This story is sad. This story is dreadful. This story is tragic. But it is real. And as sad as the story is, it happens all over the world to people indiscriminately—so many times that not many care to keep count.
According to the World Health Organization, there were 8.2 million cancer related deaths in 2012, with the number of new cases expected to rise by about 70% over the next 2 decades. Here are ten life lessons only people who have lost a loved one to cancer know so well.
1. Life is precious and fleeting.
Anyone who’s walked ‘through the valley of the shadow of death’ can attest to how precious and fleeting life is. You are here today and gone tomorrow. My father was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer in January, when I was 17. By April of the same year, he was dead. Let me just say watching someone you love so much slowly wither away and die young (my father was supposed to turn 46 later that year) is no joke. The emotional enormity of the experience, its absolute finality—it breaks you.
2. The words “I love you” mean more when said to a loved one when they are still alive.
The most beautiful words are often spoken when someone has passed away. But, why wait until it’s too late? I never told my father how much I loved him, or even how much he meant to me when he was still alive. I was a stubborn teenager who rarely verbalized my true feelings or said thoughtful words to those I loved—until, as first born, I was required to help draft my father’s eulogy. Sadly, many people are like that (stubborn and unloving) well past their rebellious teen years.
Surely your loved one doesn’t have to be on their deathbed for you to say something wonderful to them. Say you love them today and show it in a thousand different ways. As terrifying as it may be, tell them. Seriously, why wait until they die to tell them you love them when you can tell them now?
3. A “Thank you” is more significant if a loved one can hear it and respond.
The day my father died of cancer of the liver was my brother’s birthday. He looked calm and happy lying on the hospital bed when he asked my brother and I to go celebrate the birthday rather than stay at the hospital. I can’t recall if we thanked him for letting us leave early, but we ran out of the hospital to celebrate. That same night, around 8 pm, while we were playing video games, my father passed on. I wish we had been more deliberate in saying thank you to dad for being so loving and thoughtful, even on his sick bed.
Don’t wait to say, “thank you.” Surprise someone you care about with these beautiful words before it’s too late. Let those you love know you are thankful for everything they’ve done for you. Make sure they understand that you appreciate them – that you are grateful for the good memories and continued love they show you even when you aren’t very loveable.
4. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
The pain and sense of loss I felt when my father died is unparalleled. I reached rock bottom. I was in the deepest, darkest pit of misery and hopelessness. I can’t possibly fall any farther than that. Even if (God forbid) I lost my wife, my daughter, and my mom all at once (all of whom I love with all my heart and soul and might), I cannot feel such depth and raw pain as I felt when cancer ripped my father from our family. It was my maiden encounter with real pain—a baptism of fire. Now nothing can break me—death can’t break me. I am strong. I have survived the horror of watching someone I love dearly die a slow, agonizing death.
Cancer does that to you. You know what you’ve been through, and you’re stronger for it. You live in constant gratitude, brimming with love and thankfulness, because no matter where you find yourself, no matter your present situation, no matter the trials before you… you’ve been through hell and survived. Somehow you’re still here, you’re together…and you know you can make it through anything.
5. Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.
We watched helplessly as dad moaned, groaned and writhed in excruciating pain from the cancer. He suffered unspeakable discomfort from all the treatments, surgeries, drugs, and injections, and it pained me more than words can explain. I wished I could take the chemo treatments for him, but I couldn’t.
The sight (weight loss, hair loss, and so on) and the thought of what a loved one is going through kills you inside, but you can’t do anything about it—the pain is inevitable. But when it is all finished, you alone get to decide how long you will continue to suffer and when you should accept it and move on.
6. Time heals all wounds.
When my dad died, I was a total wreck. I refused to go to school. I ran away from home. I had nothing to do with God, for he had “abandoned” us in our hour of need. I started drinking and smoking, but somehow, in the course of time, the pain and hurt subsided. Almost 12 years have passed since my dad died, and trust me when I say the wound is healed. The scars are still there—but the wound is healed.
Time indeed does heal all wounds. Don’t despair. Give it time. Even though you are in such emotional pain that you can’t see how you can move on after the loss of a loved one, take heart, because time heals all wounds. The scars may remain (possibly forever), but your wound will heal in time.
7. Hard times reveal true friends.
It just so happens that the people who you expect will be there for you may not; and those people you never expected to be there will. I remember a close friend of my mother who was also her church-mate at the time speaking behind her back at church saying that the reason my dad had died was because my mother was not “Christian” enough. That really hurt my mother, because she trusted this woman and would not have expected such hurtful words to come from her.
Cancer has a way of bringing out who your true friends are—the ones who will be beside you through thick and thin, through ups and downs, through the beauty and the ugliness. Once you know who your true friends are, embrace and keep them close, along with your family. These are the people who truly matter. You will lean on them regularly and they will lean on you. Your friendship will nourish and carry you through many trials and tribulations that life throws.
8. Life is worth living.
It is ironic that seeing the face of death causes us to live life with even more passion. Once you’ve experience the death of a loved one to cancer, the way you live and view life after the storm has passed is never the same. I wake up every morning thankful. I appreciate all the loved ones left in my life with greater fervor, because it is crystal clear to me that life is not guaranteed. I recognize that soon it will all end.
No one can predict the moment of death, and nothing ever prepares you for it, but with every sunrise and sunset, with every bird song and rainfall, with every blossoming flower in the spring and every fallen leaf in the autumn—rise up and celebrate life and all the little notes that compose life’s great symphony.
9. Miracles happen.
Life gives and takes away. Even newborn babies die. People eventually learn to accept the turn life has taken and work with it instead of struggling against it. It isn’t easy, but the more you surrender, the easier it is to maintain peace of mind and move on. Never underestimate the resilience of the human spirit.
It’s amazing how people who’ve lost loved ones to cancer pull themselves through and not only continue to live, but also to live better. It’s a miracle that many who actually endure the whole ordeal of chemo treatments come out of it alive and actually thrive.
10. Life will go on without you.
Mortality is something we all must face. Even though people don’t want to think about death, the fact remains that we will all die one day. And, sad as it may be, the world won’t stop because you are gone. It will keep spinning. The joys and struggles of surviving will continue with or without you. If that makes you sad, just remember this: the horror of life is that it changes; the beauty of life is that it changes.
That’s why we celebrate and give thanks for all cancer survivors. We celebrate all the valiant souls who have passed on, and all those who are left behind to tell the story. Love and peace to you all.
Featured photo credit: jimp200962 via pixabay.com