THE BLOG

How My Stepfather's Colon Cancer Taught Us How to Be More Resilient

03/12/2015 17:24 GMT | Updated 03/12/2016 10:12 GMT

-"What do you want to do for your 50th birthday?"

-- "I want to be alive."

He's 49.

I cannot speak to the physical pain experienced while undergoing years of chemotherapy and radiation or the discomfort of continued tumor growth. I do not know the emotional burden of days spent in a sterile, hospital room or being by my partner's side as he receives disappointing news. These are unpleasant experiences I have been sheltered from. I do know, however, how it feels to hold my breath for months as I await the results. In sum: my heart feels heavy and it hurts. It really hurts.

The thing about Cancer is that it spreads a kind of pain that extends beyond the cells being metastasized. I would say it is the emotional equivalent of a toothache: an ongoing, throbbing pain that cannot be ignored. You are aware of it when you wake up, when you laugh, when you breathe. Despite all of this, life goes on. Throughout this experience I have been continuously impressed by my Mum's and Ben's ability to "keep calm and carry on." It takes a great deal of inner strength to carry around the weight of hope when being knocked down repeatedly.

With the help of a therapist, I have made some progress in this emotional crash course. I am now slightly better at:

Compartmentalizing the bad days so they don't spill over and ruin the good.

Vocalising my concerns rather than internalising them.

Accepting rather than avoiding the unpleasant.

Would you like to know what I have learned? Maybe, just maybe, there is a certain strength in weakness. Anyone who has had a family member with Cancer knows very well that this disease will push you to - and beyond - your emotional limits. But maybe such pain is a reality we must all be prepared to experience in some form? When weight-lifting, our muscle fibers are actively broken down so that they may be built back stronger. Maybe this has been a sort of resistance training for our hearts.

I will admit I have made the mistake of allowing myself to be a victim of his diagnosis. I have since learned that there is a difference between feeling an emotion and being consumed by it. Slowly but surely, I have recognised that every great disappointment is counterbalanced by an even greater (sometimes unrelated) triumph.

My final thoughts on Cancer? It sucks. Just like any major, unexpected emotional trauma, it permanently colours your world. Understandably, everything is grey and gloomy in the beginning. As time progresses, we realise that we have the power to choose our perspective's pigment. Hopeful as we may be, we've accepted that the situation will never be yellow. This is our reality and we have learned to live with it as best we can. Our power comes in recognizing the beauty of the other colours on the palette. We delight in the mini victories and simple pleasures like our trips to the beach and nights spent laughing at our favourite T.V. shows. For these reasons, I would say our colour is cerulean. It's that blue that reminds me of a cloudless sky and a calm ocean. We find our solace in knowing that when the grey of the clouds pass, the blue will be there waiting for us to marvel at the way I continue to marvel at our combined strength.

Without periods of extreme temperature and pressure, we wouldn't know the crystallised beauty of diamonds.