory of a great man; of a Marine who battled Cancer head on and without hesitation. I will stand up to Cancer. Will you stand with me?
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