The word Cancer has a difficult burden to bear. It is a word that carries tremendous meaning for many people. It has been cried over, scoffed at, screamed about, and blamed. It is used to describe our worst nightmares and our most horrendous realities. It has the weight of hundreds of peoples’ sorrow, and the anger of hundreds of peoples’ frustration. The word cancer brings an overwhelming feeling of disgust, and it is recognized by most everyone who happens to cross its path. But the word cancer, like any other word, is made up of letters. And each letter has its own story.
The C is curved, carefully crafted to be strong and resilient, but also to let some of that burden slide off its back. The A is round, comforting, swelling with tears. The N is a bridge for those that have been lost, and those that have yet to be affected. The second C is softer, a wisp of a letter coming off of your tongue; a betrayal. The E is built to last, to suffer through it all and to come out open minded. The R is a red light, a final stopping point; but it also points to the future, to the unknown. The word cancer is made up of five brilliant letters, each with its own purpose. The word cancer brings fear and grief to those who are unfortunate enough to have to speak it. But we forget; Cancer is only a word.
When adults hear that your parent has cancer, they slip into comfort mode. Their eyes well up, their persistent smiles fade and they become vulnerable. Looking up at them, you can almost always tell that they desperately want to help you, and the problem is they think they know how. So they pat you on the back as they tell you that everything will be fine, and you’re standing there trying desperately to remember their last name and whether they’re a friend of your mothers or fathers. They inch closer to you, mumbling about what a wonderful person your parent is, how strong they are, how beautiful, and then they walk away; their heads are hung a little lower, but they feel confident that they have somehow improved your quality of life. And still, you’re standing there, wondering who the hell they are.
When your friends hear that your parent has cancer, they hug you. Guaranteed. They are more straight forward; they don’t see the disease as emotionally debilitating; they see it as something that sucks. And you’re grateful, because you know them; their last name, their favorite color, their birthday. So you hug them back, you try not to cry, and you make a joke. They are not your mother’s friend or your father’s friend, and they care about how you parent is because they care about you. All they have to do is hug you a little bit tighter, brush your hair out of your face, and tell you everything will be fine. And for those seconds, those pieces of your life when your best friends are telling you that, you feel the truth of it set itself deep into your subconscious and you smile.
Adults know best how to take care of you. At least, that’s what we’re told. But as it turns out, sometimes we just need to take care of each other. Because adults can’t read words the same way that we can. They look at the C and see fright where we see strength. They see the A as sorrowful instead of reassuring and they see the N as terrifying. They can’t look at the second C without feeling hopeless, but we love the way it feels on our tongue. They hate the E for its cowardliness, but we love it for its opinion and they despise the R for giving up, but we embrace its possibilities. Adults read the word Cancer all wrong, they say it wrong, and they treat it wrong. We ask questions until we are sure, we form our opinions, and then we decide how to behave towards the word. Sometimes we still despise it, but no matter what, we respect it. We recognize the battle it has fought for millions, the torture and hate it has been through, and we try it out on our tongues. Because even though it is causing sorrow, it is, after all, only a word.
By Hannah Utter