I remember growing up and hearing people talking about The Big ‘C’. It was always something that happened to other people. I didn’t know anyone with cancer growing up. Or so I thought. My first brush with cancer was my grandfather.
He had colon cancer back before I was born. Some time in the last ’60s he got a colostomy back when most people didn’t survive the ordeal. He did. And one day on a camping trip, I asked him about it. I was seven or eight and still had no idea what it was. But when I heard he had it, I needed to know more. I got more than I ever bargained for. Here I sit a solid 41 and I remember that night like it was yesterday. Cancer, or the effects thereof became more real to me. I thought I was done with it…boy was I wrong.
Then, my other grandpa got skin cancer. Over the years, he had spots burned off, cut off, frozen off of his face…but it wasn’t anything too serious. Then, my mom got colon cancer. I found out shortly after getting married. When my fiancee and I came back home to get married, I asked my mom if she was feeling okay. She’d lost a ton of weight and looked more gaunt than I remembered her looking before. She assured me it was because she was dieting and exercising. Just a few months later, we learned it was cancer.
A few weeks later, we learned that it had spread to her liver and then her pelvis. The resulting surgery found her in a similar position as her father was so many years before. She got a colostomy and all the grisly tools that came with. They removed as much of her liver and pelvis bone as possible before starting her on a heavy dose of chemo. The radiation and chemo sapped her of her strength, her hair, and her independence. The months passed and each time we talked, the conversations got shorter and shorter. Her patience dissolved, her sense of humor left, until she was left with nothing but anger and hopelessness.
After eleven months of fighting, she had given all she had and her body and mind, which had carried her through so much garbage in her life…began to betray her again. When I got the call, I flew to Arizona to be by her side in the hospital. I helped in the only ways I could. I changed her sheets, got her drinks she couldn’t drink, bought her food that she craved but couldn’t eat…my sister and I took over as her caretakers in a shitty hospital that was understaffed, underfunded, and oozing with apathy that you could cut with a knife. While the nurses were grateful that we took over the room (yes, my sister and I also helped take care of the little lady in the room with her, too), they were less than pleased at the fact that I became a raging monster when they didn’t get her morphine pump refilled in time and I had to sit and watch my mother, who had the pain threshold of an Army ranger, writhe in agony until the meds finally kicked in.
I rode in the ambulance with her to the hospice after her doctors flatly stated that there was nothing left but to make her comfortable. The entire ride was spent with me holding her hand as she cried in huge body-wracking sobs begging me, pleading me, to believe her when she said she didn’t kill all of those babies. I had to keep my composure as she cried very real tears at the loss of so, so many little babies. And that the hospital was killing the babies and had a huge room full of them, and they were trying to blame her for it… I had to muster every ounce of composure I had to explain that the newspapers just published an article saying that she was innocent, and that they found out who really did it. Her tears stopped where mine began.
I sat by her side as we wheeled her into the new private room at the better hospital. We never told her it was hospice, because she had been in nursing most of her life, and we didn’t want her to know. We wheeled her into the room. The lights were bright and warm and the nursing staff was kind, caring and everything you could hope for. Then, my mom turned to the head nurse and said, “So, when am I scheduled to die?”
The room fell silent as everyone looked around wondering who told her she was in hospice. The nurse smiled and patted her hand, “What are you talking about? We don’t do that here.”
It seemed to be enough because my mom dropped it. She turned to me and said, “I’m going to like it here…there’s angels here. Not like at that other place.”
I walked outside and promptly lost it. I tried not to let her see me like that. As her liver began giving out so did her mind. She was in and out of lucidity until the end. I spent what was supposed to be my wife’s and mine first Thanksgiving in our new house sitting at her bedside eating hospital turkey and gravy. A couple of weeks later…she was gone.
Cancer was once again, gone from my life. For awhile.
Then, my mother-in-law got colon cancer. My first thought was holy shit…here we go again. Luckily, this time it was caught early enough, and with a surgery and a couple of rounds of chemo, she’s been cancer-free for years.
Then, I found out that my step-dad, who had been married to my mom all while I was growing up, died a year ago or so, after having been diagnosed with cancer.
Then, my step-mom, who had been married to my dad all while I was growing up, was diagnosed with leukemia. Luckily, with a couple of rounds of chemo, she too was announced to have kicked cancer’s butt.
Then, a couple of months ago, I got the call from my dad. His current wife, my step-mom, was diagnosed with breast cancer. She is fighting it as we speak.
This means that, every single mother I’ve ever had…has battled or is battling cancer. Most of the men in my life…have battled cancer in the past.
If you think this doesn’t scare the hell out of me…you’ve got another think coming. So, what do we do? We eat right, exercise and hope for the best! And, when the opportunity arises to help out, we do. Well, that’s the ‘royal’ we. Me. I help out. When I can. That better?
You see, part of the genesis of this post is because I was contacted by a friend of mine in Canada. A friend of his has been diagnosed with brain cancer and he’s doing something about it. He’s raising money for cancer research. Check him out here. The beauty of this is that 100% of all monies raised goes to research. I like that. I also like that this dude is going to ride his bike for like 180 miles! (I don’t even like to drive that far…)
The other part of my reasoning for writing this post is because I’m having to come to grips with my mom’s cancer. I’m having to relive some of the pain I felt. I’m having to deal with the fear that constantly lingers over my shoulder. I’m scared, guys. I’m scared of losing another mother to cancer. I’m scared, I’m angry, I’m worried, and I’m helpless to do anything but pray. Or so I thought.
You see, for as much as I talk sometimes…I forget that I have a voice. I have an outlet. I have a place where I can say, “This is scary, but I know I’m not alone. And together, we can all shine a light into those dark places that make us cringe.”
I’m not alone. And neither are you. So, let’s all gang up and do something beautiful. Because I’m sick and damned tired of cancer hanging around. Let’s kick it to the curb. Together.