Two weeks ago I posted a message on Facebook about successfully completing six months of radiation and hormone treatment for prostate cancer, something I hadn’t shared widely before then.
The response overwhelmed me. I received hundreds of upbeat comments, “likes” and other encouragement, all of which filled my heart. But there were also messages from friends around the country who shared their own cancer stories.
One former work colleague told me about his experience, as did a relative and others. That was just for prostate cancer.
A college friend wrote to tell me how he’s gone through three operations for bladder cancer. Another friend, who grew up near me, told me he’s been battling a similar cancer for nearly a year.
Another long-time friend wrote to say he’s been dealing with multiple myeloma.
Still another friend said she and her husband are both cancer survivors.
The toughest messages and stories have come from friends far younger than me. One is now fighting brain cancer. Even younger is a former Duke student who has gone through a “nightmare” battle with breast cancer, which appears to have turned out well.
“Cancer is scary!” she wrote me.
I’d known that intellectually. As a science writer, I’d written about oncogenes, signal transduction pathways and other aspects of cancer. But my knowledge was largely abstract, except when loved ones were affected.
Getting cancer myself, even a treatable kind with a high survival rate, has made it far more personal. It’s been like when Champa and I were expecting our first child and I began noticing all of the pregnant women around me. They’d always been there. I just hadn’t paid much attention to them. Foolish me.
My younger friend who battled breast cancer closed her last message by saying, “Let our new perspective be a source of strength.” Yes, and of compassion, too. Our lives are fragile. Even the happiest day can turn grim in a moment, with a doctor’s frown, a baby’s cry or a car’s skid. We interact daily with people facing “scary,” regardless of whether we recognize their situation or have joined them yet ourselves.