When I think back, there was a time when I was literally obsessed with the thought of cancer. The day my mother shared with the family she had been diagnosed with cancer, I remember telling her, “I love you with one breast or none.” I was overcome with fear but, of course, I never wanted her to know. I couldn’t sleep at night and would lay awake wondering if my mother would make it. Would we have to live our lives motherless?
After my mother survived breast cancer, I remember Googling every little pain I felt, wondering whether I had “the big C.” Would I lose a breast or die at a young age due to the genes I inherited? I became a victim of cancer, not physically, but my fear consumed me like the disease would have.
Once my mother fully recovered, cancer was just another word in the dictionary, until it hit our family once again. When it struck this time, it took the core of our family by killing my father. Night after night, I woke up in cold sweats hearing my daddy’s voice, feeling his presence, and agonizing over and over again as I watched him take his last breath. I wanted to erase those memories and I just couldn’t. I relived each moment of his passing every single day. The screams of my mother in the hallway once he was declared gone echoed in my mind. I recalled every detail, from my siblings choosing a casket and clothes to family members coming to our home and giving their condolences. Even without my own diagnosis, I was the victim of cancer once again.
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I prayed that this would be my last encounter with cancer, but deep down I knew this would not be the last of my family to lose the battle. I always kept my guard up, always fearful of another call that someone else had cancer and would be taken from me. A few years after my father passed, my abuelita in Puerto Rico was diagnosed with stomach cancer. I saw my mother’s pain resurface, as her mother was very ill and the prognosis was bad. We saw my abuelita go through her darkest moments but thankfully, she survived. With that win, she gave me hope that I no longer had to be a victim of cancer. I saw her strength and learned to build my own.
Since then, I have been through my own cancer scares, from a polyp in my colon to a mass in my breast. Each time, I choose to no longer feel that I am a victim or live in fear. I am hopeful that, should I inherit my family’s cancer diagnoses, I could overcome this disease. It may try to invade my body (genetics are strong, after all) but I would never allow it to attack my spirit or my strength.
As the years have passed I have seen what cancer can do. I’ve watched it create depression in some, kill the spirits and bodies of others, and cause loved ones to live with fear of the fate that may await them. I have promised myself to no longer live in fear but live a life full of happiness and hope. Whatever comes my way, I will approach all of it with positivity and strength and I will no longer be a victim! Many of us have lost loved ones to cancer and most of us fear getting our own diagnosis. But as I urge my own loved ones, let’s live today, tomorrow, and the rest of our days with joy and love, without fearing what the future may or may not bring.