When I was fifteen I worked in a semi-pizza shop. There I became good friends with another fifteen year old named Ali, a vivacious and candid girl. During any down time, we would decorate pizzas slower, taking the time to spread the sauce more evenly. We’d also find ourselves having those deep, meaningful conversations about life that only fifteen year olds can have. One day, she asked me if I had any words that I thought were particularly terrible. I couldn’t think of any that I harbored feelings of disgust for, so I told her no and asked her if she did.
“Beef,” she said, sprinkling a fistful of beef crumble onto the pizza before her. “Beef is such a gross word.”
I thought about that for awhile and for a long time afterward I could see her point. The way your mouth takes shape while saying the word is a little unsettling.
Now, a decade later, I find myself thinking about her question again. Except this time, I know what my ugly word is. It’s “cancer.”
About a year and a half ago, I had my first memorable run-in with the word when I found out my mom had breast cancer. I had no idea what to think and in the quiet of the closet-sized room I was subletting in San Francisco, it shook me. I didn’t know what cancer looked like, what treatments were available, what would happen next. In the even quieter calm of lying in bed in my teeny-tiny subletted room, my mind would jump faster than I could ask it to stop, and I cried when thinking about the possibility of losing her.
On Thursday, Alan went to the dr.’s office for some test results, and I went into work. While waiting for the doctor he texted me that his throat hurt and he was pretty sure I was the one that got him sick. I rolled my eyes at my phone. A little bit later, he called me and when I picked up, I could tell something was wrong. He asked me to meet him. I asked him what was wrong; I asked him what the dr.’s said.
“I have cancer,” was all he said.
On the way home, I fell apart. When I saw him, I fell apart. There was lots of falling apart and regaining composure, only to lose it again soon after.
A day or two later, when the falling apart had let up a bit, Alan commented on the scariness of the word “cancer.” I couldn’t agree more. I would much rather prefer to hear, “You just have a spot of bad cells here, but not to worry! We’ll just snip it right out, give you a little friendly zap or two and you’ll be as good as new!”
Tomorrow we find out the details on the spot of bad cells and the snipping it out bit. Think good thoughts for us.