Posted on: April 25th, 2012 by

Just two days ago, a former co-worker at a former company informed me that our former boss died from lung cancer. 

She was 62.

I simply couldn’t believe it. My former boss was so vibrant and alive. She was too young for cancer.

Why the shock that someone died relatively young from cancer? Why the shock that it was lung cancer? Why the shock that it was someone I knew? Why the shock the victim seemed destined for a long life in my mind, only to have it crashing down?

Then I caught myself.

I, of all people, should know better. That cancer strikes people from all walks of life and at all ages. That cancer doesn’t give a sh*t who its victim is. That it is an insidious, ruthless disease that tries to destroy the body. That the whole “one is too young for cancer” is a bunch of rotten baloney.

Yet I still felt shock, disbelief, anger, and grief about my former boss. Had to read the message from my former co-worker over and over again. Couldn’t — wouldn’t — believe it.

Today, my friend with leukemia received her second bone marrow transplant. I was shocked that the first one was unsuccessful. I thought she would be in remission. I even convinced myself she was cured. Then the doctors found cancer cells. She needed to start her treatment all over again. 

I pray that this second transplant works. I know I’ll be shocked if it doesn’t take, as I am in the process of lying to myself that cancer cooperates.

And my co-worker’s husband is faring poorly. Metastatic cancer. And I am surprised. How could cancer metastasize so quickly?

Clearly, I am not a naive person, but it’s unsettling how much I’m lying to myself these days. I know what it’s like to lose a loved one to cancer and I know what it’s like to have cancer young.

The truth is all wrapped up somewhere in the lies I tell myself. 

The lies serve to protect me from the real possibility that I may soon lose some people dear to my heart.

A couple of weeks ago, I spoke with a woman who is 62 and whose parents are alive and well into their 90s. The mom of my friend with leukemia lived into her mid-90s and was hardly ever sick. My friend and I always thought her genetic line was strong. 

We were wrong.

My family dies of old age or cancer in their 90s. Does that longevity bode well for the future for me? Probably not. Family history doesn’t seem to correlate to long lifespans. I’m the youngest in my family to have cancer. I’m the family’s cancer pioneer.

Well, life’s longevity may not be all it’s cracked up to be, I tell myself. The key is to seize the moment and savor all the days we have left on Earth.

And to be less shocked.

16 Responses to Shock

  1. Marie Ennis-O'Connor had this to say about that:

    Beth, I hear you. Last week a young mother, diagnosed a year ago, while pregnant with her second child, died from metastatic breast cancer. Her baby has just turned one. When I heard the news I felt as if I had been punched in the stomach. The shock and horror of it all leaves none of us untouched, no matter what relationship we have had with cancer.

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Marie, this is just awful. It turns my stomach to hear of such terrible news. And now the child is left motherless. It just isn’t fair, is it? There is always shock when it comes to cancer. It’s a haunting thing, really.

  2. Nancy's Point had this to say about that:

    Cancer keeps on striking, taking and shocking. It’s the nature of the beast. Of course you felt shocked and angry. You didn’t want to believe or accept the latest news. I don’t think you are being naive or lying to yourself, you’re just being human and hanging onto hope. That’s how we protect ourselves and those we care about. And of course, you’re right about seizing each day…

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Hi Nancy,

      Yes, cancer keeps on taking and leaving such turmoil and damage in its wake. You make a really good point about me trying to hang onto hope. Deep down inside, I don’t want to believe these people will die. And truly, they may live through it all, so I guess I will seize hope like I seize each new day.

      I so appreciate your perspective! Thank you.

  3. Elyn Jacobs had this to say about that:

    I agree…the shock, the news, the fear, it gets to you. Cancer has no boundries and we are all affected, whether it is ourselves, loved ones or complete strangers. It gets to our very core.
    Marie, that is just so awful, so unfair to mother, child, family.

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Elyn, you are so right about cancer knowing no boundaries. It really plays havoc in one’s mind. We are never the same after a diagnosis and we look at the world in “cancer-colored glasses.”

      And I agree that the mother dying is so unfair. Cancer is unfair.

  4. Renn @ The Big C and Me had this to say about that:

    Beth! I want to say don’t be so hard on yourself. Shock is part of our coping mechanism. What you have experienced is an awful lot to handle and process.

    Not sure we are lying to ourselves as much as we are not seeing the forest for the trees. On purpose. As a coping mechanism.

    The day I am no longer shocked by cancer’s wrath is the day complacency has shoved my jaded meter off the charts. If that makes any sense. I want to stay shocked. It keeps a fire under my butt.

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:


      Thank you for your perspective. You are right about shock being such a normal reaction. It’s true; it is a coping mechanism. Thank you for visiting and commenting!

  5. Kim had this to say about that:

    Beth, Just popping in to share…I so agree with the shock factor. 3 1/2 years out and I still live on “denial island” some days. Also, Marie that is so horrible about that young mother…a cure can’t come soon enough!

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:


      I like the way you put it: “denial island.” That’s the way I feel sometimes. It’s hard to accept the reality of cancer taking loved ones from us or claiming our own lives.

      Thank you for reading my posting and commenting.

  6. wgasawoman had this to say about that:

    I just lost a friend to lung cancer only after being diagnosed two months earlier. They said it was caught really early and highly treatable. After receiving chemo and radiation simultaneously, she caught an infection and died. Age 54 – the support of her family and a wonderful caring human. So, we never know and you are correct – be your own advocate.

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      I’m so sorry about the loss of your friend. And this shows that being told it was treatable and caught early doesn’t always mean anything. 54 is way too young. Once again, accept my condolences.

      Also, thanks for reading my posting and commenting.

  7. Jan Baird Hasak had this to say about that:

    The shock never seems to go away, does it, Beth? I don’t know if the lies are fed by denial or myths or what, but I know my mind perpetuates them. Like you, I’m the youngest in my family to have cancer and family genetics doesn’t appear to play a role: I’m a pioneer like you. What do we pioneers do? We circle the wagons and defend ourselves from ugly truths. Great post! xx

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Jan, you are so right about the shock never seeming to go away. I wish we could be pioneers in a different, happier arena. Yes, definitely, we need to circle those wagons. Thank you for your kind words.

  8. The Accidental Amazon had this to say about that:

    No matter how often we hear such news, it always feels like a sucker punch. Cancer is so unpredictable, so beastly. I don’t know if we can be less shocked when we lose another friend, when we hear that another friend has been diagnosed. I think that, in some ways, that shock comes not so much from denial perhaps, but from our informed frustration, from our fervent wish that no one else should have to endure cancer, from our very keen sense of the enormity of what cancer steals from us all. I think in a way that our shock is worse because we know. And we care.


    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Kathi, you hit the nail on the head when you say that the shock comes “from our informed frustration” and because “we care.” That’s it. We know these losses keep piling up, and the shock of it all is caused by our frustration at being powerless to effect change. I feel powerless against the evil of cancer.

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