Cancer is like a magical vegetable peeler; it removes layers and shows who you- and those around you- really are. As my mother and I gaze at her latest scan, the area of active cancer shimmering brightly before us, I am mired in negativity and anger. I hate the lymphoma coursing through her veins, all the while dividingdividingdividing. I hate that my mother trudged through months of chemo, and it has come down to this, a fluorescent glob winking gaily on a computer screen. It appears and disappears as we scrolled back and forth between the pictures taken by the CT scanner, as if to say “surprise! I’ve been here all along, just waiting for this moment, my day in the spotlight!” I feel nauseous.
My mom, she smiles back. That’s great, she says. I’m so glad it isn’t larger. I’m happy there isn’t more of it. I’m grateful that the treatment worked on some of the cancer. Gladness. Gratitude. Joy. That is the miracle in this mess. Not that one of her B lymphocytes had managed to collect a series of specific mutations, tiny points in the twisting DNA, that caused uncontrolled growth, and resistance to the multitude of ways the body has to kill off these kinds of cells (and even, it seems, resistance to cytotoxic, multi-drug cocktails). The miracle is that she can smile at the cancer that may take her life.
There is a quote taken from the writings of Eckhart Tolle posted on a whiteboard at work. One of our nurses heard it from a patient with metastatic breast cancer, and knew she had to share this message with our team. “What is, is. Accept whatever the present moment contains as though you chose it.”
I can’t imagine a world where I would have chosen this disease for my mother, who is undoubtedly among the most beautiful, kind and delightful humans on the planet. But even though I have spent the majority of my career in oncology nursing, I can still learn from my mother, and from all who transcend the multitude of challenges in life. I can hate my mother’s cancer, but I can also accept it. This acceptance lets joy and hope shine through the bleak moments. We can fight her lymphoma with drugs, but also with love. This is not only the miracle of cancer, but the miracle of life.