IFD + ACS: I’m From Brooklyn, NY.

by Lissa Lee

Satellite overhead image of New York State from Google Earth 2022

This week, in partnership with the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life of the LGBT Community, we are sharing stories of LGBT cancer survivors and friends. The LGBT community is affected disproportionately by lung cancer, prostate cancer and cervical cancer. By sharing these stories, we hope to raise awareness of cancer in the LGBT community. To learn more, visit http://www.relayforlife.org/LGBT.

My father and I didn’t always see eye-to-eye when I was growing up. We were too much alike in temperament and too different in opinion to stop talking past one another. My coming out was rocky; I dashed the dreams he’d been holding onto for his perfect little girl, and his reaction — fueled by a sadness I couldn’t see or understand — wiped away the last trace of my belief that he was Superman.

Three years after our relationship became what I deemed broken, he was diagnosed with cancer — and then I understood what dashed dreams really meant. Watching a robustly healthy, not-quite fifty-year-old man who has always been firm in his convictions and absolute in his beliefs begin to question everything about his life — and his death — was still more terrifying than having struggled with his constant questioning of me.

Cancer — the disease, its extraction, and the healing from it — is my father’s story. It’s a terrible story, filled with pain and fear and recurrent anxiety and worry, but it has a happy ending so far: he’s been free of cancer for seven years. The tapestry of our family is inextricably woven through with surgical scalpels and chemotherapy drips and orange pill bottles, but also with healing and comfort and love.

“There’s no great loss without some small gain,” as they say, and our case is no different from the average. Learning to sit still through chemotherapy sessions — he with a needle in his arm, me sitting next to him with distractions — taught us both to be patient, with the situation, and with the world, and with each other. We never broached the topic of my sexuality, and he never again asked me why I insisted on bringing home girls instead of boys, but we finally spoke openly of so many things we’d never discussed: the joy of meaningful work, pride and ownership of our opinions, the vital importance of family, the value of a steadfast love. Over time, I learned to hear his words and his meaning clearly, and he learned to love the people that I love.

Given the choice, I would trade the open relationship we have for a life where he didn’t experience cancer in a heartbeat, and without looking back. But it’s perhaps fortunate for us both that I don’t have that choice. We’ve learned and grown in ways that we couldn’t before cancer — and as Helen Keller wrote in her autobiography, “We would never learn to be brave and patient if there were only joy in the world.”

If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with cancer, call 1-800-227-2345 or visit cancer.org to find out how ACS can help.

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