Just cancer.

“Your mom just has cancer. Not you.” I’ll never forget those words. When my mom was diagnosed someone told me this after I explained¬† how my life had changed, my values and priorities had shifted and I’d grown. The comment stopped in me in my tracks.

And while I can’t remember how I responded, I catch myself thinking back to that moment every once in a while. “Your mom has cancer, not you.”

True, my mom was diagnosed with stage 3C ovarian cancer, the kind that is past the point of easily being cured –¬† I was by all accounts healthy. But anyone who has lost or seen someone suffer a loss knows that while the patient does carry the heaviest burden – family and loved ones have their own struggles. How do you keep it together when your world is falling apart? You just do the best you can. And some days you have it together and others you don’t, but both are ok.

Some days will be fighting through the fears of the unknown, the questions of whether or not your recent phone call will be the last. Will they feel up to talking with you or having you visit that day? Who is going to talk to your siblings guidance counselors and make sure they don’t miss athletic events they simply cannot miss? How will you give the play-by-play of athletic games you don’t understand? Smiling when you can because you know that’s how they want to see you. Making the hospital or chemo/doctor visits your new place to visit and going for that hour run when you’re way out of shape because they just killed their chemo treatment and want to run.

And that is “just cancer.” It’s your dad sitting at your wedding by himself in a pew that he should be sharing with his fourth grade sweetheart. That is grief, that is loss and that is heartbreak – a different kind of heartbreak. It’s having your world flipped upside down. It’s bittersweet memories…always. It’s being afraid but smiling. It’s crying harder than you’ve ever cried and it’s realizing that you don’t have to keep it together. Things can fall and you can change. There will be good days and there will be hard days. And that is ok.

How do you cope with a the loss or fear of losing a loved one?