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The Cancer Roller Coaster

Cancer can take your strength, or your leg, or your breast, or your hope. It can also take your soul if you let it. Do whatever you have to do to keep that from happening. Get up... again, and again, and again.
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I woke up this morning in a fairly good mood. Our 4-year-old, Ben, who had been bothered by a massive earache at midnight, seemed to be doing great now. We deduced that instead of an ear infection, he had just been sleeping on the folded-over top part of his ear. We've all done it. It's highly unpleasant.

Then when I visited my folks on my way to work this morning, they reminded me that they had agreed to have our boys spend the night this coming Saturday evening. I felt like I had just pulled a $20 out of last season's parka pocket.

Then I get to work where I learn that The Huffington Post has agreed to pick up this blog. Think of the feeling you felt when you opened the Christmas present that you really wanted and thought you wouldn't get. Then amplify it... all the way to eleven... on meth... after being shot out of canon... while cavorting on the hood of a Jaguar like the Whitesnake masterpiece "Is This Love?"... coupled with about 13...

... well, you get the point.

I had even found out some good news on the cancer front. The dad of a good friend of mine who is battling throat cancer just learned that after three rounds of chemo, the tumor had shrunk between 75% and 90%. This was the antithesis of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

And then the bottom dropped out, as it seems to do so often with cancer.

Some Facebook friends of mine have a daughter named Hannah, who is one of the bravest of the brave. In her only few years of life, Hannah has been to hell so many times that even Satan saves her an air-conditioned room.

Hannah had battled cancer for most of the last two years. The cancer that she was afflicted with took her leg. Doctors did what many consider a radical surgery, called a "Rotationplasty." Imagine your leg removed from above your knee to your ankle. Then imagine your foot saved, turned backwards so that the heel is forward, and attached to the remaining part of your leg so that a prosthetic leg will be easier to use.

There are maybe twelve of these operations performed each year, almost always to children. It's a long, painful process, but it's one that Hannah survived and owned. She had beaten cancer, finally. No more regular chemotherapy, no more regular radiations... just the occasional fevers and spiky numbers that tend to occur with cancer survivors.

In reality, that's not what happens. If you're in remission, numbers don't spike. Fevers don't spike. Something wasn't right, and today, Hannah's parents learned that not only was something not right, but rather, horribly wrong.

Hannah has leukemia.

I wish I had something funny to say to somehow soften the blow. I wish that I had words of comfort. I wish, I wish, I wish...

Only I didn't know what to say. I was devastated for her and her parents, Aaron and Krista. But while Hannah's news was dreadful, this day would get even worse.

A few hours ago, surrounded by family, the best friend of one of my friends lost her battle with the beast. She was far, far too young, as are most of the people that I seem to know lately who are afflicted with this disease. My friend, Shelly, was inconsolable. Her little girl actually walked up to her with her favorite blanket and started drying her tears.

I am a hopeful person by nature, and I can weave a yarn with the best of them, but sometimes, there are so many punches to the gut that you turn into Roberto Duran against Sugar Ray Leonard.

"No más." What do you say when it seems like there is absolutely nothing you can say?

A few years ago, while putting together a project for St. Louis Children's Hospital, we videotaped several groups of people who had a baby die in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Some were together. Some were divorced. The ones who stayed together were the ones that had the courage to say how they were feeling, no matter how hard it ever got. The ones who divorced were the couples where one or both decided that the only way to cope was to bury their feelings. Unfortunately, these people became trapped in their own prison of darkness, and without change, that prison is a place where your soul eventually dies.

I told my friend who lost her friend, "All I can tell you is feel it. Let it out. Scream, cry, curse, lay on the bed and kick the mattress with your heels. Let the tears and the snot and the spit flow like Angel Falls."

And then breathe. Always breathe. And when you can... talk. Feel. Share. Hold. Hug. Kiss. Love. Cry. Shake. Break down... again, and again, and again. Get up... again, and again, and again.

Cancer can take your strength, or your leg, or your breast, or your hope. It can also take your soul if you let it. Do whatever you have to do to keep that from happening. Don't ever let cancer win. It doesn't deserve it.