by Diana Rigelman
There are times when a person must fight for the good life. Right now, I find myself in such a fight. I’ve been diagnosed with tongue cancer. Shocker.
Relatively rare amongst the goliaths of cancer, the protocol is to excise it. To cut it out. Excuse me? Barbaric.
When I think of my singular treatment option, images of medieval torture techniques come to mind. I’m told I should expect language dysfunction and prepare for a painful recovery. Will I no longer be able to speak as I have all my life? Will I lose my cowboy whistling ability too?
More questions arise. And so does paperwork. To whom do I give permission to pull the plug if, God forbid, it comes to that? Who will make healthcare decisions should I be unable to make them myself? I wonder if my will is in order.
Stress mounts. After carrying the weight of this knowledge for some time, I realize I can’t do this alone. I’m broken. Where’s the “it takes a village” squad at? And how do I get one? Quite possibly, I need more than a village – yes, I need an army – to help me battle squamous cell carcinoma.
After shock and tears subside, I tell a friend. Together we experience a joint shockwave of horror as the cancer news settles in. There are more questions than answers, along with an abundance of “I don’t knows.”
I tell another acquaintance my dreadful news. Again, there are shared waves of anger, fear, and disbelief. It’s hard to be honest and open. I hadn’t anticipated their feelings of grief and empathy for my journey.
I challenge myself to send out a private group message on Facebook to those far away. In doing so, something in my universe shifts. Unexpectedly, my grief and fear grow less heavy. Magic starts happening as one voice at a time tells me I CAN get through this. My hoped-for army begins to amass.
My family rises up. They offer to go with me to office visits and to be there waiting during my coming surgery. I get an Easter basket filled with soft, toddler food, lighthearted provisions for post-surgery meals. Someone else brings over tools to help me communicate in the days ahead, when it’s uncertain what speech I’ll have to work with. The package includes flash cards of common phrases and a journal in which to write the words I may be unable to speak.
With offers of errand running, flower watering, bird feeding, bill writing, watching over you, and reading aloud to you, my little army grows. Another comes forward with medical knowledge and tips to aid the healing process.
Quite possibly, I need more than a village – yes, I need an army – to help me battle squamous cell carcinoma.
Soldiers of support keep stepping forward. A far-off friend offers to travel here and spend a week with me post-op, to man the meds and the kitchen blender. I think of her pending visit as the arrival of a M.A.S.H. unit, complete with Mess Hall. Friends find empowerment by lending me strength. They, too, have been stripped of the detachment of cancer victimization by having me in their lives. We are all strengthened in the sharing.
Words of loving encouragement begin arriving via phone and computer, through text and email. Small groups of people form prayer chains, graciously opening their hearts and extending their faith. Or, as I like to think of it, a Communication Unit is up and running.
Chaplains do what they do. Stand in the gap with humble prayers to an All-Powerful Creator. Messages of fond memories and kind blessings arrive, extending encouragement and hope. My spirit is uplifted. I’m not alone anymore. There is an army for me.
Diana Rigelman is a tongue cancer survivor living in Wenatchee, WA.
This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, March/April 2020.