I remember when I was about 25 and my mom and dad told us that she was dying of breast cancer. They had known for a while, but didn’t want
to tell us kids (even though we were, sort of, adults) because they wanted to protect us from bad news. They thought that was their job. We, on the other hand, were pissed off because we (the collective kids) wanted to help. We were family and it was our job.
Years later, when my sister was dying of melanoma, she surrounded herself with us, her immediate family, but also a huge and loving collection of people from her church, her school … well, she picked up friends the way I might pick up a lucky penny on the sidewalk. There were lots. These friends were family to her: making a gigantic quilt, cooking dinners, sitting and talking and laughing. We were all her family and it was our job.
I suppose, in cancer, ‘family’ is that large or small community of people who get to see us at our best and at our worst; relationships fraught with our most intimate fears and hopes, laden with duty and love. It’s the people we feel responsible to … and, often, we get it entirely wrong. But, we keep trying because we are family.