A friend of mine, 23, who has chosen to remain anonymous - opens up about her experience as an only child grappling with her father's cancer diagnosis.
Thank you for opening up and sharing your story for the blog. Can I tell people what you do? Seeing as you're one of the funniest people, probably ever? Haha, thank you. I'm a comedian. Cancer is no joke, though!
True that! Let's start by having you tell us about your dad and his illness. My father is sick with cancer. And I’m an only child. I don’t know why I feel compelled to say that, but I guess it’s because I think it’s harder. While friends and family have been supportive, I don’t think anyone really understands the gravity of a sick parent than that parent’s child. At first we thought it was only lung cancer, but after undergoing a major surgery where the doctors removed almost the entirety of one of his lungs, they found out that he also had cancer in his lymph nodes. It’s been almost a year now, and the entire process has been marked by so many ups and downs that it’s hard to ever know where we are at. Test after test, scan after scan, treatment after treatment, the disease takes you on a whirlwind of a journey packed with tough emotions to comprehend and ever tougher realizations about life’s unpredictability.
What color, symbol, and/or quote reminds you of your dad? A bright yellow VW Beetle. The quote: “laugh until the world laughs back at you." Those remind me of my father.
Do you recall the moment that you found out that parent was ill? What was that experience like for you? I perfectly remember the moment I found out that my dad had cancer, because it was probably the lowest point of my life so far. I had just been in a car accident two weeks prior and was bedridden with a broken back. He sat down beside me and told me he was going into surgery at the end of the month, but that I shouldn’t be scared. I had no idea what he was talking about. “Surgery for what?” I remember asking so confusedly. “They.. uh… found some cancer.” I couldn’t believe it. “Cancer?! What?! When?” He had kept it from me in light of my accident and I was devastated. I felt so trapped physically, mentally, emotionally. And I literally could not move to help him. I remember defying everyone who told me that I shouldn’t go to the hospital to see him, because I was supposed to be laying down at all times, and forcing my friend to give me a ride to visit him in his hospital room. Seeing him on the bed like that… that was when I really realized he was sick. Something was hurting my dad, and I couldn’t take the hurt away.
What inspired you to become a comedian? Have you ever combined your passions for your work + cancer advocacy? If so, in what capacity was the project, event, or situation? Making people laugh has always been my passion. Laughter heals - and I believe that now more than ever. I hope to bring comedy to the cancer community one day by helping patients laugh through the pain. I also think being open about cancer on stage is important. It’s easier to talk about the light-hearted and relatable, but sometimes the human experience of tragedy deserves to be told. Comedy and tragedy are so closely tied that we should truly use our laughter to fight cancer head on.
What has been the most challenging aspect of seeing your parent combat their illness?
It’s not easy. Nobody can prepare you for it. It just happens one day out of the blue and no matter how old you are, it is never time to see your protector fall victim to disease. I think that’s the most challenging part for me. My dad was supposed to be my superhero. He was supposed to be the one to fight all the bad things. The one whom nothing could harm. To see him helpless, weak, sick, feels so wrong, so unnatural, so against the way things are supposed to be. I still can’t understand why bad things happen to good people, but I guess bad things happen to all people. And at the end of the day, that’s what we all are. Just people. And disease doesn’t see race, or wealth, or age, or gender— it just sees species. It just sees people.
What has been a rewarding aspect of experiencing this journey with your parent?
Although every day I wish that my dad was healthy, cancer has allowed to me to understand the importance of gratitude. It’s so easy to take every single thing we have for granted until it is taken from us. I know we’ve heard that platitude “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone” time and time again, but cliches exist because they are often born out of universal truth. You don’t want a lesson in gratitude when it’s too late, so please, take time to appreciate how special the ones you love are and cherish them to their core. And, most importantly, make sure they know it.
What is one piece of advice your dad has given you that will always stay with you?
My dad has always taught me that mental strength is the most powerful thing we have as humans. To be strong in the mind is to be strong everywhere else. To visualize a future for ourselves is to breathe it to life. I often find myself wanting to give into sadness or weakness or laziness or depression, but I try to remember that my mind has the power to pull me out of anything. It has the power to fight. We must convince ourselves that we are good, we are worthy, we can triumph, and in doing so, we will.
If there is one piece of advice you could give young women with an ill parent, what would that be? I beg every daughter out there with a sick parent to not give up. I know it’s so easy to throw in the towel and wonder “why me." It’s so easy to look at your friends with seemingly perfect lives and wish you were them. But something I have learned and am continuing to learn is that nobody’s life is perfect and that life has a time for everyone to shine and a time for everyone to hurt. It is cyclic. And everything you are feeling now is valid and real, and when people tell you “it’s going to be okay” they don’t get it, it’s true, but one thing that remains certain is that whatever happens now won’t be forever. Your life will turn and move and take shape in new directions with new opportunities and successes, and you are just along for the ride. So even if it’s dark right now, at some point, and there’s no telling when that point is, the clouds will clear and the light will beat down on your face. And the clouds will certainly come again, but only to be followed by light. And again and again the seasons will come and go and the world will turn and your happiness will always be within your very own reach. So, I promise you, giving up is not worth it. Hanging on will surprise you with its treasures. Just give it the chance to do so.
I also encourage you to take each day at a time. Sometimes, when you think too far ahead, the possibility of an uncertain future can swallow you whole. It can awaken your deepest anxieties and leave you worrying and wondering beyond your control. Don’t let it take you over. Wake up and tackle Monday. Go to sleep and wake up to take on Tuesday. Rinse and repeat through Sunday and all over again. Little victories go a long way. Also, love with all your heart. Love your family every single day you can, because I promise you will never ever regret it.
What keeps you inspired? After loved ones, what keeps me inspired is the spirit of solidarity. The knowledge that people out there understand my struggle, they are fighting my fight. I hope DSP has the opportunity to impact the large community of daughters out there like me, wondering how they might possibly feel okay again, just looking for someone who actually understands. Please know I understand. As I know you understand. And knowing that this bit of universal understanding bonds all of us daughters around the world together is enough for me to get out of bed every morning and try my hardest to face the day with an open heart.