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Cancer Breaks All the Rules! (Excerpt from “Letters to My Black Sons: Raising Boys in a Post-Racial America” Apprentice House, 2015)

November 11, 2013

“When someone you love gets diagnosed with a terminal disease, your life as you know it stops working”

(Originally published in The Baltimore Sun on 11/6/2013)

©2013 by Karsonya Wise Whitehead

Florence Whitehead Huzzey (November 24, 1946 - April 23, 2013)

Florence Whitehead Huzzey                              (November 24, 1946 – April 23, 2013)

REFLECTIONS

I hate losing. I hate it when I lose my keys, lose my way, or lose my train of thought. I have spent my life trying to learn the rules of every game that I played in an effort to ensure that I was always prepared and that I had everything that I needed to be victorious. The game always made sense to me when I knew the rules. I respected the boundaries and I fought hard. I am not accustomed to or comfortable with losing, and that is why I am having a difficult time.

Earlier this year, my dear sweet mother-in-law passed away, less than three months after being diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer that had metastasized from her lungs to two places in her brain. When we were first told that she was sick, I kept telling myself that times had changed, medicine had gotten better, and the field of medicine had been revolutionized, but, in so many ways, it has not. There is no cure for terminal cancer, and there is nothing worse than having a doctor tell you that there is nothing that can be done to cure you or a loved one. Nothing. At all. My mother-in-law, Florence Whitehead Huzzey, went from being a robust and vibrant person to being on complete bed rest in less than a month. She went through six weeks of radiation to the brain, and because of it, her body was acting like she had had a stroke, so her left side stopped working. In so many ways, so did we.

When someone you love gets diagnosed with a terminal disease, your life as you know it stops working. You lose touch, and you lose track of time. The days slip by, and though you are going to work or to school, you are not fully present anywhere. It is as if the universe demands everything you have to give and makes you focus all of your attention and energy on trying to keep your loved one alive. I could feel myself almost trying to will her back to good health.

Cancer became real to me, and it was everywhere. I would hold conversations with cancer and demand that it answer my questions about what I could do to force it to leave mother-in-law alone. I got angry at cancer. I fussed at it, ignored it and apologized to it. In my mind, cancer was like a spider that had caught my mother-in-law in a web, and everyone who was connected to her was caught as well.

Excerpt from “Letters to My Black Sons: Raising Boys in a Post-Racial America” (Apprentice House, 2015) https://www.apprenticehouse.com/?product=letters-to-my-black-boys-raising-sons-in-a-post-racial-america

*Read more: http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bs-ed-cancer-reflections-20131106,0,1847775.story#ixzz2kIf9TKNv

FACTS:

1. Lung cancer is the second most common cancer and the number one cancer killer. Worldwide, lung cancer is the most common cancer in terms of both incidence and mortality.

2. The most common cause of lung cancer is long-term exposure to tobacco smoke, which causes 80–90% of lung cancers.

3. Prognosis is generally poor. Of all people with lung cancer, 15%-16% survive for five years after diagnosis. The Stage is often advanced at the time of diagnosis.

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