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"Can a person beat cancer four times?"
This was the question I googled immediately after hanging up with my mom last Tuesday afternoon. She had called with the results of Dad's regular MRI test.
The cancer had come back.
We all knew this would happen. Seven years ago when my father was first diagnosed with lymphoma in his prostate, we were devastated and scared. After he beat that, he was diagnosed a few years later with the same cancer, but in his brain. Fear was replaced this time with anger and resolve. And he beat cancer again. And then it came back. Lymphoma in the brain, again. About two years ago. This time there was fatigue, mixed in with that resolve. And now here we are again. Round four of cancer. Round three of lymphoma in the brain.
I'm not sure what emotion will resurface for each of us this time, or what new emotion will make its entrance, but I do know this. The one emotion that remains constant, the one sentiment that is never lost is hope. And this is simply because of the fact that my mother will not allow any of us to lose hope.
In some ways, actually in most ways, my mom has definitely walked the toughest road through all of this. As my father has gotten weaker, she has had to get stronger. As he's become incapable of working, she's taken on two and three jobs. As he's admitted fear, she's held him up with her strength. And she's never ever let any of us give up.
I know that my mom's response to this would be something like "Oh stop! That's just what you do when someone you love needs you." But I'm not sure that's always the case. It should be though. There will come a time in everyone's life, when pain and suffering will come knocking on their door. And when it does, I can't help but think that having someone to stand with them in the pain, despite how much pain it will cause them too, could mean the difference between hope and despair, between heaven and hell, between life and death. My father has that. And so he has hope.
My parents came to visit us this past September, when my mom thought my dad was feeling strong enough for the visit. We had some great laughs (as always), and spent some quality time together. And I asked my mom for something special. I asked my parents to let me take some portraits of them. My father's battles with cancer had aged him, and his thick black hair was very thin and mostly white. He was tired and I feared he would not be up for the little walking it would take to get them to the spot I had chosen. And I was worried that my mom would hesitate, worried herself that an emotional portrait session could wreak havoc on the strong resolve she had worked so hard to keep together. But she loved the idea. I think after three battles with cancer, and a fourth eventually to come, she knew how precious some current portraits would be for all of us. And so I took my parents out for an hour and captured some photos of them. And between my father's natural humor, my parents life-long love, and my camera skills, we created a treasure.
I've been looking at these portraits a lot more this past week. I keep them on my phone, and flip through them whenever something reminds me that my father (and mother) are in for yet another battle. They make me smile, and remind me to keep hope. After all, if I don't keep my hopes up, my mom will yell at me. All of you who know her know she will!
These photos are a gift to me every day. I bet they are for my mom too. And they will be for my kids too. And their kids.
And so it is these two things that I believe every struggler should be gifted. One, a person who will love them and walk through the fire with them. And then, photos of that love to remind you to keep praying, keep believing, keep hoping. And never ever gift up.
You've got this, Dad. And Mom's got you.