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  • My father calls me to tell me his brother has stage four.

    Once, in elementary school, they asked us to take a strip of construction paper for every person in our lives that we had known to have cancer. Cancer awareness month. I picked up several paper strips and went back to my seat. I wrote names on each one and went back for a few more. The entire school would make links from the paper and they would make a chain that would be hung up somewhere to represent cancer's affect on us as a school. I stared at the names on mine. It made my stomach hurt and I bit the inside meat of my cheek.

    Both grandfathers, my older brother, a cousin, a great-uncle, a great grandfather and an uncle had all passed from it.

    When I fill out doctor's forms I am always asked about the section where I list everyone who's had cancer in my immediate family. Then doctor one tells me because it was all different types of cancer, that “it doesn’t seem to be genetic, so do not worry”.

    A great aunt, two aunts, my mother-in-law and my father have had some form of it (breast, cervical and skin) and had it treated and they’ve all seemed to have it beaten. And now another uncle was beginning chemotherapy and radiation. Doctors only hoped to slow it down.

    Do not worry.

    When I started my new job two years ago, a close co-worker had his entire life turned upside-down when his wife and mother of their three young boys was diagnosed. She lost her battle with it this spring. There was nothing anyone could do that they didn't try, yet it didn't seem to help.

    I could hear the tone in my father’s voice as soon as he said Hello. Stage four. No one had a clue my uncle was even sick.

    Do not worry.

    I awkwardly joke with my new doctor about how I don’t worry; I’m just mentally preparing myself for the fact that it happens. Without warning or bias. It’s only a question of what flavor of cancer. That it seems as though, in my family, our bodies just decide to self-destruct one day. The doctor frowns at me but doesn't have anything contrary wise to say.

    The colors of the paper all strung together looked too happy to represent this much grief, uncertainty and struggle. I didn’t attend a large school, but the chain seemed to be unreasonably long. Cancer awareness.

    Three summers ago, my best friend from high school had a large benign growth cut from her uterus. I flew out to see her after the surgery. It was cantaloupe sized.

    Last summer the dermatologist cut five blobs of pigment from my skin, warning me to expect the results to come back with melanoma written on them. Two weeks drug by, but my skin came back as just “very ugly and cancerous-looking but not actually cancerous”. Instead I got a staph infection for my troubles but was relieved and slept like a baby.

    Do not worry.

    A professor and friend of mine from college has a rare genetic disorder where tumors grow randomly on his nerve endings. He paints and draws moments from his medical ordeals; using images of demons to illustrate the disease. It seemed fitting. He continues to battle with them.

    Paper didn't seem like the correct materials for such a chain either. It should be heavy. Permanent. Destructive.

    There isn’t anything I can say to my father that he hasn’t heard or that he himself hasn’t said to all the other members of his family. There isn’t anything I can do either to make him feel better about the possibility of losing another family member this way. I bite down onto the inside meat of my cheek as he repeats to me what the doctors have told him about his brother.

    I sit, listen and try not to worry.
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