By Tanya Bricking
Advertiser Staff Writer
After I called off wedding plans a while back, my mom tried to ease my heartache with lots of motherly advice: "What goes around comes around." "God has better things in store for you." "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger."
I tried to imagine what might come back around for the ex. A lifetime of regret? A lover's betrayal? A failed career?
What I didn't expect was his e-mail a couple of months ago, a late response to a Christmas card I had sent when I was feeling nostalgic, informing me he had cancer.
"Anyway, the past year has been very weird," the second paragraph of his message said. "I never really expected to hear from you, but your wishes are well received. This summer I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease and underwent chemo ... "
I stopped right there and stared at the computer screen, reading and rereading the sentence, wishing I could make it disappear.
In the months after our messy breakup, I used to like to pretend he was dead. But the idea that he really might die scared the hell out of me.
Hodgkin's disease at age 32 seemed like a pretty harsh come-around.
The day I got his e-mail, I hid in the office bathroom and cried. It wasn't a very good hiding place, but it was oddly comforting. A woman who works in another department, a woman I'd never met, asked me what was wrong, hugged me and told me about her mother, who had just died of cancer.
I didn't know whether to be offended that she was implying cancer equals death or humbled that my problem could be outweighed by so many others.
Intellectually, I knew things could be much worse. Cancer strikes more than 1.2 million Americans a year. But Hodgkin's disease, which affects the lymph nodes, is one of the best types of cancers to have, if you can be optimistic about something like that. At least Hodgkin's has a high cure rate.
And it wasn't as if my ex was about to die. He already had gone through chemo. His hair had grown back. He was even thinking about training to run a marathon. He broke the news when it should have been easy for me. He was on his way to recovery.
Emotionally, however, I still didn't know how to react to this.
All I had done was send him a postcard from my trip to Italy because I was feeling the holiday spirit. I remember writing something about hoping he was happy and healthy. It seems ironic now that I mentioned his health. He later told me the card brought tears to his eyes. I just wanted to wish him the best.
But his hello-and-by-the-way-I-have-cancer response forced me to re-evaluate a relationship that had developed a cancer of its own.
Finding out someone you love has cancer makes it easier to forgive the little things and be grateful just to be alive. It can give you a chance to say all of those things that were left unsaid.
This is what all that corny stuff about not taking things for granted was really about, and that is why my mother was right.
What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.
Reach Tanya Bricking at firstname.lastname@example.org or 525-8026.
Read "About Men" and "About Women" online at http://the.honoluluadvertiser.com/current/il/aboutmenwomen.