What’s the worst part of cancer?
Well, I can tell you what it’s not.
It’s not the surgery, recovery and treatment. Nor is it living with the knowledge that recurrence wouldn’t totally surprise my oncology team. It’s not even being left with body parts that will forever wear an “Out of Order” sign.
Nope. Those aren’t the worst parts.
Neither are the nagging feelings that our family got screwed. Screwed in the sense of dealing with cancer at really young ages. My mom and brother both died in their forties after short battles with GBM – brain cancer. And my dad died at a relatively young age of ureteral cancer. Gosh, we don’t even talk about my maternal grandmother who died at a young age of breast cancer. Too many cancer stories to keep straight.
So that part stinks. But there’s something stinkier.
And the worst part’s not the fear I have, as a single parent raising three kids alone, that a recurrence could whack me and leave these kids—who I cherish more than life itself—without a parent. You see my oldest is now 23. And that gives me a degree of comfort. I guess the truth is I now know that, worst case, he could take over the important things for me.
A crummy scenario for my oldest son. But even that’s not the worst part.
Nope, the worst part hurts more.
The worst part is that all three of my children fully expect to receive their own diagnosis of cancer.
And that rips my heart out.
It angers me.
Mostly, it fills every void in my body with guilt.
It’s so utterly illogical. I try to give them all the reasons why their fear shouldn’t exist. I try to tell them the things they can do to prevent that scenario. I’ve tried to talk it away. Explain it away. Soft sell it away. Hard sell it away.
I put into perspective how many incredible advances have taken place in my own lifetime. I try to regularly celebrate with them breakthroughs we hear on the evening news. I try to be the cheerleader of hope.
Yet, at the same time, I understand.
My three children are all cancer warriors. They have not only been the strength through my own cancer journey, they have all become frontline leaders in modeling for their peers the power of their voice and actions. They are the first to help others who are dealing with a cancer diagnosis. They are compassionate. They are caring. Innocent bystanders they are not.
Which is what perplexes me about their perception of their own cancer destinies.
I’ve personally come to have a healthy relationship with cancer. For all it’s taken and stripped from my life, I still am in control. I’m in control of my feelings. I’m in control of my attitude. And I’m in control of what I chose to contribute to this world. I can find peace in the experiences and people that my own cancer journey has given me. Even though I don’t profess to fully understand why these circumstances were placed in my life, I do believe they have given me unique opportunities.
I guess you could say that this attitude has become my happy place—my place of contentment—in dealing with my journey.
So when the weight of the medical side, the non-functioning body parts, the absurd family history, and even the fear of death start to creep into my head, I go to that happy place.
But I can’t force my kids to join me there. So, what I do is I rely on some things I’ve learned about parenting in the last few years.
For starters, I’ve learned that the past is the past. It’s done. And it can’t be changed.
I’ve learned that what I can change is that which is in front of me now. I can change how I act. What I say.
How I listen. How I care. That’s become my secret weapon since my cancer diagnosis. I’ve learned the stratospheric power of now. And I use it daily with
I’ve learned that I can’t fix—nor should I attempt to fix—everything for my kids. There is incredible value for them to experience difficulties and valleys.
I’ve also learned that the best way to teach my children is by modeling.
They will learn more by watching and observing dear old Dad. Osmosis. Family style.
It’s through all these things I’ve learned to accept and try to understand the hardest part of my cancer story.
Because while I can’t control everything, I can believe.
And what I believe in more than anything is the strength and resilience of my own children.
Jim Higley is the Bobblehead Dad – author, speaker, radio show host, spokesperson and cancer warrior. His favorite role, however, is “Dad” to his three kids. Jim writes for several publications including the Huffington Post. He also is the author of the award-winning Bobblehead Dad: 25 Life Lessons I Forgot I Knew. www.BobbleheadDad.com.