I was born a wordsmith. There was never a time I remember that I wasn’t writing. Early on in life, words became my savior, my sword with which to fight even my most egregious life battles. I have an immense respect for language, for words. Words in and of themselves, when coupled with the appropriate intentions, are extraordinarily powerful. Words can destroy. Words can rebuild. Words can endear. Words can mend. They can unite a community. They can swiftly tear asunder what was once unbreakable.
There are few words in any language as powerful as cancer.
No matter what the tone, the intention, the method of delivery, it can single handedly maraud and annihilate. The word itself is omnipotent, an exact reflection of the disease itself, swift and deadly. In and of itself, it is a force to be reckoned with. There are few things in life that render me speechless faster than human suffering. It is part of the reason I started to write in the first place. To relay, to capture the entire spectrum of the human experience. To vividly sculpt a memory where time may otherwise dull the sharpness of the details. To give voice, to my own suffering, to the suffering of others.
That word, cancer, coupled with others or standing alone, is a complete thought unto itself. A singular concept that, no matter the context or the language, is uttered with the distinct understanding that it is the inauguration of battle. No one who hears it is under any illusion that they are in for a leisurely stroll through the corridors of medicine. This is a crash course in survival, the tempo varied according to its stage and rate of progression. It changes your life. Suddenly. Totally. Because even if you beat it, you are never again the same person.
I remember when my grandmother first starting getting sick. Being the baby of my generation, and the accused favorite grandchild, no one ever really let me know just how sick she was. The first time she got cancer (yes there were two times and two very separate and distinct types) I didn’t even know it was cancer. I just knew she was “sick”. I never even entertained the thought that my grandmother might not make it because, being the willful woman she was, it just didn’t seem logical. That coupled with the insistence of my family in protecting me from the actualities of her condition, made it easy to go on with life as if the big C word wasn’t hanging ominously over our matriarch. When she got older and started to deteriorate at an alarming rate, the details of her previous sicknesses began to slowly leak out. I was beyond furious. Hadn’t I deserved to know? Hadn’t I deserved the opportunity to walk that journey with her, the time to grieve, to rage, to cry, to then pick myself up and be there for her? Hadn’t I deserved the opportunity to wade the the waters littered with debris with her, to help her find the bits and pieces of her life she could salvage? Wouldn’t it have done me better to remember her as a fighter in those days of chemotherapy as she would sit for hours wringing her hands and lamenting her gorgeous hair that had become thin and lifeless? Wouldn’t it have been better than the last mental image I have of my grandmother being her tiny body engulfed by a hospital bed, her skin cold, her limbs unresponsive to my touch, months after her various sicknesses had ravished her body? Hadn’t I too deserved the opportunity, like the rest of my entire family, to speak the word cancer, to turn it over in my mouth and get familiar with the bitter, metallic taste it left in the back of my throat, to utter it and give life to it, to make it real? Could I not handle such a power? I remember thinking the day of her funeral, that everything was just so wrong. It didn’t seem fitting that an entire 80 plus years of life was somehow supposed to be contained and buried in such a small box. I remember THAT being the thought that made me cry. Not that she was gone, not that I’d never hug or hear her again, not that she’d never give me little presents I didn’t know to cherish. The thought that this is what life can so easily, so readily be reduced to. That everything she’d known and worked for and created and loved could be forever changed by just a word. Two syllables. Infinite strength. I hated knowing that cancer was so powerful that I’d never get to hear the stories of her childhood, her experiences, her life, that she’d gotten more prone to telling as her life wore on. I couldn’t stand the thought that she’d miss the rest of my life all because of a fucking word.
And now, again, cancer has struck so swiftly, so suddenly in my life. The full weight of it is so full, so heavy, that its hard to imagine there’s any pushing it off.
But there is. Because there is a word more powerful than cancer. Love.
And even when I can’t bring myself to believe that love, in the romantic sense, can conquer all, I know that love, genuine, real, passionate, unwavering, is the greatest weapon that we will ever have in our arsenal. I know that, even as my chosen weapon is the written word.
Fundamentally, love is greater than all things. It joins together where other words have torn apart. It is the force that prevails when all others have failed. In this life, it is love that gives depth to human suffering. It is love that captures memories and makes them vivid. It is love that heals where other words destroy. I believe wholeheartedly in love, pure, simply complex, all consuming and true. If you let it, love can be the thing stands when everything else has fallen. It is the thing worth salvaging from the wreckage. Love just IS, the mere presence of which is more powerful than any word uttered in its path. Love is the great equalizer. The light in the dark, the salvation of hope when otherwise there is none. And don’t we all, at some point, need to be saved?