Written by Erica Watkins
Cancer sucks, and cancer is stupid. Despite the fact that I wouldn’t wish cancer upon anyone, having a sister who had cancer has proved to me that cancer teaches us much more about life than it does about death. Living with a family member who has experienced cancer has taught me four things: find support, say what you are feeling, treat everyone equally and appreciate that you are alive.
Pain is not meant to be experienced alone. Find people who have similar experiences to you. When I was nine, I started attending Camp Okizu. The word “Okizu” comes from the Sioux language and means unity. Camp Okizu is a week-long sleep-away camp for patients of cancer or their family members. As its meaning suggests, Okizu has allowed me to find people who are going through the same struggles. My cabin-mates always become my family and life-long friends, and Okizu has become my home away from home.
When someone close to you has cancer, it is hard not to feel a plethora of emotions and have a million questions. Often, people feel bad expressing these emotions to their loved ones because they are afraid of making them sad or hurting their feelings. What I have learned is that you should say whatever is on your mind because you will be surprised how people will react. People are more compassionate and loving than we tend to believe. It is okay to feel angry, it is okay to feel like your experience is unfair, it is okay to feel abandoned, it is okay to feel happy and it is okay to not know how you are feeling. What is most important is that you say how you are feeling, because the worst thing in the world is to one day not have the opportunity to say anything anymore.
People with cancer do not need to be treated differently than anyone else you know. Everyone fights their battles, and cancer is just one of those battles. Some people shy away from people with cancer, or only know how to talk to the patient about cancer, but if you know anyone with cancer, please try your best to remember that cancer is not their whole life, it is just a part of it. Ask them who their newest crush is, or what they want to do when they grow up, or what the funniest joke they know is. Tell them about your day. Treat them as just another one of your friends. If you know someone who has a family member with cancer, don’t ask them how their relative is, because they get asked that too much. Instead ask your friend how they are doing. People have cancer, cancer doesn’t have people.
Lastly, appreciate the life that you have been given. Having a sister in remission, I know that life is beautifully fragile. Everything could be taken away from you in a matter of moments. But cancer should not force us to fear death, it should force us to live life to its fullest. Ask yourself every morning: am I doing something that makes me happy? Ask yourself: is this how I want to live for the rest of my life? Ask yourself: if I died today, would I be satisfied with the impact I have made? Life is worth living, and cancer is simply a way to make us appreciate that we are alive.