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Surviving Cancer

I was recently asked to write a reflection for National Cancer Survivor Day. In some ways, it feels wrong for me to talk about "surviving" since I haven’t had this devastating illness. Yet, after my 38-year-old wife succumbed to brain cancer, her obituary included that she was “survived by her husband and two small children.” Though at the time it felt more like “left behind," the truth is that I did survive. And, oh my, what a complicated concept. Survive.

At times, it meant sobbing while making sack lunches for my kids even though I felt like swallowing a handful of pills and joining my late wife Danae. At times, it meant that two-years of hospitals and cancer violence were finally over and a fresh start was suddenly available to me and my little ones. At times, it meant hiding in whatever numbing agent I could get my hands on while going through the motions of being a student and teacher. A secret bad guy masquerading as a hero. Thankfully, much of the time it meant taking my wounds and building on them, sharing my story, listening to the trauma of others, crying together, being human together. At times, surviving meant that TV commercials depicting kids with cancer would trigger sobbing and shaking, even at the gym as people gawked. Much of the time, it meant hugging my children and reminding myself the present moment was the most important moment in the history of the universe. At times it meant that I could suddenly envision everyone in my life dying and me watching helplessly as it happened. Much of the time, it reminded me that we are spiritual beings with purposes on this plane of existence.

So, in the end, what does survive truly mean for me? Here's my impression: I’m a much more dedicated, loving, loyal, spiritual, driven, compassionate man because of cancer. Things got real, real fast. No bullshit. The truth is also that I am deeply wounded and, I’ve come to see, will always be. Always. The question is, what am I going to do with these experiences and identities? My choice is to do more than survive. I plan to thrive. And, in helping others to feel seen and not so alone, I find this path. My tears have loving companions.

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