Collateral damage was originally used by the military and is defined as “any death, injury, or other damage inflicted that is an incidental result of an activity.”
I’ve written before about how much I hate cancer. But I realize all of those were written from a very selfish perspective.
Granted, I AM the one living with cancer. And my body has been through A LOT.
I didn’t properly thank him at the time. He went with me to appointments. Listened to doctors. Saw me in more pain than giving birth to our two daughters. And he held my hand through it all. He was there in the trenches with me
(Sorry to those of you who don’t like the battle analogy but we all see things a little differently. I appreciate your perspective, I hope you can appreciate mine at least for this blog post.)
As I was fighting on the front line (ie surgeries, chemo, radiation). He was fighting a different battle. Trying to keep the household going. Taking kids to school, helping with homework, grocery shopping, preparing meals (that I may or may not have even felt like eating).
And then the tables turned.
When my husband got cancer, I was able to see the toll my cancer took on him. I was taking him to appointments. Listening to doctors. And watching him experience so much pain. Holding his hand through it all.
When I was diagnosed in 2003, our kids were young. Even when I was diagnosed with metastatic cancer our kids were still in school. There were still home responsibilities that had to be handled. And I was not exactly mobile with a hip joint that no longer worked.
When he was diagnosed in 2015, the kids were older. There was no sheltering them from what was happening. One was a junior in college, the other a senior in high school. It wasn’t up to me to make sure they were getting to practices or school. Friends brought meals so often that I almost forgot how to cook anything other than reheating things in a microwave.
My husband was in a trial at MD Anderson in Houston which required trips from our home to Houston (about a 3 hour car ride) several times a month from October 2015 through January 2016.
His cancer was much more aggressive than mine. For the first time I understood what my doctor meant when he said “as long as your mets stay in your bones, we can manage it”. My husband’s mets were in his lungs and then moved to his brain. We went to the emergency room and he had several hospital stays from February 2016 until he passed away in July 2016.
My husband and I were again in the trenches. We were battle buddies. We fought the fight together. Until the very end when cancer finally ravaged his body so much that he had nothing left to give.
I grieved. For my husband, for my children, and finally for my own cancer diagnosis.
I lost my husband, my best friend, and my battle buddy. I still had metastatic cancer and was still in the trenches. But my battle buddy was gone.
My daughters have spent most of their life living with someone with cancer.
They were 5 and 8 when I was first diagnosed with breast cancer. When I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer they were 12 and 15. When their dad was diagnosed with cancer they were 17 and 20.
Their dad died when they were 17 (a month shy of her 18th birthday) and 21 (just 20 days after her 21st birthday).
We always put on a strong face for our girls. Sheltered them from as much as we could. And tried our best to give them a “normal” childhood (whatever that means).
I thought we did a pretty good job. And yet…
The reality is they suffered cancer’s collateral damage.
Recently, I have had conversations with both of them about their childhood. Both told me they have “blocked out” some of their childhood memories.
That surprised me.
Like I said, I thought we had done a pretty good job of giving them a normal life.
My oldest has tells me often she is “certain” she will get cancer. She’s just not sure when or what kind. She lives with an anxiety I wish I could wipe away. But no matter how much I tried to shield her, cancer still managed to destroy part of her.
Cancer took a little hope away every time it came knocking at our door.
My youngest. She has lived with the idea of cancer most of her life. Recently we were watching Grey’s Anatomy (spoiler if you haven’t watched recent episodes). A mother and daughter both had COVID. The mother told the doctors (paraphrasing here) “please save my daughter”. The daughter said (paraphrasing again) “please save my mother”.
If the scene doesn’t bring at least a tear to your eye then I don’t know what would. But when the commercial came on, my youngest said “Mom, don’t save me. I can’t take another tragedy in my life.”
If you aren’t crying now do you even have a heart? It was a dagger to mine.
I tried to shield them from so much. But they are always watching. They see what is going on. Even if they aren’t talking about it. As a parent I thought my husband and I had done our best to raise two incredible women.
And yet, I failed to recognize the collateral damage cancer inflicted on my children.
They went to summer camps, played in the school band, graduated from high school with good grades, went to the college of their choice, graduated from college with dreams of a career of their choice (one is an athletic trainer and the other is a math teacher).
But underneath all of those accomplishments are scars inflicted by cancer’s stray bullets.
Leaving life long scars from the collateral damage inflicted while their dad and I were in the trenches with cancer. Trying our best to give them a sense of normalcy.
In the end, while we were staring down the enemy in the trenches, we did not see the collateral damage cancer was causing to the very ones we were trying to protect.
During some of the conversations about repressed memories, I have apologized for the fact that they did not have what they would consider a normal childhood. Although they both graciously acknowledge there is nothing to apologize for as it was out of my control, I wish I could go back in time and create memories with them that would out weigh those that they have blocked.
I am currently beating the odds.
I have lived with metastatic breast cancer for 10 plus years. . And since it is “just in my bones” I feel like I am winning this battle in the trenches. I’m still trying to limit anymore collateral damage. But every time I go in for scans, the reality is that my cancer could show progression (and it has over those 10 years – I’m currently on my 4th line of treatment).
I would give my kids the world if I could. Unfortunately, all I can do is continue to take my chemo, go to my scans every 4 months, and pray the scans continue to show no progression (and, as my oncologists said, stays “just in my bones”).
This kind of collateral damage is why the hashtags #stageivneedsmore and #researchnotribbons are so meaningful to me and every other metastatic breast cancer patient. We want to live, create memories that won’t be blocked out, and not allow cancer to cause any more collateral damage.