Tomorrow marks one month since we lost my dad and we’re still finding out new information about his illness. Why did he go so quickly? How come we didn’t see the signs? Diagnosed with colorectal cancer, usually considered one of the less aggressive cancers, there was a sense of disappointment in ourselves and lots of unresolved feelings of guilt and responsibility – why didn’t we force him to get screened or how come we hadn’t noticed some of the changes earlier on? We’ve since learned that he had a rare deviation and that he hadn’t been sick for as long as we originally thought. The window for catching the tumour was so small and we missed it. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, it was combination of so many things, most of which we couldn’t control.
Cancer is extremely complex with enormous variations depending on the individual. Outcomes are influenced by a myriad of factors. Basically, what works in one situation may not be applicable in the other and researchers want to understand why. This brings me to #WhoIsYourWhy, a campaign by Princess Margaret Hospital, one of the world’s leading cancer research facilities, asking who you’re fighting for in this on-going process to better understand cancer. People have responded in droves on Twitter, and while it’s comforting to see that you’re not alone, it’s also a stark reminder of cancer’s reach. With rates expected to increase in the coming years, it’s estimated that 40% of Canadians will develop cancer. It’s clear that we need to make a change.
On a separate but related note, if you’ve been following me, you’ll notice that this is the first time I’ve used the words “fight” and “cancer” together, and I do so purposefully. I know cancer patients are tough and possess more courage and strength than I can fathom. Where ever they are in the process, people who have been affected by cancer are strong and I understand the sentiment behind the term “fighting cancer”. Still, I avoid using the word “fight” because after reading this article published after Jack Layton’s death in 2011, I realized what those words suggest. It suggests that we’ll eventually get a winner – and with that, also a loser. While some may argue it’s just a matter of semantics, I’m cautious of this terminology because when we refer to the phrase “lost their battle” there’s an implication that if the person we love had fought harder or tried more then maybe the outcome could be different. That’s not true. I know how hard my dad tried, every. single. day. I could see his mind constantly working, trying to figure things out, hoping to will away the disease. I saw him push himself to climb and descend the stairs at my parents’ home so that he could join in with the family when we were around. He opened himself up to advice and ideas from every source, anything to extend his time. He gave it his all and he still died, which confirms precisely how random this disease is and how little we know. He didn’t lose a battle – cancer took his life – BUT I can fight. I can fight to raise awareness, to advocate for change, to make a difference, and that I think is the difference. We can fight on behalf of those living with cancer to make their lives better, advancing our knowledge so that we may better support them.
Please consider supporting Princess Margaret Hospital or a similar organization through charitable donations or by volunteering your time because as we’ve seen through this campaign, cancer affects us more than we know.