How do I tell the family I have cancer? It was only yesterday four and a half years ago . .

I haven’t watched it yet, the episode in which Kristina tells her family that she has breast cancer.  The t.v. show, Parenthood,  aired last night and I dvr’d it to watch later.  In just watching the previews my throat tightened and my chest heaved, tears sprang to my eyes; my gosh, how will I watch this without balling?

A fellow blogger, Elaine, had breast cancer.  She wrote about her experience in her blog, Peace for the Journey.  I admire how Elaine is able to express herself via the typed word.  She writes in such a manner that I feel I am right there with her; I can see what she is describing, I hear what is being said and I feel the pain  . . .

“Good morning, Patty. How are you doing today?”

Yes, Dr. Habal was on the move, and I would have to wait a bit longer. Did he say Patty? Maybe it was Kathy? In hindsight, I don’t remember. What I do remember is what happened next, about two minutes after Dr. Habal’s arrival there.

A guttural, turn-your-stomach scream called out from the room next door, interrupting the quietness and forcing my notice. My family tells me it could be heard in the waiting room as well. Some walls aren’t thick enough to insulate the suffering cry. Some walls, instead, herald its arrival, allowing everyone within earshot permission to listen in on private pain . . . her pain, the woman next door who had just received, perhaps, the worst news of her life.

Oh, I didn’t hear those words coming through the walls; I didn’t need to. Some moments write a witness all their own, requiring little explanation. Some moments are just that hard, hurtful, and seemingly hopeless. Some moments are meant to be remembered. This, undoubtedly, was one of hers, thereby becoming one of mine.

I wanted to bolt. I wanted to throw up. I wanted to leave the pain. Instead, I shed some tears on her behalf. Moistness collected in the corners of my eyes and then dampened my cheeks, falling gently into my lap. I marked the moment in solitude and stood in solidarity with my sister on the other side of that wall, knowing something of what she felt and wishing I could break through the scene to give her some truth.”

Elaine captured that chilling moment when another “sister” received the news, cancer.

I remember, I remember so well.  It’s one of those moments that is locked in my memory forever.

The nurse calls my name, my husband and I are escorted into a small, sterile room; my personal holding cell to wait for the doctor and his report on my biopsied lymph node.  Complete silence, a numbing silence as we wait.  My mind was at war firing vollies from one side to the other; “it can’t be anything . . .” to “what if I have cancer?”  And then the door finally opens and in comes Dr. Milheim, the surgeon.  Odd, the doctor won’t look me in the eye.  He opens my file, pulls out the pathology report and reads to us the results – he just threw a brick at my brain.  I what?  I have what?  Mantle cell lymphoma?  What is that?  That’s cancer?  And then I didn’t hear much of anything else other than chemo should start shortly.

Somehow we march out to the car, we are in the car, we look at each other and I start to cry.  My husband holds me and he prays, all the while my brain hurts and my insides are numb, the fear is overwhelming.  Now we must tell our adult children and the rest of the family.  How do you tell children that live states away?  How do you tell a son who at that very moment is going about his ordinary day, perhaps he is at work or maybe he is in class at college?  How do you tell a daughter who is at college with no family whatsoever to go to to grieve this family crisis?

Cell phones.  Driving south on Hwy 93 to home.  I don’t know who I called first, I think I called my brother’s cell phone hoping to meet him somewhere so he can help us break the news to the family.  He doesn’t answer, I begin to panic.  I call his wife, Kim, she is at home.  I tell her the news – cancer.  She says she will get a hold of Scott.  Scott calls me.  We plan to meet at my dad’s business center in one of the empty offices.

Then I call the kids.  How do I say this from three states away?  How do I tell them I have cancer and we can’t hold each other and cry?  We can’t hold each other and sort this out?  We can’t hold each other and say, “It’s gonna be okay”?

I thought to first call my brother and sister-in-law, Chad rents from them.  They are the family that can be there for Chad.  I don’t remember exactly how it all worked out, but I did call everyone and Chad did go over to Dwayne and Sue’s and was comforted by them.  I think he cried with them . . . I don’t remember.

Then the call I dreaded, I had to call Christy and she was completely alone.  I think I caught her before she went to work at the local Christian bookstore.  I told her the news and I said get to work as soon as possible, her fellow employees would hold her and help her and let her cry.  Then I asked her to drive to Quincy, the town we had recently moved away from, to be with our dear friends of seventeen years, they would meet her every need and answer every fear.

There, that was done.  Now to tell our daughter that lived with us and to tell the rest of my family.

Before we knew it (I guess the phone calls to Chad and Christy made the 30 minute drive seem faster than normal) we were at the business center.  Kim  and Scott were waiting for us.  My brother is very calming, Kim hugs me.  I share with them what we know and Scott immediately leads us in prayer.  But then Mom and Dad come in, I guess they were driving by.  They knew about my biopsy and that this was the day for the results.  So, well,  . . . now my parents knew.  I’ll never forget how my dad exhaled, the expression in Mom’s eyes, shock.  It’s like one moment we were all confident the results would be nothing and all is well and life would go on as usual and then, boom, that very next millisecond all of our lives turned upside-down.

Ah, yes, a memory never to be forgotten . . .  All my senses were involved and remain involved. As I type this it is vivid and alive and it was just yesterday . . . yesterday four and half years ago.

Elaine finishes her story.

My life has been marked by pain; my life is not defined by it, but by God’s grace, my life has been changed because of it. I cannot undo personal suffering, nor can I remove you from yours. I can only point you to the One whose story, whose truth, whose witness, and whose resurrection can move you forward to victory.

All is not lost in the night, friend. Dawn will break through, and that which now feels like death can feel like life again. Like hope. Like spring’s resurrection after winter’s solemn grip. Hang on, sister, brother-warrior. Yes, the fight has only begun, but the fight will not last forever. There’s more to the story. Hang on and hold fast . . . the best is yet to be.

Yes, it is true, “but the fight will not last forever. There’s more to the story. Hang on and hold fast . . . the best is yet to be.”  I fought, I hung on,  I held fast and the best did come.

To read “The moment the walls talked”, by Elaine, please click here.

(And now to watch Parenthood . . . )


3 comments on “How do I tell the family I have cancer? It was only yesterday four and a half years ago . .

  1. […] be alright.  Stay at school and focus on your finals; do your best on your finals.”  click here to read the article, “How do I tell my family I have cancer . . . […]

  2. Andrew says:

    Brings back the memories. News is hard, telling others, particularly our kids, harder.

    Thanks for sharing.


  3. peaceforthejourney says:

    This makes me cry all over again as well! My doctor’s visit was two hours from home; in route to home, we made stops to two college campuses (my two older boys) and numerous phone calls. Then we came home to my little kids and my parents . . . and then we went to Arby’s for dinner and sat next to a living tree (I have a chapter in the book that talks about that living tree, that night, etc. called “Hope Grows.”

    Anyway, it does seem like yesterday; I don’t imagine I’ll ever forget that day. I don’t suppose I’m meant to.


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