Friday, August 13, 2010

Cancer: The Quiet Thief

In tribute to Nancy Farr (03/21/1943 - 07/14/2010)

Cancer.  The mere mention of the word strikes fear in the heart of all who hear it, for it doesn't fight fair.  It doesn't work its dirty magic in the open, but rather attacks quietly.  It begins by stealing our health, but so incrementally that it often goes unnoticed . . . for a while.  Then, once discovered, it steals our innocence.  Our life becomes about the fight . . . and the fear of losing the fight.  And, as we fight, it steals even more of our health, for as we poison our enemy, we poison ourselves.  It steals our vitality; it steals our strength.  And still we fight!  For to give in to such an insidious attacker is not an option!

A month ago tomorrow, my mother-in-law lost her war with this thief.  Some might find it odd, I suppose, that the loss of a woman I spent less than a week of my life with would leave such a hole in my heart.  She had been my MIL for nearly nine years before we even met.  A bit odd, I admit, but living over 1,000 miles apart, perhaps less so . . .

She began her battle with breast cancer some time ago.  The prognosis looked good for a while.  Sometimes you win some battles.  Then came the further diagnosis of bone cancer . . .  This apparently is a fairly common occurrence after breast cancer, and is a prime example of the unfairness with which cancer strikes.  If it can't win on one front, it will find another way to sneak past your fortress.  Still, the fight continued.

Ron, Aaron and I went "home" for a visit at the end of May.  I spent a great deal of time while we were there with my MIL.  For me, she never made me feel like she was trying to get to know me, but rather, I felt like we'd known one another for years.  We sat and talked and visited, as if we'd sat down together hundreds of times before.  She slowly built a relationship with Aaron, accepting that you can't push a toddler too fast to love you, even if you are his grandmother!  And, before long, he was interacting with his Gramma Farr like an old playmate.  It was a beautiful visit, that I will always hold dear.

The last night we were there, I asked to take a picture of Ron and Aaron with my FIL and MIL.  She touched the top of her head and asked, "Like this?"  Yes . . .

In reflecting on our visit, I recall her showing me a picture of herself taken many years before that she had framed in her living room.  I now realize it was the only picture of her I saw framed in her home.  And now I think she needed to show me this picture of herself.  She needed me to see who she was . . . before the cancer began its evil work.  And on that last night in her home, when I asked to take a picture, she touched her thin graying hair, and asked, "Like this?", with just a hint of doubt in her voice.  The cancer had not stopped with her health, but had also stolen away a bit of her self confidence.  I now wish I had told her that while she might look back at pictures of the past only seeing the looks lost to her illness, I looked at her in the present and saw beauty.

Less than two months after meeting my MIL, cancer finally won the war, taking her from all of us.  I may have only known her a short while, but the woman I met welcomed me into her life without reservation.  Our relationship may have been short, but it was good, and I loved her.  And when I looked at her, I didn't see a woman broken down by cancer, but rather a woman who stood up to it.  And I will not remember her as she used to be, for I didn't know her then.  I will always remember her as I met her - beautiful, strong, courageous . . . and that is one thing the cancer could not take away . . .