It was not my diagnosis, but my beautiful niece’s, my nephew’s wife who had just given birth not too many months ago to their third child. When I heard the word Cancer I felt my legs buckle. I had to sit down. She was too young, only in her thirties. Just a baby herself. I bit my lip and held in the tears that stung my eyes threatening to fall, rather collapse onto my clothing. I breathed and told my sister, “I had to go… that I would call her back…soon”, at least before the night turned into morning. I didn’t tell her that I had to collect myself. That I had to quiet what was rising inside of me causing a lump in my throat. A sip of water, a crunch of ice and then I knew I had to call my niece. I had to offer her warrior words to wear with this diagnosis like a breastplate of armor. But then I remembered what my sister had told me. “Give her time to let the news settle inside.” So I did, antsy all the while as I stared at the phone waiting to offer her words of encouragement.
When I finally got the chance to talk to her, yes I told her to pray, but I also told her to get angry and fight. “Fight as if your life depends on it.” From there other instructions rolled off of my tongue.
“Educate yourself. Learn as much about your kind of cancer as possible and don’t be led blindly through this. Ask your oncologist questions and don’t worry about being perceived as a nuisance. If your doctor doesn’t seem to be empathetic find another doctor who will be. Be your own best advocate. Scream if you must. Demand if you must, because this is your diagnosis. One you didn’t ask for, but one you were given. Refuse to be a victim when it comes to your health care.”
“Write in a journal. Get a pretty cloth covered journal and write down your thoughts. Write down each emotion you have so that you can own it and then in time eventually learn, if it is glum filled, to let it go. Write your fearful words in pencil so that they can one day be erased. Write your joyous words; yes even in the midst of this keep a vision of joy pressed close to your heart; in the colors of a rainbow to remind you of the prism of transformation.”
“Red stands for life. So write in red, “I will live.” Orange stands for joy, so write in orange, “I will remain joyful.” Yellow stands for personal power, so write in yellow, “I have the strength to battle this diagnosis.” Green stands for balance, so write in green, “This diagnosis will not stop me from focusing on my marriage, my children and most of all my dreams.” Blue stands for communication so write, “I will let my voice resonate to the ends of the earth to other women about making their health a priority and the importance of early detection through health screenings.” Indigo is for intuition, write, “As a woman I know to trust in mine.” And Violet is for enlightenment, name the lessons you have learned because of this diagnosis. And if you are too weary to write on some days, draw or scribble how you feel. Or dictate your words to someone who can write them down for you without flinching when they are drenched in your pain. Writing is intravenous medicine. It is cathartic.”
My last bit of advice to my niece was “Give yourself a superhero name. I liked Wonder Woman because as a child I was obsessed with pretending I was Lynda Carter, but you’re too young to remember her, so choose another name that signifies super human powers. You need a superhero name, an alter ego so to speak to give this diagnosis a hard kick in the butt.”
Mostly though I tell my niece not to give in or up to this diagnosis. It is a word, terrifying indeed, but it can also be a word wrought with change, and renewal and eventual peace. It is a life decree, not a life condemnation. Like a math equation, it is faith, hope and victory to the highest power. I will consistently remind her of this. Like after a day at the beach I want these three things to be like sand between her toes, something that is difficult to wash away, because even when you get every grain off of them, you still can feel, still imagine its presence.