It was just another day in a long row of days without my son, Caden. I woke up feeling completely exhausted, enough so that I actually laid on the couch to say goodbye to my kids as they left for school. Everything was hard. My anxiety became too much, so I walked and walked and walked. Twelve miles total without thought of a destination. I cried many times along the side of the road, doubled over and sobbing aloud for the whole world to hear. I just couldn’t contain the hurt. I wanted to be anywhere other than home. I wanted to run away, hide from the pain and sorrow that was drowning me, cutting off the very air in my lungs, and the daggers shredding up my heart from the inside. Instead, I held on for my other four kids that would need me when they came home. I barely made it through the day, just as I had for the previous few days.
As I was going to bed, thankful that the day was done and that I’d “survived,” I looked at the date to see whose turn it was to pray (I pray on odd days when it is odd years), and knew what had made the day so hard. It was September 9th, the day two years ago; when we were told that Caden was for sure going to die of cancer. There was nothing else they could or would do for him and gave us the number to a hospice nurse they trusted to ease him into the next world.
Consciously I didn’t know what day it was, but my mind and heart sure did. I didn’t “think” or “plan” to have a bad day. I didn’t look ahead and see it had once been a bad day and could be a bad day this year too, but my heart sure felt it. I never understood until that moment that our days are not only kept by ticking clocks, appointment books, and schedules and planned days, but by the counting of days of a mother’s heart.
In our faith, young men leave their families for two years to serve a mission. As we approach the second anniversary, just twenty-four days away, I can’t help but feel deep, gut-wrenching sorrow that this month is not the countdown to the celebration it would be if he was coming home in just over three weeks. No, because my son will never come home again. My son died. I will not see him in this life ever again.
September is Childhood Cancer Month. The statistics and memes that are all over the internet, posted mostly by families just like ours, mean so much to us. Caden didn’t have a lifestyle that leads to this. He did not drink, did not smoke, did not do anything but live as a child until he was forced to grow too quickly into a man overnight. He was healthy, and then he was not. He was running and playing and dreaming of life, and then he was lying in a bed, too weak to move, having poisons pumped directly into his heart to hopefully save his life. September was just another month before his diagnosis. Then it became a month to get the word out while he was fighting every single day just to live another day. Now, being the countdown month to the hardest day of our lives, October 4th, it has become a month that I fight to survive each minute of every day of my life.
Cancer has changed me. Some things are good. I love deeper, look harder, and appreciate so much more than I ever did before. But I have been changed in ways that scare me, too. I don’t think I’ll ever be the same. Cancer steals, cancer kills, cancer freaking sucks. Hopefully, one day, a vaccine will eradicate it to just a memory, like polio, mumps, and other diseases. I pray on odd days during the odd years that I’ll be around to celebrate the cure. Until that day, wave if you see me walking aimlessly around town, doubled over at times, but always working hard to fight a fight that threatens to overtake me. Cancer is not always pink. Sometimes it is yellow for the children. Regardless it always brings the same colors to every single heart it touches, black. No matter whether they survive or not, it kills something in you, you never saw coming. We weren’t always a cancer family. We didn’t always understand the way we do now, but maybe my truth can help someone else.