The Big C has one degree of separation
Few have not been touched by cancer in some way. Former funeral celebrant DOT WHITTINGTON has seen why donations to research can be our own forward planning.
THE little boy, even standing on his tippy toes, couldn’t quite catch a glimpse of his mum.
His aunt swept him up in her arms so that he could lean down over the coffin and kiss his mother’s cold cheek.
It was good-bye to someone who had loved him more than anyone else in the world ever could, someone who would be part of him for the rest of his life.
He didn’t cry. He just couldn’t quite understand it all as his aunts, uncles and grandparents gathered protectively around him explaining his mum had gone to heaven and that she would be missing him too. He was too young to comprehend that he wouldn’t see her again, not even after all the fuss had died down.
And he could never have understood that his mum was yet another victim of cancer, the Big C, the purge of Australian society that strikes indiscriminately every day; that insidiously brings death to the door of people of all ages, incomes and backgrounds without fear or favour.
People just like you and me, who unsuspectingly go about their daily lives, could any day find themselves confronted with the word “cancer” and all its connotations.
There is a concept called the Six Degrees of Separation, a principle which suggests that the entire global population can be accounted for after just six steps because people you know, know someone else, who know someone else and so on.
Coming into regular contact with people whose lives are disrupted by cancer, it seems there is only one degree of separation between every Australian and someone whose life is cut short by cancer.
While there is no shortage of statistics for the various cancer support groups to quote in support of their call for awareness and support, it is the human story that is the most telling.
The Queensland Cancer Fund’s website advises that one in three Queensland men and one in four females will develop cancer during their lifetime.
It is one thing to be informed that cancer kills 6000 Queenslanders each year, but another to hear that it is the bloke down the road “he only just turned 50” or the nice woman from the bank “her kids have only just started school” have been told to put their affairs in order.
And when it is on your own doorstep – parent, child, sibling, aunt or cousin – it becomes a personal “battle” – as it is invariably but accurately described.
All too often, it is one that cancer wins.
A young woman, whose husband was a fit and healthy outdoorsman, tells how he was simply feeling unwell before being diagnosed with a tumour in his belly. Within weeks it had literally consumed him.
Like an alien feeding on his body and soul, the lump got bigger and bigger while the rest of him withered, until finally when it appeared he was about to give birth, he had to concede defeat six weeks later.
“It seemed so unreal. It all happened so quickly that it makes me think that if I could just put the life recorder on re-wind and skip that bit everything would be all right,” she said at his funeral.
When Elizabeth turned 50, she went in for a regular check-up on her state of health and was shocked to be told that her white cell count was not looking good. And so began a two-year journey that took her to the depths of human despair and suffering before she too, had to admit it was a battle she couldn’t win.
On top of the chemotherapy that claimed the long hair of which she was so proud, and the sickness that stole her spirit, soul and dignity, she had to come to terms with her own demons. She didn’t want to die.
But then few do want to go down the path of seeing their life being eaten away before their very eyes. Her great love of life justified two years of grabbing at any treatment that just might make a difference.
A little boy, diagnosed as a babe in arms, spends his short life in and out of hospital while his parents’ hearts break.
A mother, no longer able to speak, lies in bed wondering which breath will be her last as her husband and friends look after her children and keep the household running around her.
A father, his kids in high school, comes home from marathon training and collapses on the bed. Three months later he too admits that he cannot win a race against cancer.
A daughter, her body bloated from tumour-blasting steroids, gives up after three years and spends her final days in a nursing home.
And the list goes on – and on.
More threatening than a terrorist’s bomb, cancer is daily claiming the lives of somebody’s loved ones.
But there is hope at the end of this grim tale. There are also people who live to fight on and organisations to help the living and the dying take up arms in their battle against this sinister curse of the average man, woman and child.
There are many organisations seeking funding support for cancer research. Think carefully before you walk past a collection point. It could be you – or one of yours.