My sister has cancer… that’s not why I admire her; that’d be a very strange reason. I admire her because she has always been a thoughtful and generous person and getting cancer hasn’t changed that. I think the best word that sums up all of her good qualities is kind. She’s not, however, the type of kind person who ends up being a pushover because she is also strong. She is actually a very healthy blend of kindness and strength, which helps her role model what it means to be a very emotionally healthy and motivated person. She is what you wish people could be like… minus the cancer. I think that’s fair to say. It’s also fair to say that I’m good at ruining compliments.
Having cancer (or any sickness) is very taxing on one’s emotions. Throw in the fear of dying or the trial of going through the rigors of chemo, and there is a definite risk of a person’s personality changing. Until I saw my sister go through chemo, I never realized how terrible it is. The only warning she really had of how bad it was going to be was when she went to the bathroom at the chemo center and there was a sign that said “Men have to sit to pee,” (this is a sign all bathrooms should have because most men have terrible aim) but this was followed by a warning that the urine was radioactive. That’s not a good sign. She was also told that she needed to cover the floors and furniture where she was staying because her vomit was radioactive and therefore very damaging to anything it touched. It wasn’t “if” you vomit, it was “when” you vomit. Also, not a good sign. Going through a typical chemo treatment is kind of like someone having a really bad hangover while having the flu after not sleeping for four days and this person has just been punched all over so they’re physically sore everywhere. Plus, unlike when someone has one of these things, the symptoms last for most of a week. Treatment plans can vary, but it’s normal for this weeklong terribleness to happen eight times, once every two weeks, which means as you start to feel better you need to prepare yourself for another round of hangover-flu-no sleep-beaten up feeling. Throw in the fact that you lose all your hair including eyebrows and eyelashes so when you look in the mirror you look like the worst version of yourself and the added problem of potential weight gain because you’re too weak to do anything and your muscles turn to mush, and it’s understandable why people with cancer struggle emotionally on top of the physical struggles.
My sister has always been very good at putting on a strong face for others; at home we get a glimpse of the cracks in the strong exterior. What’s incredibly impressive is no matter how terrible she’s felt, no matter how scared she’s been, she has always remained kind. She has never been mean even to the dumb people who have given her judgemental looks, which she’s recently started receiving as her hair has begun to grow back and she looks like a feminist rebelling against the social norms of longer hair. Even if she was, why would they give her dirty looks? If I were her I’d likely say something like, “Thank you for giving me a dirty look. After almost dying from cancer, it really warms my heart.” That’s my passive aggressive side coming out. Unlike me, my sister is too kind to do that.
Meanwhile, I know someone who has a disease, but he’s not like my sister at all. His disease has led him to be stuck in this world of self pity and selfishness. He doesn’t show love or kindness to anyone around him and he does his best to shut out the world with video games. A friend recently told me that I shouldn’t be bothered by this because I don’t know what it’s like to be in his position. There’s truth to this; I don’t know what it’s like. That being said, do I want to be like him or my sister? Even in my sister’s sickness and limited energy, she has made time to do things to show she loves others like make over a hundred cupcakes for a baby dedication. There’s a reason she has a list of really great friends and people who are cheering her on and regularly connecting. As the Bible says, “You reap what you sow,” (Gal 6:7b) and my sister has found the balance of reaping and sowing that makes her life that much better despite any struggle she may face.
Sickness is terrible; the fear of dying is terrible, but nothing gives us the right to be mean. No matter how terrible life seems or how sick we may be, we can choose to be kind; we can choose to be like my sister.
This week may you see that kindness is the best choice and may the world start to be more like my sister.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people