No one is immune to cancer

Over the weekend, my mom and I had a long conversation about my dad, and how my siblings and I handled his sickness and death. (Sorry, Mom. This is going to be another column that makes you sad.) Mom said that it was a shock to her that Dad’s death hit me so hard – I was just a few weeks shy of my 25th birthday when Dad died, I was the oldest of my four siblings, and she had assumed that I’d known that Dad was dying. She wondered if there was anything she and Dad could have done to better prepare me or to ease the pain of his loss.

I told her what I’d told a friend and coworker of mine who recently lost her brother to cancer – it was magical thinking. I simply didn’t believe that this would happen to me or my family. Other people lost their parents or loved ones to cancer, not me.

My parents were never anything but open with my siblings and me about the course of Dad’s cancer and treatment. They told us each time a treatment failed, and the ever worsening odds of continued treatments. I remember the evening in November 2004 when Mom and Dad sat us down and told us that Dad’s leukemia wasn’t responding to treatment. At that point, the odds of his survival were 20 percent. After our family meeting was dismissed, I got in my car and drove aimlessly around Warren, my music way too loud, trying to drown out the words about cancer and treatments that kept repeating over and over in my head as well as my own sobs. But I still believed that Dad would be the one to beat the odds. I honestly never thought that my dad could die until the day he did.

That’s the thing about cancer. It doesn’t discriminate. There was nothing different or special about my family that would make us immune to it.

Some people believe that the wealthiest and most powerful among us do have that immunity – that there are treatments and cures out there for them that the rest of us don’t have access to. Yet Steve Jobs, one of the cofounders of Apple and arguably one of the most brilliant minds of our age, succumbed to pancreatic cancer at the age of 56. Surely someone of his resources would have had access to a miracle cure if there was one available. His wealth might have bought him a few more years than most with his diagnosis, but he was still younger than my dad was when he died.

If you watch the survivors lap at the beginning of each Relay For Life event, you will see a truly diverse group of people. All races are represented. All income and education levels. All ages. These are the people you work with, the people you see mowing the lawn across the street, the people you pass in the grocery store. You could find something in common with each and every one of them.

It could be you. It could be your family.

And that is why we continue to Relay.