I grew up with cancer.
Beverly was my mother's name. They say that I look like her (short, stocky, tanned) and that my personality is much like hers was. Beverly was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer - a skin disease - when I was about four years old. The disease was incurable. Terminal. And even though they have made great strides in the field of medicine, it remains incurable.
I watched my mother fight this battle. When I close my eyes, the images of her are still as vivid today as they were over fifty years ago. As a boy, I would stand in the doorway of her room and look in to see her sleeping on the bed, curled up under blankets. I held my breath and watched to see if the blankets were moving. Because if they were moving, she was still with me.
Sometimes it was hard to tell if those blankets were moving.
The day came when the cancer finally took her from us. I remember when the phone call came late one night. No one had to tell me. I knew she was gone.
That was a long time ago. But I still feel it. There are some things we never get over. We just learn to carry the pain. To help with that pain, I became a long distance runner. Forty-seven years and I am still running.
My father eventually remarried. And I was lucky enough to have a second mother. Carolyn. She did not hesitate to love me, to help me, to laugh with me. She had known Beverly, had even brought food over to the house. Carolyn did her best to step into Beverly's shoes, and she did a great job. She is still doing a great job. Today she sends me text messages and letters with little hearts. "A message from your Mama" she says. It always makes me smile.
So you can imagine how hard it was to hear the news that cancer had found its way into Carolyn's body. This time it was breast cancer.
Really? Cancer? Again? Are you kidding me!
I felt like the Grim Reaper was haunting me. Taunting me. Carrying his horrible stick (cancer) and jabbing at my life, at my heart. "I've come back," he hissed in the dark night. "You can't get away."
And then he jabbed his cancer stick at my father.
And then he jabbed it at me.
Cancer - everywhere. Bam, bam, bam! And suddenly it all came crashing back to me. Memories of Beverly, of trips to the hospital, of remission, of angry red sores covering her body, and then of that closed casket only ten feet away. Dark images. Pain.
YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING! I just wanted that Grim Reaper to go away and leave me alone. I was 57. I did not want to deal with this again. I could not believe it.
So what did I do? I did the only thing I knew how to do. I did what I had done since the age of eleven, shortly after Beverly's death. I put on my running shoes, found a trail, ran down it until I was far away and tired, and then I talked to God. I let it all out. I told him the whole story.
And, just like always, there he was. It is hard to explain. But take it from me: it's real. Every time I have done this I have felt a comfort. A peace that cannot be understood or even explained. All my life I have felt this peace. Whenever I have reached an end, or an impasse, or become dejected and afraid, I have gone in search of God ... and he has always been there.
Which brings me to this day. This moment. Cancer again. Me, my father, and my mother Carolyn. Unbelievable. But guess what? I am older now. I have learned a lot. I have gained strength. I am not a ten-year old boy. I know how to fight battles. I know how to endure, to keep going, even if it hurts.
I know where my strength comes from. And I have an endless supply to draw from.
So let that Grim Reaper try his best. He is not going to win. Not this time. Because now I have the courage and the strength to stop, turn around, and look him right in the eye.
"Not this time," I tell him. "This time, I am going to beat you."
And with that, I press on.