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CancerRecently we have had to say goodbye to a beloved family member. She was a loving mother, sister, aunt, daughter, and friend to many. My aunt, whose name began with a W and therefore will be referred to as Aunt W., suffered from cancer. She was first diagnosed about two years ago. Within that two years my mother took on the role of caregiver. She stood by her younger sister through the fight. And here’s what I’ve learned from this life-changing experience.  

Cancer is a beast. Once a loved one is diagnosed, it absolutely affects everyone around them. The majority of us did not take active roles in helping Aunt W. through the fight. Everyone had their own reasons. Choosing to battle this disease on the front lines is a major commitment, and not for the faint of heart. Some family members were too far away, others were fighting ailments of their own, and still others just didn’t know how to help. We instead offered loving support. But my mom chose to stand on the front lines and help her sister battle this horrid disease. For the first time in my life I finally understand the term “War on Cancer”. It is a war. Every diagnosis is a draft into the war. There are things my mother still won’t speak of when recalling all that they endured with Auntie’s care. And who could blame her.

Despite the roller coaster of emotions family members feel when their loved one is given an estimate on life (6 weeks to live, 2 months, 10 months, one year) it still can’t possibly compare to the impact such news has on the soldier fighting the war; the patient being diagnosed; the victim of this vile disease. The strength, determination, and bravery each of these soldiers must dig deep to find in order to prepare for the fight of their lives is certainly unmatched. Terminal illness and death really put life into perspective.

Aunt W. died two weeks ago with her daughter at her side, hand-in-hand, the way she wanted it. There are two surviving sisters including my mother. They each spent their time with her and said their goodbyes. Though we knew her time was fast-approaching, no one is ever prepared for that final moment. But, we are at peace. My mother has peace because she did all that she could to be at her sister’s side. My cousin is at peace for doing all that she could to fulfill her mother’s wishes. I am at peace and strong because of these two magnificent women.

Now that my family has been personally affected by cancer, I find myself offended by the words, ‘She lost her fight to cancer’. You see, I knew my aunt. She was short, strong, vivacious. She boasted a BIG, booming laugh that resonated throughout the room. She was funny and strong-willed. She was one tough cookie. For that reason, I find it hard to swallow the idea of her losing anything – without a fight that is. Then I realized . . . she didn’t lose. I’m not in denial. Yes, she’s gone. We live with that reality everyday now. But, she died fighting. It is my belief that any cancer survivor, anyone who has died as a result of having had cancer, is a soldier. They are soldiers who have died fighting, and I refuse to see it any other way. If you knew the woman that I knew, you would understand that there was no giving in to cancer – there was always a fight. Surviving just one day of it is a victory. Therefore, I choose to remember Aunt W. as the fighter she was. W is for Warrior.

To those whose loved ones have passed on; those of you who have survived; those who are in the fight right now; and those loved ones standing by your side; please know that you are warriors. Each day of survival means a day fought hard. Remember your loved ones as warriors who died fighting. And if or when the day comes that those of you on the battle field must take that last breath because of this disease, you will be remembered as a warrior who died fighting.

We miss Aunt W. We love her dearly. I am comforted knowing that even in her last days, she was still the same feisty lady I’d always known her to be. And that’s the lady I will always remember. . . Aunt Warrior.