Dirty words and life lessons


We spend a fair amount of time in our house discussing the difference between “good” and “bad” words. My kids are little at 6, 4, and 1 and so I still have a large amount of control in this arena. Most of our bad words are pretty tame. We have the usual suspects like “stupid”, “jerk”, and “loser.” But I feel like we have a pretty good handle on it. For example, my kids still believe that “hate” is a bad word not to be spoken. This isn’t to say we don’t have the occasional big time f-bomb but for the most part it remains largely under control.

That is until 2 weeks ago when I was introduced to some new, very bad, horrible words. You know what else is a dirty word? “Invasive”. Or try out “urgent.” Even worse than that? “Melanoma”. There’s the usual suspect “C” word that we still refuse to say out loud and there are new ones too that we didn’t even know about. “PET scan” and “Sentinal Lymph Node Biopsy” to name a few. 

These words hurt. Sticks and stones are nothing and frankly I’d much prefer broken bones. These words can bring down your entire freaking life in a matter of seconds and you never even saw them coming. Suddenly you find yourself pulled over in a grocery store parking lot staring at your cell phone scarcely able to make out the words the doctor is saying. 

“We can’t get in touch with your husband but we have the results of his pathology. Do you have a minute?” 

Your mind starts whirling and your throat begins to close up. These words are oppressive.

And all at once this is a different life. One of endless doctors appointments and scans. One full of pitied looks from strangers as you check in at the cancer center. It’s so painfully obvious that you are new there. Full of uncomfortable whispered well wishes and prayers. And you are now in a club in which you never wanted membership. 

You know things now. Things like “Always wear a jacket to the cancer center” because they keep the thermostat set 2 degrees above the Arctic Circle. Or that there really is no such “Dr. Frank” and when they page him over the loud speaker it really means that someone just coded. And you live suspended in between scans and consults with your whole life hanging on that one result. 

And you wait. 

You wait for the appointment. You wait for the scan. You wait for the call. And you wait for the surgery. The one where they will hack him apart cutting and sawing and “excising” piece by piece. You try to stay positive but all you can think is “Maybe I shouldn’t have passed up on those burial plots my parents asked me about a few weeks ago”. You hope for the best and prepare for the worst. The thoughts are overwhelming, the emotions crushing, and the “what if’s” paralyzing.

But somehow you do it. You are just going through the motions but you do it. You make it to the results appointment and get the “all clear” and you exhale for the first time in weeks. That’s when the tears come. The relief. The gut-wrenching fear. The “what could haves”. All of it.

We are all living on borrowed time. Some of us taken sooner than others. The silver lining is to take that brush with ever-after and remember what really matters. Everything else sort of just falls away when you’re at risk of losing what’s most important.

The dishes can wait, the toys will still be there in the morning, and tonight is about celebrating the rest of our lives as long as that may be.


Unfortunately the “all clear” was short lived after his first surgery. We began a battle that has lasted a year but will continue for a lifetime. Read what happened next in The Whole Truth and what we’ve learned from it in What I didn’t expect to get from cancer