I will go out of chronological order again for just a bit. This blog is about cancer. I have known that ugly word my whole life. One of my earliest recollections is a green oxygen tank next to a night stand. Cancer … affecting immediate family members and friends alike. Lung cancer, brain tumor, breast cancer, colon cancer, stomach cancer, pancreatic cancer … The disease that does not discriminate. Family history, no family history. Unfortunately no one is immune. Like Russian roulette … fate … chance … unnerving. Not if … but when?
Today I will share a few personal stories in a series of unfortunate events. These are not even all of them. Sadly, I could write a novel on this topic. I feel that some tales are not my stories to tell, so I leave them off this list. Not because they are any less noteworthy, simply out of respect. Respect for a life lesson that even in the face of one’s mortality, your one ask is to pay it forward. Who does that?? Only the most wonderful role model in the world.
So let’s get started shall we …
In August of 2004, the summer between 1st and 2nd grade, our niece HB was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma. She was age six about to turn seven that October. Kids play getting bumps and bruises but that summer, her MoMo found a knot on HB’s leg that would not go away. If not for the persistence of G’ma, mom & dad may not have taken HB to her pediatrician. I mean HB was an active little girl … always on the go. Surely that knot was nothing … Good thing G’ma kept pushing. HB had surgery to remove the tumor in her leg followed by radiation with special attention to miss the growth plates and the most aggressive chemo treatments for anyone, especially for someone so young BUT it was necessary because of the insidiousness of the cancer with a tendency to re-occur had to be attacked head on!
At this tender age of seven is when Lulu decided she wanted to become a nurse. She grew up with her cousin (just two months apart in age). As HB went through the treatments, Lulu was there … always … they still played together like nothing had changed. Some people kept their distance. Kids at school were afraid. Understandable, not knowing how to act or what to say. With the girls though, it was just different. Two peas in a pod, more like twins. Lulu often held the “throw up bucket” and she watched as HB pulled out clumps of hair, asking Lulu to “help” … and she did. Nothing was too gross. HB wanted to, needed to, share with someone and Lulu was always the willing accomplice. But this story has a silver lining, HB made it to her five-year mark and just this past August of 2016 she is 12 years cancer free.
On July 2nd of 2006, Billy Bob’s brother (D) died. Outlying cause of death non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. A mass in an unfortunate spot in the neck area pressed on an artery and over time, as the mass grew, this caused the artery to weaken. In a coughing fit, the weakened artery ruptured. D bled to death in his father’s arms. This happened on a Sunday and D had been scheduled for the following Thursday to begin treatment to attempt to shrink the growth.
The following reads like a public service announcement: D had trouble finding out what was wrong … misdiagnosed with scabies and other dermatological conditions. Who knew a nagging cough that would not stop and a rash that would not heal could signal lymphoma?? … Well now you all DO! Share this tidbit. It’s more common that you think but still not widely known. Of course, don’t go all hypochondriac like me … a nagging cough and a rash might be symptoms of other conditions … entirely benign conditions but, you never know. So ask … maybe find out sooner rather than later. And also, make sure you have health insurance – D didn’t … his insurance had lapsed. One cannot help but wonder how differently things would have played out if he had insurance.
In August of 2012, HB’s mom, former spouse of D was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. So yes – two parents had cancer, their first-born did too. Three in a family of four. Genetic link … just maybe. Here are some other familial ties – D’s first cousin on mother’s side – at only 20 years old had Hodgkin’s lymphoma (different lymphoma than D but still cancer). He is 52 today and after a relapse in his 40s, he is consider in remission. Another first cousin (sister of the Hodgkin’s patient), had an aggressive form of breast cancer. Now several years later, she too is cancer free. Something my kids will always have mark on their patient histories.
The unfortunate events continue and we lost HB’s mom on March 1, 2016 after battling for three plus years. I sort of hate saying we ‘lost’ her. You see, we didn’t lose her … not really. We know where she is and what happened. She died. F*cK this sH*t! She died!!!! And she was only 51 years young. As I write this, it still does not feel real. I keep thinking, she’s just on vacation. She’ll be back. We’ll wake up and all will be right with the world. I wish we had more time, I wish things had been different.
I will always remember that last Christmas Eve … 2015 … spent together – the family tradition. Small and quaint, just eight of us. And you could tell, she was in pain but trying to keep things the same for her kids. She put on her bravest face. She gave personal gifts that she could not afford but insisted, she had come into some money and this is what she wanted to do. Tokens chosen specially for the receivers because she knew us so well. And beyond the gifts, there was the laughter – the snort through your nose kind of laughter. It was always like that when she was around. Rest in peace dear sister, may the perpetual light shine upon her.
Life is short. This you all know. Life is not fair. Truth! But I won’t belabor the point – simply for me … I will act now, be kind, and love you all. Even in the pain and suffering, life is beautiful and life goes on.
As always, more to come …