Cancer is a strange thing. It’s terrifying and awful and unfair. Ruthless. But despite its atrocity — or maybe because of it — I have also seen really beautiful things transpire in its wake. There’s a strength to the survivors, a renewed sense of life purpose, and an unyielding love to those who support them.
Since writing about my sister’s diagnosis, there has been an outpouring of love and support from family, friends and even strangers.
I write about it not just because she’s my sister and important to me, but also because it sheds a light on humanity. How we are all connected — through heartbreak and suffering and kindness and triumph.
And, often, through laughter.
My cousin, Michael Vance — who lives in Washington, D.C., where he plays in the U.S. Army Band — sent my sister a packet of letters from his family.
“Dear Casandra,” he wrote, “I read Teri’s article to my children this morning, and they felt compelled to write you and express their love for you and your family.”
We’ve never met his children, so they introduced themselves in their notes.
“I heard about your amazing story and hope you get better,” wrote Isaac, 14, who explained, “I am technically your first cousin once removed.”
Stephen was less clear in the relationship.
“I’m 8 years old,” he wrote. “I’m your favorite cousin’s youngest son. That is, unless my dad is not your favorite cousin. In that case, I’m just your cousin’s son. My favorite sport is baseball. I’ll be praying for you.”
Laura, 11, also listed her interests.
“I think you are really cool,” she wrote. “My dad showed me your Facebook picture (it’s one of the scar on her neck where her thyroid was removed set against a necklace that says, “be brave.”), and I thought it was really amazing and well … epic.
“I play violin, piano and sing. I also love to run and ride my bike. I like writing stories. But my real passion is dinosaurs. I … Love … DINOSAURS! I want to be a paleontologist when I grow up.
“You’ll be in my prayers.”
On the other side, she wrote the joke: What did the corn say to the farmer? Stop picking on me.
Hannah, 13, also applied humor as the antidote for sorrow.
“I wanted to write you this to make you feel better.
“Q: What did the cat say to the farmer.
“Do you get it? Because the only thing cats say is ‘meow.’ Anyway, you’ll be in my prayers. I Hope you feel better.”
The baby, Sarah, drew a picture, and my cousin-in-law, Haleigh, wrote, “I have nothing but sympathy and amazement at you right now.”
I, too, am amazed at all the kindness and support that has been extended. I know many of you face similar struggles or are supporting loved ones through them.
I think the greatest lesson I have learned through this is we’re not alone. And that jokes help.