I know many people have been worried about me, especially my parents. This blog post was inspired by an article I read in an airplane magazine about a man named Mark Weber (Bronze Star Legion of Merit, Combat Action Badge…I don’t know exactly what that means, but it sounds like a very prestigious rank in the military). Anyhow, Mark was diagnosed with stage IV intestinal cancer and was facing a series of very radical surgeries and aggressive treatments. After finding out how bleak his prognosis was, Mark wrote a book for his 3 young sons- this magazine article contained excerpts from his book, and literally had me sobbing uncontrollably on an airplane full of people.
Mark talks about breaking the news about his cancer to his children, telling them, “I do have cancer…I know it doesn’t look like it, but I am very, very sick inside.” He then describes each of their reactions to this awful news, and goes on to tell his boys that although he may seem strong (especially because of his military background) he cries, and that he is scared and angry and mad. He tells his sons that it’s ok for them to feel this way too, but they cannot dwell on it or allow it ruin them. Mark beautifully parallels the battle he is facing with cancer to fighting as a soldier in war. He tells his sons that it’s natural and healthy to break down once in a while (on the battle field…in life…wherever), but that they must ALWAYS get back up. If one of his sons falls, the others must help him get back up- just as soldiers would in a battle.
Mark writes to his boys, “Part of me desperately wanted to shield you from the pain and suffering. I decided against it, because I don’t think you or any child needs a shield…Pain and suffering are inevitable in this life, and shielding you from it won’t help when you’re on your own- whether I’m dead or not. My focus since the diagnosis is no different than before the diagnosis- to help you think about how to navigate the hardships you’re certain to face in life, and how not to avoid them.”
Mark goes on to talk about how his oldest son Matthew, a high school freshman, was extremely shy and had been his entire life. Because of the messages Mark and his wife had given the children about being strong, facing fears, and fighting through life’s hardships with conviction and determination, their soft-spoken son had decided to audition for the school choir. Not only that, but he was trying out for the solo in the upcoming concert…something completely out of his comfort zone.
Well, much to his parents’ disbelief, Matthew ended up landing the solo. When Mark and his wife went to see the performance, they were brought to tears by how fearlessly, confidently, and beautifully Matthew sang in front of an auditorium full of people. The song was entitled, “Tell My Father”.
“Tell my father that his son didn’t run…or surrender. That I bore his name with pride…as I tried …to remember…you are judged by what you do, while passing through… Tell him we will meet again…where the angels learn to fly. Tell him we will meet as men, for with honor…did I die.”
(This song is about a young soldier in the American Civil war who told a messenger to let his father know that he wore his uniform proudly and bravely sacrificed all he could- he became a man, and his father should not cry for him.)
Matthew had always been very reserved, especially when it came to displaying or verbalizing his emotions, and after the concert was over, he rushed over to his dad and they held each other and cried together. Matthew said, “I love you,” to his dad…words he seldom said to anyone, and never with so much emotion behind them. Matthew told his dad that the reason he decided sing for him, and he had chosen that song for him.
I’m not able to do justice in capturing the emotion this article evokes, but I can really relate to what both Mark and Matthew are dealing with. This piece really spoke to me because of all of the hardships my family has been facing. It’s been incredibly heart-wrenching watching my father battle cancer for the past 5 years, and my fight with Lyme Disease has been nothing short of a nightmare. And then, to see all that my poor mother has had to deal with in taking care of us, as well as her aging parents who are both very ill…I don’t even know what is worse- being sick or having to care for loved ones who are sick.
Unfortunately, whether it’s directly or indirectly, we all suffer sooner or later…some of us more than others. Suffering is part of life and there’s no getting around it. In a sense, by Matthew bravely singing for his dad, he showed Mark that he need not worry about him or his ability to face life’s challenges.
On Christmas Eve, my mom (half-jokingly) said we should look into getting a condo at Mayo Clinic because we’ve all been spending so much time there. At this point, I probably started ranting about how I was done with doctors. Then, my mom started tearing up. She said she just couldn’t believe all I had been through at such a young age, and that it saddened her deeply to know that her baby girl had learned time and time again that she could not trust people in so many aspects of life.
As I reflect upon my own life and my current situation, I realize how hard it must be for my parents to see their little girl (yes, they still see me as their little girl), suffering as I have- with no clear direction or answers, no standard treatment protocol, and no longer believing I can trust the people who are supposed to help me (I’m referring to doctors). It has been tearing us all apart. No one knows what to do, but I’m doing everything I can to try to figure it out. And she’s right- it’s unfortunate I’ve had to learn so many harsh lessons, but we all have hardships and we need to find ways to suffer through them and then pick ourselves back up again. I’ve been fighting this disease with all I have and I’ve managed to get somewhat better. I still don’t have my life back, so for now, I’ve decided to trust my gut and take a leap of faith.
I’ve been wanting to move out to California since I was 18 years old, but never made it happen. I’ve been dreaming of it for so long, especially on cold winter nights like tonight, but never had a catalyst to push me to do it. Well, now I have my catalyst- my health and my life. The brutally cold Midwestern winter is just another stressor on my body, and I honestly don’t think I can handle it at this point. I’ve also always loved the ocean, and will be in an environment that is extremely focused on health and wellness, which is exactly what I need right now.
I am very blessed to have some incredible friends scattered throughout SoCal, waiting for me with open arms. They have been so kind as to offer to let me to stay with them while I regain my health, look for work, etc. It’s bittersweet because I truly love Chicago and the amazing friends I’ve acquired in the Midwest over the years. It’s also difficult for me to leave my family, especially with circumstances being what they are right now.
I don’t know how long I’ll be in California. Perhaps just through the winter- until I am (hopefully) healthy again…or maybe I’ll love it and end up staying. I don’t know the answer. All I know is that I need to do this for myself and for everyone who cares about me. I can’t be much of anything to anyone until I get my health back. And as difficult as this journey has been, I see it as an amazing opportunity to really focus on healing and follow a dream I’ve had for a long time. I am very hopeful that this next chapter in my life will help me find what I am looking for…so, tell my loved ones I will not surrender; I’m doing all I can to beat this.