I wish my daughter had cancer. That sounds just awful, I know. And as awful as it sounds, it’s ten times worse to have that thought bouncing around your head. Then multiply that awfulness by 100, once you put it out in to the world. But I promise, I’m not the worst father in the world. I’m also not suffering from Munchausen syndrome by proxy.
What I am is, is a parent who is at a complete loss as I watch my daughter struggle with mental illness. You might feel the need to remind me of just how devastating cancer is, but I promise I’m fully aware. You may think that I’m somehow the one human on earth, whose life hasn’t been touched by cancer. Sadly, that isn’t the case either. You could be thinking that I have some sort of disclaimer in mind, and I’m daydreaming about one of the ‘good’ cancers, you know, the kind that isn’t life threating. But I’m not. I’m fully aware that I just said that I wish my daughter had a potentially fatal disease. But you know what? She already does.
The thing is though, with a cancer diagnosis, you get doctors who know how to treat the disease. There’s a plan in place for treatment. Maybe it starts with chemotherapy, or maybe it starts with a surgical procedure. There’s heartbreaking, earth shattering classifications you hear. Things like a prognosis, a grade and a survivability rate. I’d happily trade years off my life, to have as much information about my daughter’s illness.
So I’ll say it again, I wish my daughter had cancer. The only provision being, of course, that I wish she had cancer instead of this strain of depression. Because with cancer, the world would see her every day struggle as courageous as it already is. With cancer, people would see her for the fighter she absolutely is. And more importantly, I think she’d see that strength, rather than always doubting and punishing herself.
I don’t mean to glamorize cancer, or dismiss the horror that is caring for a child with cancer. But I can’t help but daydream about kids in her school rallying around and cheering for her, every step of the way. Instead of being pushed away by her insecurities that rare their ugly ass heads under the camouflage of negativity, pettiness, eye rolling, and an ultra-sensitivity that is always looking for a reason to be offended. And teachers wouldn’t see her paralyzing fears, which keep her from even trying to complete an assignment, but would instead see the girl who is just completely exhausted from fighting every second of the day. I feel like the wind wouldn’t be so judgmental, if she missed a month of school because of cancer instead of depression.
There are also a few selfish reasons, that I wish my daughter had cancer. Because instead of receiving advice, from the people we love who have the absolute best intentions, they’d just offer a hug. In my heart, I know they want what is best for her and us, but for the love of all that is holy in this world, never offer parenting advice that includes the word “just.” On paper, you might be absolutely right, but mental illness gives zero fucks about logic and reason. We can’t just do anything, except put one foot in front of the other. And some days that’s like pushing a boulder up Pikes Peak, with a broken ankle and ants in your pants.
I wish my daughter had cancer, not just for today, but for her future. Because if she’s unable to graduate high school, I trust that those people who she’ll encounter in the years to come, will be much more understanding. If she couldn’t graduate because she fought cancer as a teen, I think she’d hear from people, that they’re just happy she’s still with us. And they wouldn’t judge her. It’s not like the masses haven’t had their lives touched by mental illness, but most of the time it’s a double edged sword.
Sympathy comes in the form of, “I was depressed when…..” and while they say it to show their compassion, there’s always this underlying feeling, that they also want to say, “But I did yadda yadda yadda” and why can’t she? As someone who fought (and fights) my own battles with depression, I appreciate the sentiment, but it’s really not all that helpful. Because nothing seems helpful right now. Sitting next to her, holding her hand while she receives chemotherapy is one of the worst scenarios I can think of. Yet, right now, that sounds like an upgrade.
*Update. I wrote this around two years ago, and just recently shared it with my daughter and received her blessing to publish. Not long after I wrote it, we learned more about her physical issues. She had been diagnosed with endometriosis, but it wasn’t until her surgery that we learned just how sever her case was. And a disease like endometriosis is no friend to anyone struggling, as the case often is with autoimmune diseases, because of societies ignorance to any infliction that causes pain that’s naked, the pain is often dismissed. I’ve been guilty on more occasions than I’d like to admit, of defaulting to a “just suck it up” response. She’s been dealt a crappy hand, but as long as she has a chip and a chair, I’ll bet on her. She’s stronger than she can currently comprehend, just as her mother and I are prouder of her than she’ll ever be able to comprehend.