A Big Word Called Cancer



Oh hell. With just six letters that’s a really big word, isn’t it?


Well, I guess if you haven’t had to deal with it, it’s just another word. But once it enters your life – either with yourself or a loved one – it becomes a pretty damn big word, doesn’t it? Like POW! KABAM! A punch in the gut or a slap in the face. It quite literally knocks the breath right out of you.

That little word suddenly takes over your life. You can’t think. You can’t breathe. It robs your mind and spirit of all hope. It destroys plans, dreams, aspirations, and visions of the future. With a simple word your life is changed forever.


It’s something we have difficulty understanding or wrapping our heads around. It’s not normal and it causes death, so it must be some type of foreign thing. An alien or demonic thing growing in an otherwise normal body. We envision black, gooey, smelly, hideous cells forming into monstrous growths. It’s an “ick” that needs to be removed, destroyed, cut out, fought against, yelled at, cried over. Then life can go back normal.

But life won’t be normal again. Not life as we knew it.


As a veterinarian, I deal with this word daily. Through the years I had developed a certain detachment from the word. I practiced a great deal of sensitivity and compassion whenever it came into conversations with clients. Because I could see the impact that unmentionable word had on people when it had to be finally mentioned, especially regarding their beloved pet.

And so I found myself in that same spot facing that same unmentionable word when Luke, my Chessie, was diagnosed with …


When I went through vet school, I remember the pathology professor explaining cancer as “normal cells that go haywire”. Meaning that cancer is a “mistake” in DNA sequencing that turns normal cells into abnormal or cancer cells. These abnormal cells do not understand cell boundaries, limitations of growth, or that they are supposed to stay in their own part of the body and not go elsewhere. They have since discovered that this “mistake” or genetic mutation is there from the moment of birth and a matter of preset destiny. So there really isn’t some icky black “thing” taking over the body.

For me, knowing that cancer is a “mistake” and a preset destiny somehow lessens the blow. I can forgive a mistake, just like I can forgive a friend’s misplaced forgetfulness. Plus it’s less disconcerting looking at Luke and envisioning “messed-up” cells interfering with normalcy instead of icky black crap destroying his body. And there is a sense of comfort knowing that no matter what – cleaner living, better choices, thinking more happy thoughts – it would not have changed this outcome. It is what it is.


This word no longer scares or terrifies me. I choose to live life to it’s fullest irregardless of what time is left or some doctor’s prognosis (medical terminology for ‘best guess”). I will not regret the choices of the past nor sit with remorse or guilt worrying over what I might have done differently. I will choose to cherish the precious life I hold in my arms now, and wait to grieve my losses when it finally comes – not before. I will not let the fear engulf me but choose instead to have faith in something greater. Because I know that no matter what, no matter how it happens, everything will be OK. I may not have the outcome I want, but that’s OK.

Because that is life.

Mistakes and all!