The helpless feeling cancer evokes in many of us

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By Stacey Manning, Managing Editor


That word has been filling my ears far too frequently. In the last couple of months, several people I know have had to permanently add that dreaded word to their vocabularies. 

It’s makes me mad. It makes me sad. It makes me feel helpless.

This sense of helplessness takes me back to the same emotions I felt several years. Below, I am republishing a column I wrote in 2005 for The Kentucky Standard. It was written when a dear friend—now my husband—learned his father was facing cancer.

He ultimately lost his brave fight against the disease.

A lot of things have changed since then but cancer, it remains the same.

I am a writer; words should come easy. By trade I craft words into delicate sentences, twisting and turning the English language until it falls into place.

My words are like puzzle pieces; I handle them with care and when all is arranged perfectly my finest work conveys feelings, stirs emotions and moves the soul.

I’m a writer; I should be a master of this language—a knight riding on my word-horse’s back.

I should be fearless; my words should always come when I call. But why when I need words most do they escape me? 

Why does that word-horse slip into the dark corners of my mind, peeking around my fears and darting away when I reach for him?

I am a professional word craftsman. I turn moments into intricate stories—stories that tell who people are, what they think, what they do.

But today, I have no words.

I’m calling you word-horse, come here.

He will not come today because today there are no right words.

Where do you find words for someone dear who just learned the same ugly illness that robbed his family of their beloved mother now lingers around the corner eyeing their father?

There are no words because this word—cancer—overshadows all I may say.

It’s a word no one wants to hear. It stings as it rolls off the tongue and burns as it scrapes across ears. It’s said too often, with too many tears.

It’s bitter. It’s ugly. It’s mean.


I want it to go away.

Stand back; I hear my word-horse drawing near. He brings me my sword of hope; I am ready to fight! I’ll hold a shield to block you from its pain.

Let me wield this sword; I want to fight it back. I’ll chop at the fear that ugly word evokes; starting at the end and slashing to the front.

Goodbye R. Goodbye E. So long ugly C.

A fight to the death—but wait—I need to catch my breath. 

Yet, my work is not done. What’s left?

Ah, not so scary now—C-A-N. 

Yes, I can. I can keep going, hurling that sword. I will call upon my rage and the rage of every person who has known its pain. Guide me as I hack at cancer until it bleeds.

I want to watch it weep.

Give me strength to beat it until it can’t get up.

I want to hit it again.

When cancer finally staggers and falls, I want to wrap my fingers around its broken pieces. C-A-N-C-E-R, you’re not so tough.

I want to choke you for taking my grandmother, my grandfather, my uncle, my friends. 

I want to relish in the feeling as my white knuckles tighten around you. I want to punish you for all the hurt you’ve caused.

This is not just for me; this is for all you have touched. Break, cancer, break into a million pieces so I can stomp you on the floor.

And then allow me to sweep you up; I am intimidated by you no more.

Come with me everyone who has known this disease. Dance with me over what is left. This will be our celebration—a jubilation—a party of life. 

Let us dance until we fall on the floor and once there, join our hands and laugh and cry. I welcome tears to rush down our faces and pool on cancer’s remains.

Let’s rest on top of broken cancer, allowing our silence to shout our pain.

When our faces are dry, let’s climb to our feet and join our hearts together in another victory dance. I want to splash around in what’s left of that ugly word. I want it to nourish the earth. I want it to give us life.

And when its path of destruction is stopped, let us fall on our knees and remember those who missed our victory dance. 

Victims—they were our strength.

Let’s celebrate the courage we had to make our final charge. 

Survivors—they were our hope.

When we are done, let us take our memories of cancer and form a new foundation. Let us use it as a springboard from which we always move forward and never look back. 

And along the way, know you can take comfort in me because I still carry my sword, my shield—my words—for they are all I have.