What cancer cannot do -- break my family

Posted: Monday, January 25, 2010

Cancer. My mind, then 12-years-old, could not comprehend the disease. I understood by the look on Mom's face that I should be scared, but exactly why I wasn't sure. I cried that night from fear of the unknown -- not from fear of her dying.

A lot of things were about to change in my life, including my idyllic view of family.

You see, I used to think my family was perfect, that my parents had achieved the "American Dream" -- a strong marriage, two children, a dog, two cats and 10 acres on which to roam. We could have been a sitcom where the story had a moral and ended each night with a joke and a smile. I was naive but happy. I had a blissful image of what a family was supposed to look like and I thought we were invincible.

We weren't.

We found out my Mom had breast cancer the day before my 13th birthday. I have a fuzzy memory of a family meeting in the living room where I received a simplified version of what was happening and what the heck it was that was attacking my Mom.

For the next several years my Mom went through tons of different treatments. She even had a several month period where she was declared as having "no evidence of disease" (because there's no cure for cancer) but that dream was soon crushed and she went back into treatment.

Each new medicine that was supposedly going to cure her just brought on an unstoppable wave of symptoms and side effects. All I have to say about the meds is that they do screwy things to people even when properly prescribed. It got to the point that I started blaming all the medications for how sick she was instead of the cancer.

While this was going on I was living two lives. I would go to school and sports practice and act like nothing whatsoever was wrong. I figured if I could act like I was fine then I would be. For a long time I didn't talk about it, even when she and my dad would. Yes, I told a few people and always had someone to confide in, but for a long time no one else would have been able to tell what was going on by the way I acted. Then I would go home and I would quit lying to myself. I had to because in October of 2008 I realized my Mom was dying and there was nothing I or any doctor could do about it.

The death of someone you love is an odd thing. I had this selfish desire for Mom to live as long as possible whatever the consequences were for her, just so I could spend more time with her, but there reaches a point where death is a relief. A relief for her so she could quit suffering and go home and a relief for me to know that even though I wouldn't see her again anytime soon that she could be happy again.

This may seem a little twisted to some but I have a fervent trust in God and heaven, so what seemed like the end of her story was really just the beginning of an entirely new one.

A huge part of my family was gone, and with it my idealized view of family, but my definition of the word soon changed.

Now, a year after my Mom died, I have expanded who I view as family past the people who are technically related to me. I'm not exactly sure when this started, but after several Friday game nights with my Mom's best friend, Nan Misner and her son Zack, we accepted them as part of the family. What they, and other adopted friends, did for us is hard to describe, but they were always there when we needed anything. Most the time it was just a laugh and someone to talk to that was going through the same thing.

I remember one Friday when Zack, amazed by the abundance of board games stored in our closet, asked if he could be adopted. I just laughed and told him he already was.

Regardless of the jokes and teasing about us "adopting" Nan and Zack the concept and what it meant to me personally didn't really hit home until about a month later. We had all finished cooking dinner (a joint effort at my house) and had sat down at the table to eat when I looked up at my Dad expectantly. What I was expecting was for him to start a prayer for dinner, something that I always connected with a family meal. Then we prayed together as a family.

I know that regardless of who I claim as family I can't replace my Mom. Believe me, I've had plenty of people try and mother me in the last year, but I don't need that.

It's just that I find comfort in the idea that regardless of how broken we were a year ago, someone else would still want to be a part of that. So we may no longer be the classic American family but I'm OK with that. I like not having to try and live two lives anymore. I can go to school and not feel like I'm lying to everyone.

There's no way I can go back and change anything that happened but I'm not living with any regrets. I may not be as naive as I once was but the happiness is back. My family is different than it used to be but it's not broken anymore.

This article is the opinion of Carol Clonan. Clonan is a junior at Skyview High School.

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