The Light of Cancer

By Mary Joan Nastri

MaryJI ran a red light, late one August evening. Couldn’t sleep, so I took myself for a ride. I felt as singular on the road as I felt sitting in the doctor’s office, with my family, as the doctor broke the news. I had cancer. My reaction–this can’t be happening to me; older people get cancer. But no, it happens to young adults too. I leaned more toward a mature adult at the age of 40, but was still considered young to have cancer.

I never went against the rules of the road, but that night seemed much easier to run a red light, get hit by a car, and end it all, instead of imagining all the pain that lay ahead. I sneaked a peak anyway to make sure no one was approaching.

The idea of pain left me confused and panicked; where would I purchase marijuana if I really needed it. I didn’t know anyone who could get me the stuff. I knew deep down, if I really needed it I’d find a way.

Most survivors say that some heavenly being, deep faith, or other outside force helped them through it. I was driven entirely by fear and curiosity. This can’t be the way it ends. What does someone do if they have cancer? I longed for something to leave behind that told others, especially my nieces and nephews, who their aunt was. I wanted to be at their weddings.

Slowly, I realized I would face whatever came. I asked questions of every person I came in contact with. One day in the chemo area I heard voices of other patients and their visitors. Some chatter was light with some humor and another was cursing and miserable. This brought up a good question. I asked the nurse what did she think; which kind of people were affected by cancer, good people or bad? Her slightly reverent but regretful answer was good people. I asked by how much–I need percentages! She replied, “most of them.”

Our society does not prepare someone for such news. We all rally next to someone, who lost his job, a spouse, or other calamity. But, we never learn how to cope with cancer. You learn as you go, but there are some things you should know:

  • Create or find a safe place where you can express your fears, hopes, and failings. Find a support group or go to a local Gilda’s Club. The actress, Gilda Radner, never went to an actual club bearing her name, but she belonged to a cancer support community in California, and Gilda’s club is modeled after that experience.
  • You’ll be learning a whole new vocabulary, look-up words you don’t know.
  • Collect and read some of the available free literature and informational kits on cancer support websites or your doctor’s office.
  • Your cancer support nurses will be the best, kindest, most knowledgeable people you’re ever going to meet. When you’re well, you will regret leaving this small community.
  • Limit your time looking on the web about your disease and the stats on survival, cancers are so specific and so varied, the web can never know your situation. One patient asked her doctor, “I heard there is only a 25% chance of survival,” his answer, “you can be in that 25%.”
  • Have, at least, one individual you can share your thoughts and feelings with, someone who does not try to make things better, but just sits with you.

And lastly…

  • Think about what your life/legacy means to you and others. Share your gifts with people you know, or would like to get to know better. Reach out and continue reaching out to survival, hope, and life.

Mary Joan Nastri is a foodie, a writer, a Desktop Support Tech intern
State of Wisconsin, and a lifelong learner. 



About first person productions

My blog "True Stories Well Told" is a place for people who read and write about real life. I’ve been leading life writing groups since 2004. I teach, coach memoir writers 1:1, and help people publish and share their life stories.
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