May is Brain Tumor Awareness month. I’ll admit, in the past, I never paid much attention to health observances or the ribbons people wear for every type of disease/diagnosis imaginable. It seemed silly. After all, what difference can colored ribbons make?
On December 26, 2015, my grandfather was rushed to the emergency room, where tests revealed a tumor that was causing swelling in his brain. The following morning, he had brain surgery, and we learned afterward that he had a glioblastoma multiforme, the most aggressive type of brain tumor. He was diagnosed with stage IV brain cancer.
Last year, nearly 1.7 million Americans learned they have cancer. It’s a life-altering diagnosis that interrupts your life and knocks you off balance.
“Living with cancer has been a profoundly frightening, instructive, exhilarating, and yes, even humorous experience. It is a rude introduction to a basic fact of life: your body, that mass of bone, blood, cells, nerves ad organs, is your friend. Until it isn’t,” wrote Tom Brokaw in his 2015 memoir, A Lucky Life Interrupted.
Papaw’s cancer diagnosis not only altered his life, but it changed our lives, too. Suddenly cancer wasn’t a subject that only affected “other” people, but it now affected us, too. We were shaken with the knowledge that Papaw was sick, and this wasn’t an illness that an antibiotic could fix in 14-21 days. Radiation and chemotherapy started a couple of months after his diagnosis, and we all watched as he endured that. We have witnessed a support system gather around him, felt the prayers of brothers and sisters in Christ pleading with the Lord to heal his body, and watched Papaw fight his cancer battle with grace and strength.
And now it’s May 2017. It’s Brain Tumor Awareness month, and I see gray ribbons pinned to shirts, Facebook profile pictures with the “Go Gray in May” frame, and social media posts from people about how their lives have been changed by brain tumors or brain cancer. Those ribbons? They don’t seem so silly now. They represent a community of people who are standing together; a camaraderie of people who understand the viciousness of cancer. When you see a gray ribbon—whether it’s pinned to a shirt, tied to a purse or backpack, posted on Facebook, or shared on a blog—you know that person understands; he or she is standing with you.