My Teacher’s Name Was Cancer

My Teacher’s Name Was Cancer

by Debbie Tackes

Cancer has a funny way of teaching life lessons. As I near the five-year mark of my second – and, I hope, my last – cancer diagnosis, I thought it would be an appropriate time to reflect on what I’ve learned. Here are three lessons cancer has taught me. 

1. I was never alone.

A cancer diagnosis turns your world upside down. Once you hear those words – “you have cancer” – your life is filled with doctor’s appointments, scans, tests, medications, treatments, surgery. As a result, relationships can be put on the backburner, quality time with friends and loved ones crowded out to make room for lifesaving measures.

However, along my journey, I realized I didn’t fight alone. Though I was alone in chemotherapy, alone in the radiation machine, I had a team of people cheering me on. Family, friends, my medical team, fellow cancer fighters, all were behind me, supporting me. Though often solitary, I was never alone. 

2. Everyone needs encouragement.

People come into our lives for a reason, though we may not realize the reason at the time. When I was told I would need five weeks of daily radiation, I thought to myself, There’s no way I can do that. But, of course, I had to try. 

Along my journey, I realized I didn’t fight alone. Though I was alone in chemotherapy, alone in the radiation machine, I had a team of people cheering me on.

To lessen the burden of daily treatment, I made effective use of the valet parking offered by the cancer center where I was receiving my radiation. Since my treatments were scheduled for the same time each day, the same valet took my car each time. And each time, he met me with a friendly smile and words of encouragement. He could have just done his job and parked my car without paying me much mind, but he had another purpose. He made those impossible weeks of radiation more bearable. Each day, when he said, “See you tomorrow,” it gave me just enough fortitude to return the following day. After all, I didn’t want to let him down. I needed that in my life at that time more than he would ever know. And, now, I try to be that encourager for other cancer fighters whenever I have the chance.

3. Timing is everything.

The cancer center where I received care has four clinics: Hope, Courage, Faith, and Life. I was assigned to the Faith Clinic for my care. And that was just what I needed most right then – faith. Wow, what timing! Sometimes we end up right where we’re supposed to be, exactly when we’re supposed to be there. 

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Now that I’m closing in on the magical “five-year mark,” it’s natural to look back and see what my teacher – cancer – has taught me. It also seems like a valuable time for me to share what I’ve learned. I simply hope that this message is well-timed for you.

Debbie TackesDebbie Tackes, a two-time colorectal cancer fighter, is coauthor of It’s Not About You, It’s About Those You Love and a frequent speaker at American Cancer Society Relay for Life events in her home state of Wisconsin.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, March/April 2019.