About two years ago, I was diagnosed with a rare form of HPV, or Human Papilloma Virus. The kind, but impersonal voice on the phone informed me that they’d found a tiny lesion on my cervix, indicating that I had a precancerous condition. I have a 70% chance of developing cervical cancer by the time I’m 50.
At the end of 2010, my dad – my superhero – was diagnosed with an aggressive form of prostate cancer. He’s stage 4, which means the cancer had moved from his prostrate to his bones before we even knew anything was wrong. He has a 70% chance of dying sometime within 5 years from the time of diagnosis. By that statistic, he has less than 4 years left.
Both HPV and prostate cancer have varying degrees of severity. Most HPV is “essentially harmless”. Most prostate cancer is slow-growing – enough so that men often die with the cancer and not from it. The HPV I have is particularly nasty; the prostate cancer dad has is particularly aggressive.
Cancer Isn’t Silent
Maybe it’s called the silent killer because, in particularly nasty forms, it can kill before the person even knows they have it. – But the truth is, it’s far from silent.
It speaks in the pain of the sufferers. It talks in the thudding heart beats and swallowed tears of those who get a sudden wakeup call that life is so amazingly precious and short. It speaks in mounting medical bills and quiet conversation when you’re searching your heart and mind for anything important you may not have said, when the most important has already been spoken. “I love you.”
In fact, the only moment of silence, at least for me, was in my head. When I found out about the HPV, I was in mild shock. When my parents told me dad had cancer, all the thoughts in my head (which normally run a million miles a minute) took a collective gasp and froze for two weeks.
For two weeks, any thought my head managed to squeeze out ended with “…and my dad has cancer.”
When my thoughts finally moved into fast forward again, it was to ask those horrible questions of uncertainty. “What now? What’s next? What are we going to do?”
My Dad – The Center of Our World
We’re a household of seven people: my mom, dad, and older sister who’s severely retarded and handicapped. Then there’s me, my two sons and my daughter.
My dad has been the strength of the family for as long as I can remember. He’s been the motivator and the driving force. When my kids break a toy, they say, “Grandpa can fix it.” When something in the house breaks, mom and I say, “Dad can fix it.”
We “go get Dad” when my sister is belligerent, and go to him for advice for anything and everything. We lean on his strength, on his experience and his wisdom. He’s the father figure to my children and my hero. He’s been my mom’s husband for almost 50 years. He’s the center of our world. So… what now?
Hope, Live, Love
Well – now, we laugh and we love. We live, and hope, and pray. For the most part, we’ve managed to accept that things are what they are, and there are some things beyond our control. This is one of them.
Along the way, we’ve realized that we received a blessing of sorts. There are so many people who lose someone suddenly and unexpectedly, leaving words unsaid and feelings of regret. It seems to be the human condition to ignore the ticking of the clock and the fact that time, eventually, runs out.
– And it is running out.
Life isn’t infinite. We’re not immortal. It has to come to an end eventually. For many, life ends way too soon, in the blink of an eye – in less than a breath. Accidents happen, violence happens, disease happens; people grow old and their body just doesn’t work like it used to.
We’ve had that wake up call. –And while that didn’t change everything (we still get caught up in our own wants, thoughts, etc.) it did make us more aware of each other. It has made us more open to the philosophy of forgive and forget. Although I hate to say it, we’re a much closer family than we were a year or so ago.
At first, it was hard to ignore the statistics. I read so much about HPV and prostate cancer I almost lost my mind. The statistics are scary.
The truth is, though, that almost nothing has changed. Life has always been precious and short. We all have a length of time to live, however long that might be. Although there is a natural order of things, like a child living beyond a parent, that order isn’t guaranteed. In fact, the only thing that’s really changed is our outlook on life as a family and as individuals.
When you step away from the computer today and interact with your family, please, tell them you love them. Hug your children, your husband, your wife, and your parents. Take the time to see what wonderful people they are; to feel how much you love them, and how much that love is returned. Because life really is short.
Don’t live in fear and paranoia, but please, live, laugh and love with awareness.
- Prostate Cancer Risk Factors (cancercenter.com)