When I found out that Deanna King died from breast cancer, I was at the hospital waiting for my oncologist to tell me whether my own breast cancer had spread to my lymph nodes and bones. I started to shake with panic as my breath came up short and my eyes filled with tears.
A 36-year-old mother from my own community, Deanna King was a strong advocate for breast cancer awareness. Her story went viral when friends and family decorated her lawn with more than 60 pink pumpkins to lift her spirits after a rough few weeks of treatment.
How could this young mother be dead? How? She walked past me at the hospital just one week earlier. Furious and scared, I texted my sister with the news: “F*cking cancer. F*ck. F*ck. F*ck.”
The mere mention of Deanna King’s name filled me with fear since I stumbled onto her Facebook page just days after learning my biopsy was positive for breast cancer. I never met her, but stories about her cancer recurrence and unfavorable prognosis sent me into panic attacks. A young mother saying goodbye to her daughter, husband and loved ones, she represented all my fears.
Over and over in my head, I wondered, “Will that be me?” Will I be soon be preparing to say goodbye to my family and writing birthday, graduation and wedding cards for my two daughters like she did for hers?
I tried to hide from her story, but it was useless, like trying to hide from the sun.
Damn right she did not lose her battle with cancer. I immediately felt a… shared dislike for the language of cancer that labels those who survive as “winning” their battle while those who die as having “lost their fight”. What, those who die just didn’t try hard enough? Never.
I saw her obituary and started reading it before I could stop myself. This line was an epiphany for me: “She made such an impact on so many lives. It’s important to understand that she did not lose the battle – she fought, and she won.”
Damn right she did not lose her battle with cancer. I immediately felt a different kind of kinship with her — an apparent shared dislike for the language of cancer that labels those who survive as “winning” their battle while those who die as having “lost their fight”. What, those who die just didn’t try hard enough? Never.
Yet, at the same time, I find myself embracing the cancer “battle” words I hate. I announced my health news to friends by using Rachel Platten’s Fight Song and telling them that “my boxing gloves are on”. My Facebook profile picture is a pair of boxing gloves. I can’t explain it other than by saying those words give me a sense of comfort and control in a situation where I have very little of both. Despite this, I’ve already told The Hubster that if I die from cancer, I will relentlessly haunt anyone who writes that I “lost my battle with cancer.”
Which brings me back to Deanna and my epiphany. How dare I focus on how she died? Here was a bright young mother who loved her family and contributed to her community by supporting the SPCA and raising awareness about domestic violence and breast cancer.
My heart is broken for Deanna’s family and for those who knew and loved her, but I will no longer be filled with fear by her story. Instead, I will be inspired by how she lived.
This week, I start five months of chemotherapy, followed by radiation and hormone therapy. Although I’m hopeful about my prognosis, I don’t know how my story will end.
But then, no one does.
For now, I plan to live every day as best as I can with gratitude, courage, hope and love.
Just like Deanna King did.