It’s already been a week since I rocked my little baby in the hospital, watching her drift in and out of consciousness as she recovered from the anesthesia. I never suspected how completely and fully she would bounce back after a radical nephrectomy in just seven short days. And I dared not hope that her oncologist would have all but called her “cured” when her pathology report came back earlier this week. A miracle? I’m not sure. That word gets thrown around a lot. All I know is that her recovery has been a miraculous experience to me and I cannot think of a more appropriate word to describe it. Mary Hazel is now a cancer survivor.
I’ve been thinking about that phrase a lot this week. Cancer Survivor. It is true that she did have cancer and now she does not. But, it is also true that her battle with cancer was rather short compared to some. (Short, but plenty intense, for this mama.) Even though we were only aware of her condition for two weeks, she apparently had this tumor since before she was born. So, really, she’s had cancer as long as we’ve known her. That’s a strange thought to get my head wrapped around. I’m very thankful that we discovered the cancer, treated the cancer, and are recovering from cancer within a month’s time. But I have to confess, it felt kind of strange at first to think of Mary Hazel as a cancer survivor. For the greater part of her life, we did not even know she was sick. She never displayed a single symptom or complained of being uncomfortable. We neither spent considerable amounts of time in and out of doctors’ offices nor suffered long through the diagnosis phase. We were lucky to find the tumor quickly, blessed to receive a positive prognosis, and relieved the surgery was a success. So can one really be called a survivor when one has not overly suffered?
I was chatting with a friend of mine from work today. His wife first battled the disease over ten years ago and won her fight against breast cancer. Last year she was diagnosed with myeloma and has been in and out of treatment since. She is getting ready for her second stem cell transplant later this month. She’s endured hours of chemo, is unable to work on a regular basis, and struggles daily to get out of the bed. When she emerges victorious from this round of cancer, she will indeed be a survivor. Is it fair to compare what we’ve been through with what some families go through? Is it appropriate to even have such thoughts? I don’t want to take a single thing away from our brave baby warrior who really was a fearless trooper in the hospital and has complained exactly zero times despite the discomfort of it all. She is my tiny superhero. It seems to me, however, there is a cancer spectrum. People who receive the scary news find themselves somewhere on it. Some have an easier time than others. Some struggle for years. And some, like Mary Hazel, are fortunate enough to sail through with flying colors. I am reminded again of the Beads of Courage and why the program is so good. Mary Hazel has her necklace with about twenty colorful beads that tell her cancer story. Her fellow oncology ward mates had strings of beads several feet long that told of their longer and more burdensome trials. They may all be cancer survivors one day but will have taken different paths to get there. I feel like we sprinted at an anaerobic pace from start to finish. My friend’s wife is more like an Olympic marathoner, pacing herself for the longer distance. None of it is easy. When I first heard the term ‘survivor’ in reference to my own little girl, my initial thought was, “But she really didn’t suffer that long.” Then I realize with frightening clarity that she owns and deserves the title because her outcome could just as easily have taken a different turn. What if we had not gone to the doctor for her annual well check? What if the pediatrician had not detected the tumor? What if the tumor had already metastasized? Any of these events could have happened and our lives would have never been the same. The fact is that Mary Hazel is a cancer survivor and I am thankful every minute of every day.