A few years ago, my Mom was diagnosed with cancer. The diagnosis came during the same week my Dad lay dying in a hospital room. He had been diagnosed with cancer, too.
Maybe some of you are familiar with the Maginot Line. After World War I, the French built a line of fortresses, obstacles, and weapon emplacements near the borders with Germany, Luxembourg, and Switzerland. The idea was the army could mobilize quickly in the event of an invasion. It was built on the concept of static warfare. In 1940, Adolf Hitler sent his forces around the Maginot Line and conquered France in six weeks.
We spent so many years fighting a specter disease (which could, of course, still occur), but our guns were pointed in the wrong direction.
My family and I spent decades fighting the specter of heart disease. I never met two of my uncles or my maternal grandfather. My Mom’s older brothers both died at the age of 25 of heart disease. My maternal grandfather died in his mid-50s of a heart attack. I’ve only known about them in stories and black and white photos. So, to combat this threat, we did everything right to “reduce our risk.” We’re vegetarians, we exercise, consume lots of antioxidants, and rarely (if ever) drink alcohol. We don’t smoke, either. There is a very important word in the phrase, “reducing your risk.” It’s “reducing.” You can do all “the right things” and you can still hear the words no one wants to hear, ever.
I’ve rewritten this post so many times, and it once had a timeline of events, but it became too overwhelming and painful to write it out. It can be a lonely place for a writer to live, unable to express feelings or thoughts in the medium that’s always come naturally. (My Mom will be writing her own account at her own site.) But, to sketch around the events, over the past few years, I lost my father, my mom was diagnosed with cancer, and my daughter was born. My Mom underwent two knee replacement surgeries, dealt with several cancer recurrences, and eventually underwent even more radical surgery. Even writing that was hard.
We have some idea what caused both my parents’ cancers, but if physicians knew why “abnormal” cells decide to multiply and invade other cells, or why there are 100 different kinds of it, then this post would have a different theme.
For most of my adult life, I had looked forward to seeing my Dad enjoy the dual role of grandfather and pediatrician, which he had always looked forward to. He never got the chance to meet his only grandchild as I wrote in a previous post. I faced the prospect of losing my mother, too, before my child was born. But she did meet her and she moved here. We’ve been fortunate to have my Mom close by to help us with babysitting, and it’s been nice for me to have a stable and comforting presence nearby.
Despite the time I’ve spent grieving, I still live a life built on reducing risk. A major reason is so my daughter, wife, and extended family have me around. But I don’t believe in giving up. The risk became reality for my family, but that doesn’t mean the actions meant to reduce the risk were failures or unworthy of undertaking. My hope is that by the time my daughter is my age, she will live with the words, “eliminating your risk.”
(I haven’t spoken publicly about this before; only a few friends and family members know all of this. But I’ve shared it now. Thanks for reading and feel free to comment below if you have your own stories to share.)