Have you seen the shirts? The bumper stickers? The social media posts? Three little words. But a strong statement against a dreadful disease:
I HATE CANCER.
Okay, some actually use a two-word statement quite a bit stronger. But we’ll attempt to keep this story family-friendly.
I have to admit, I’m not much of a fan myself. I’ve seen it throw people into a tailspin. I’ve seen dreams shattered. I’ve seen what it does to seemingly strong bodies. I’ve seen the tears, uncertainty, anger, fear, questioning: the gamut of emotions which pour out.
And that doesn’t even touch on lives I’ve seen tragically ended, families broken in the wake of the turmoil, and long-term effects many survivors must face.
Cancer sucks. I can say it with certainty because I know it. I have felt it. I have lived it.
My name is Jenn Dove, and I am a cancer survivor.
And, yes. I HATE CANCER.
Let me take you back to late 1993. Strange pains in my right leg and hip, becoming more intense with each passing day. Soon, I couldn’t stand it any longer. Weeks of multiple doctor visits, blood work and a biopsy led to an appendectomy and exploratory abdominal surgery.
Turns out, my appendix was fine. What didn’t seem fine was a lymph node the size of an egg. It was sent off for testing, but the results said it was benign.
All of that took place in October and November. By January 1994, I was in excruciating pain. I couldn’t stand up straight unless I pulled my left leg up to my chest. I was frequenting the chiropractor who, through x-rays, could see what he called a ‘gas pocket’. Most nights as my family slept, I would toss and turn, trying to make myself comfortable with stacks of pillows and piles of ibuprofen, or attempting to soak in a hot bath to relieve the pain.
By the beginning of February, I was in the hospital with a diagnosis: Stage IV Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. (In the weeks to come, I learned the significance of the stage. Not good. Stages go from 0 to 4, and the higher the number, the worse it is.) That ‘gas pocket’ the chiropractor had spotted was, in fact, a large tumor pressing on my spine.
And with that, my life was forever changed. The C word. Cancer.
There are moments that define one’s life. Instances that change trajectory. Junctures that cause you to reevaluate, refocus, question, and ponder.
And here I was, facing just such a moment. As an 18 year old girl who felt as if she had her whole life in front of her, this was quite a heavy moment.
For the next thirteen months, I went through aggressive chemotherapy treatments. There were times where I laid in a drug-induced coma, the doctors telling my family that my chances of survival were slim and they needed to pray. Sometimes it was because of the cancer. Other times it was because of things like a gram-negative infection or meningitis, brought on when my immune system had been severely weakened by the chemo.
So yes, I do hate cancer. It is not pretty. The treatments can border on torturous. The damage it does to the body is ugly. It stole my youth, changed my plans, left me with scars and challenges.
It was out of my control. An inconvenience – well, that would be an understatement. But definitely not what I had planned. But then, no one really plans for cancer.
Yeah, there are plenty of negative things I could say about cancer. And yet, through everything I experienced, I felt at peace. That probably sounds weird. And I guess it is. But looking back, I can’t remember a single time that I thought I was going to die. I imagine others around me must have thought it, but it never crossed my mind.
Now don’t get me wrong, I had my moments. I struggled through the physical weakness. I cried about missing most of my final year of high school. I had vivid nightmares, mostly worrying that I wouldn’t be able to graduate with my class (so thankful for homebound teachers who helped me stay on track!). And I remember one morning, when I should have been getting ready for a senior breakfast. Instead, I was sitting on the bathroom floor, hugging the toilet and crying. A major ‘pity party’ moment.
But other than a few metaphoric valleys, there was peace. And even in the valleys, there was still underlying peace.
On February 28, I will celebrate 21 years since I finished chemo. TWENTY-ONE! 21 years since I was declared cancer-free.
While undergoing chemo, I was was part of an art project, which was later turned into a book (Angels & Monsters: A Child’s Eye View of Cancer). In the project, I shared about a dream I had shortly after my diagnosis. You’d have to read the book to get the whole story, but one of the lines I wrote at age 18 was “It then occurred to me that perhaps I hadn’t yet fulfilled all that God planned for me.”
Although I’m not sure what all that plan entailed/entails, I’m thankful that God had more in store, including a wonderful husband, international journeys that brought two sweet sons into our family, and now this crazy overseas life. I’m thankful for the things He’s allowed me to do and experience so far in life!
Twenty-one years. I have so much for which to be thankful and a lot of stories to share. So yes, I hate cancer. But I don’t hate in the least the way my life has turned out.