It is amazing when you can speak to a family struck by the cancer epidemic. Even as a cancer survivor, I am sitting trying to understand why I cannot help but feel my stomach churn in sympathy and disbelief. On August 29th, my colleagues and I volunteered at Ronald McDonald House Fan Day, a dinner prepared and paid for by the Michael "Pinball" Clemons Foundation for families touched by a life-threatening illness who use the facility. As the families and children lined up to be served the delicious meal provided, I was preoccupied with packing one family's lasagna, Caesar salad and garlic bread dinner as they were rushing off to Sick Children's Hospital to visit their young 9-year-old daughter who was battling cancer and receiving chemotherapy. While waiting a few extra minutes for the Garlic bread to toast, we shared stories of each other's cancer journeys. She was an avid runner, swimmer and aspiring triathlete who had to have the bottom half of her leg removed because of a cancer infection so rare you wonder how? With the rare cancers come unfortunate stories of medical feats surrounding rarely-done operations and treatments. As the story became more detailed, my face turned pale as they told me about the young girl's amputation where doctors cut the leg above the knee. "No but wait... It's amazing." the mother tells me, and I'm thinking to myself "Lady, are you crazy?! What's amazing about this?" I start thinking about what I know from my experience. Cancer made me a better stronger person, but I still occasionally thought "Why me God, of all people?" As I'm thinking all this, the mother continues on about how the doctor was able to keep the foot, remove the little girl's remaining leg muscles in the upper leg, turn them all 180° to then attach her foot backwards so that she may be able to fit a revolutionary prosthetic leg in hopes that she may continue to run and swim, things she loves so much.
I excuse myself as I need to make sure the garlic toast to complement their dinner wasn't burning, not to mention give my stomach a break from the detail-oriented story that I have decided to keep PG. But as I packaged the remainder of their food, I thought to myself that these people remind me a bit of myself... as harsh and life-threatening as cancer can be, there is a tremendous amount of good that comes from battling and for those lucky individuals, and the opportunity to survive it. It teaches you that life needs to be cherished, because at any time it can be taken away from you, in the blink of an eye. "Amazing," the mother had said to me, and she is right. I had started feeling sorry for their daughter, but I remembered how much I had hated sympathy, felt that people were writing me off already and that I was at my early funeral. I grabbed the container of hot gourmet lasagna, Caesar salad and the Garlic toast to go, and slapped a smile on my face because I knew... I knew that they and their little girl had a better shot at surviving this terrible epidemic because they were able to see the good from the bad and turn it into something positive. But what they seemed to appreciate most that evening was me