When You Don't Know Until You Know

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This week, we received some pretty devastating news: Kirk’s mom has been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.

The news came on the heels of two emergency room visits in the span of one week, but other than that, we had no advance warning. No symptoms. No warning signs.

In one short minute, your whole world can change.

As soon as we received the news, we packed our bags, loaded up our car, and drove 450 miles north to Athens, GA, where his mom and her husband live. We’ve spent the week here, and I happen to be writing this letter to you from the hotel where we’re staying.

In just five short days, I’ve already learned so much about walking through a cancer diagnosis, but one of the main things I’ve learned is this:

You don’t know what it’s like until you know what it’s like.

Cancer seems to lurk around every corner, and I’m sure most of us can say our lives have been touched by it in some way. My grandfather died of cancer when I was in high school, and my aunt died of cancer several years ago. It also seems like the news of a cancer diagnosis touches the lives of people I know on Facebook more often than should be considered natural or normal.

But even though the reality of cancer has swirled near a long time, touching my friends and extended family, there’s something different about it this time. This time, it has felt something like stepping through a portal — a portal reserved for those who know in a deep and personal way what it’s like to hear that world-altering word cancer when it concerns a spouse or a parent or a sibling or even one’s very own self.

This week, I’ve learned what that is like.

I’ve learned that when it’s that up close and personal, your whole world changes. Your priorities flip in the blink of an eye.

I’ve learned when the news hits this close to home, you become closely acquainted with waiting. Waiting on test results. Waiting on doctors. Waiting on milestones. Waiting on news.

I’ve learned there are so many decisions. Decisions about treatment. About home care. About who will take care of what, and when. About how this works once the hospital stay ends.

I’ve learned people process it differently. Some need space to take it all in and think and feel their way through. Others need to talk it through out loud.

It’s so incredibly different to be this close to a cancer diagnosis.

And it makes me realize that the next time I hear of someone going through this in such a close and personal way, I’ll remember this week and what it’s been like and the few things I learned in just a few short days, and  I’ll be able to say with much more sincerity than ever before, “I’m so sorry. I know how scary and overwhelming that can be. It’s shocking, and it changes everything. How can I help?” 

Have you ever been in a circumstance like this? What was it like for you to move through it? 

Much love,