Everyone carries a list in their head of the absolute worst possible things that could ever happen. It is a list of the things we fear most or maybe a list of the things we think are most probable. All of us have this list and every single one of our lists will be different. The worst things will differ in scope and scale, will differ in likelihood. The items on the list will be as varied as the human experience. But as our human experience is both distinctly unique and entirely familiar, there will be a few items on everyone’s list. Disease and death will feature heavily.
You may imagine having terminal cancer is at or near the top of everyone’s list of the worst thing in the world. You would be mistaken. Being diagnosed with end stage cancer is not the worst thing that could happen. I know because I have end stage cancer.
No, there are worse things, far, far worse things. You could have terminal cancer and have no one who gave a shit you had terminal cancer. You could have no one who cared enough to bring you Whitt’s barbeque. Or no one who cared enough to drive you to treatment. Or sit with you in a hospital room.
The thing about those first few weeks of diagnosis and tests and more tests and new doctors and prescriptions and everything being thrown at you, the thing no one can prepare you for is how quickly your ideas about the worst things that have ever happened to you, how those things can change. They can change so rapidly, it can take your breath away.
In those few weeks between the first doctor’s appointment and chemotherapy, I made lists. I made a lot of lists. One of the lists I made was a list of the people who needed to know I had cancer, more specifically, the list of the people whom I needed to tell I had cancer. It wasn’t a long list, but it was long enough. And at the top of the list were my momma and my daddy and my daughter.
I had no idea how difficult chemotherapy would be. I knew it wouldn’t be a piece of cake. But no matter how horrible I could imagine it, I would have gladly accepted a month’s worth of extra chemotherapy in exchange for escaping the task of telling those three people I had cancer.
Even now, almost five years later, the thought of it brings tears.
Insomnia, fear, pain, terror, all of the emotions, all of the sensations, I experienced during that hazy summer, none of it compared to the task of telling my parents their Kelly Girl had cancer. It was matched only by the sorrow of sitting my daughter down and telling her the person who had raised her was in a bad way.
If I could have figured out a way to do it, I would have put it off until my bald head gave notice what was going on. And I still would have lied about it, if I could have. But, I needed someone to drive me to the biopsy appointment since they were going to put me under. And there was no one else I could call and ask for such a favor, so I told them.
No, if you imagine getting a bad diagnosis is the worst thing that can ever happen to you, your imagination isn’t trying hard enough.