Cancer’s Many Faces.

I have cancer.

In fact, stage 3A lung cancer with spreading into the lymph nodes.

I am alive.

Over the past year I have watch cancer dress me in many faces. Faces that were dark and scary and faces that were laughing and happy.

You may say, “Laughing and Happy?”

Yes, let me explain:  Cancer is a disease, its not something you get because you’ve asked for it.  So, when you have good days within your battle–you bottle them up. Perhaps its something funny on the television or someone said something that made you laugh–and for a moment forget about the darkness cancer has over your body.

Most people, like me, suffer from depression and anxiety–more so the first.  Cancer has created the face of depression.  Depression that spirals you deep into sadness and loneliness.  Two additional faces that can show themselves.  With depression, for me, it is more at night when most people’s brain is winding down–mine is spiraling in motion of thoughts and more thoughts.  It takes me to the dark places of my mind and sometimes it scares me because maybe one time I may not escape it.

For me, another face is sadness.    Sadness is the thought of being alone.  It is not about dying or facing death, but more so what I will leave behind when I am called home.  I have made peace with God and I have a strong and undying relationship with him.  Sadness is also what happens if my body begins to shut down?  How will I function?   What will I do?  Sadness because of my loved ones that I will leave behind. They say a parent should never have to bury a child–so that makes me sad.  Sadness of not entirely completing everything I wanted to do before life ends or I lose the ability to do whatever I want.  This is a face that I often mask over during the day–but sometimes it creeps up on me and tears begin to fill my eyes.  I try to hold it back, but sometimes the sadness and emotions take over.

Loneliness is a face cancer presents even when surrounded by loved ones and friends.  Loneliness in a way that while those you love think they know what you feel–you even hide it from them–you put on the happy face.  Despite the pain you may be feeling–the changes in your body chemistry–being alone because you are too tired or just sad–loneliness settles in.  Sometimes when you feel that you have no support–not because they aren’t around–but because you don’t know what you need from them.  Loneliness follows suit with sadness in respect to dying.  You die alone, but in death you are surrounded by many spirits.  The thought of dying alone brings loneliness–even if surrounded by loved ones–you die alone.

My work face is one that I put on most of the time.  A face that for 8 hours you can focus on other task and not have to worry or think about cancer.  People stop by and you smile, wave, and laugh.  To them you seem fine, but inside you are feeling the pain, the wearing down of your body, the tiredness of the moment, and the potential loss of your normal body reactions.  You think to yourself–is it okay to wear this face? Should I act sick?  Should I be quiet and reserved?  Many questions run through my head–why does cancer look so different on me than someone else?  Because everyone is different and the impacts of cancer are different on everyone–does that mean they are more sick than me?  Probably not.  Sometimes though the face wears thing and sadness, tiredness, and angry faces come out because like Mrs. Doubtfire who wore a face–sometimes you lose control of it.

The face of laughter–How can I be happy or laugh when I could be facing death?  The answer is simple–cancer can invade my body, but it can’t destroy my spirit.  I may have to dig deeper to find that spirit, but laughter is good.  One isn’t expected to be a sloth all the time–and its fine to laugh–and joke. That may be the best medicine of all. 

With the face of responses–this is the face that you wear when someone asks, “How are you feeling?”   “I am sorry”   First, I will likely give a quick surface based response like, I am living or I am here.  It is not because I don’t want to talk about it, but sometimes I want to forget about it.  Cancer makes those around us weird.  They don’t know what to say,  how to say it, what to do, or what not to do.  So many will just respond,  “I am sorry.”  You have nothing to be sorry for–you didn’t put the cancer in my body.  I know its just a programmed response because like oneself we are powerless to fix it and so are those around us.

Friends may run away and be distant because the thought of cancer scares them, or they may think you want your distance because you are sick.  Some friends just don’t want to be around anymore because you aren’t the same as you were. Sadly, one will lose those friends because they don’t know how to respond.  Then you have the other friends who try everything to help you–sometimes this is not good and sometimes it is the ultimate best.  The best thing a friend or family member can do is pay a compliment–you look nice,  love the shirt or tie,  love the hair, or hey this weather is…blah, blah blah.  You’re conversations don’t have to always be about cancer–talking about it over and over allows it to control your life even more.  Friends and family–don’t make cancer the center of your conversation. 

Another thing folks do is try and relate with cancer–don’t  cancer’s faces on each person are very different.  From the stage, to the type, the treatment, the outcomes, and the effects are all different.  So, be aware that just because one does not look sick they may be wearing a face of concealment.  A face that hides the illness, the true impacts of the disease, the sickness and side affects the treatments have, the potential financial burden, the thoughts of what could happen.  This face is like a changing and evolving person–it could be this way one second and the next another.  Don’t try and diagnosis or relate–just listen.  Don’t play down the feelings that one with cancer has–because it is often the release they need to live and fight.   Just be there.  Make time and don’t make them feel like a burden– I know I feel like a burden to many people.  I don’t ask for help.  I feel guilty monopolizing the time of someone.

The face of silence is one that people need to respect.  Not everyday will be a good or bad day…It may just be a quiet day.  Sometimes the best medicine is the company of someone who cares–without a word ever being spoken.  Go to church with them–pray with them–enjoy a lunch, or time sitting in the park watching the puffy white cumulus clouds move by–remembering the times you would look up and see different characters, images within the clouds.   Just allow for silence.   Sometimes it is okay to ask people to just give them space–this is not mean to be a bad thing–but maybe it is what they need.

Then we have a face of anger.  This face is hard to control–sometimes the littlest thing may make the person mad.  Perhaps it is the loneliness, the dust on the shelf, the wrong item of food from the restaurant.  Perhaps it is bad news that you receive or a test result that isn’t ideal.  Anger is fine.  Let it out.  Holding in your anger–is not going to solve anything.  Each day everyone starts with a empty red balloon–as the day wears on the balloon will fill with stress, setbacks, disappointment, anger, sadness etc…Once the balloon reaches its max capacity it will explode.  Understand the explosion is not always about you–its a coping mechanism that one with cancer may go through.

It is hard to manage all the many faces of cancer–the sick face, the million dollar face, the treatment face, the coping face, etc.  100s of different faces to fit the 100s of feelings/thoughts/emotions that go through your brain throughout the day.

To those who love and support someone with cancer–remember cancer is not an excuse to be a certain way, but it is a reason to understand the disease can dictate the person because it is living within the body–you can’t remove it like you do your socks and shoes.  Understanding from those who love you and care about you will understand.  Be ready to apologize with your apologetic face.  For the friends and family–it is not about you all the time–it is about the fact that something has invaded the body of your loved one and they are trying to adjust to it.

Faces I see.

I see many faces of people.  People who I know are real and sincere to those who I know are just going through the “I have to do this” motion and be nice.  To the faces of fear and sadness–because they are not sure what will happen.  I often find the faces of awkwardness that adorns many people.  They may avoid you, but you can tell when you tell someone they may be weirded out–let it happen.  Lastly, you have the face of “I AM GOING TO MAKE IT BETTER.”  It is a great thought and intention, but sometimes reality is that one can’t make it better–maybe for that moment and that MOMENT is one of the most special times a cancer patient will feel.  A moment of laughter and smiles, and time.

Time is not promised–time is not a bargaining chip to wager time together.  It is precious and limited.  Time can’t be relived.  Time can only move forward. Forward with or without you.  If someone with cancer asks for your time–know that is the greatest thing you can give them.  Don’t promise them time and push it off when they ask–they may not ask again or they may not be able to do so.  Don’t think that time is going to be there in two days or two weeks.  The time is now.  Maybe its not the best time for you, but for the one with cancer–they understand the value of time.

Remember the Mastercard commercial–  Dining at a 5 star restaurant… $200.00 … Buying a new outfit… $150.00… Time… Priceless.    Don’t make time about you–make it about the patient.  Listen to what they are asking.  Don’t try to fix it.  If they want to go to the mall or watch a movie–just enjoy the moment.  If they want to talk about cancer and such–listen.  You are NOT expected to have the fix-all for what they are discussing.

The face of time will grow darker and darker… Cancer will claim the lives of many fighters–but they didn’t die in vain–they died fighting.  A time may come to discontinue treatments… Understand it is the patient’s right to determine that with the doctors–it is NO ONE else’s decision.  It’s not stupid or dumb or wrong–it is about the quality of life and the right to die with dignity.

Once the face begin to fade and the outcome is good or bad of the cancer fight. Just know that the many faces that a cancer patient wears is sometimes to protect themselves and those around them.  Just remember the person you knew before the cancer. That is the true face that they still have–it may be deep below the surface, but they are still a person–the person you knew before and while they may never return to that face–they may come out stronger or succumb to the cancer–Don’t remember one for the cancer–but for why they were in your life.

As I conclude this blog–I am not wishing for death, but I am not scared of it.  I accept whatever plan God has for me. I have the choice to determine what treatments I get and what I decide to not get.  I have a wonderful team of doctors who listen and care.  I have a select few I can confide in about everything–in the end, don’t feel sad for me,  don’t be mad,  be understanding and happy–happy that a relationship existed through the good and the bad times.  Be there with them in the end.  Don’t miss a call, but also don’t promise if you can’t deliver.  I may move slower than I used to and my body may start to change–but I am still me.  I will die me.  It is when that time comes that I will be at peace–and so should you–knowing that I did not give up.  I fought until I was tired.  There is hope that the cancer will be controlled and goes into remission, which is what we all hope for in the end.  But, I will tell you that if it is not the will of God–I will accept my fate and I will die with dignity and comfort knowing I had you by my side.

The face of time is priceless–Don’t make an excuse not to give it. In the end, I look forward to hearing the voice of God say,  “Well Done”      This song speak volumes to me: 

With love,

Nick 

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