I was flipping through the television channels last night when I happened upon a Barbara Walters special. She was interviewing Patrick Swayze, who was talking about his pancreatic cancer. I didn’t watch the show. I don’t like her and don’t particularly care for him, but what really hit me was the look in his eyes. He looked just like a deer staring down oncoming headlights. The fear and anxiety were palpable, right through the lens of the camera.
My mother had cancer. I was 15. She found a lump in her breast. She had been working crazily for several years and had let her annual mammogram slip by the wayside. She didn’t know she had a lump until she felt it with her own hands. Her biopsy showed cancer, and she soon after had surgery. Her surgery was a botched job, and the ensuing infection turned a lumpectomy into a radical mastectomy. Her lymph nodes had become infected with the cancer through the infection. She went to the best cancer center in the country and was told that the only way she would live was if they nearly killed her with chemotherapy and radiation. This was 25 years ago. She lost all of her hair and her fingernails curled. Her teeth wobbled in her mouth, which was full of ulcers. I remember going into her room as she napped to be sure that the sheets were still moving from her breath. I was afraid she might have stopped breathing altogether.
My mother survived a cancer that would have killed many. She has long term effects of the treatment that have never left her, but she lived.
My own brush with the possibility of cancer did not remind me of the horrible dark days of my mother’s illness. It reminded me that she survived, and how much she has accomplished and done in the years since her illness. It reminded me of the possibility of life beyond being mutilated and sickened to death.
So I wonder why Patrick Swayze’s face scared me so. I couldn’t stand it. The terror and wrath right there before everyone’s eyes. It made my sleep restless and fretful last night, a small insignificant nothing that pales in the shadow of what his sleep must be like. If he sleeps at all.