I’m sure everyone knows someone who has tangled with this insidious monster. And maybe this horrible monster has personally affected your family. This terrible journey started in my life in 1970 when my dad died of colon cancer. He was 45. I don’t know how they treated cancer back then, but my memory is that he had surgery in December and my mom was told at that time that there was nothing they could do for him. He died the following August.
In 1972, my uncle (actually he was my dad’s cousin, but was raised as his brother) died from cancer (I don’t know what kind). I think he was 49.
In 1987, my mother died of metastatic liver cancer from breast cancer. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 1984.
I remember vividly the telephone conversation she and I had. She told me she had breast cancer and I remember saying to her, “mom, they don’t have to take your breast now” (as lumpectomy had become an accepted treatment). Her answer was “I don’t care. I just want to live.” And live, she did, but only for another two and a half years. After the mastectomy, she did not have any prophylactic chemotherapy. They cut off her breast and sent her home saying her lymph nodes were clear. But in October 1986, the day I graduated from the Police Academy, she was diagnosed with liver cancer. She died in February the next year. She was 57.
In 1993, my older brother died from adenocarcinoma. He was 40.
We never knew where the cancer originated and my memory is that he did not have a CAT scan or an MRI. He didn’t have medical insurance either, so I’ve often wondered if that played a part. It wasn’t until I had my second colonoscopy that I was told adenocarcinoma was colon cancer. Shit. I found this definition of it:
What is adenocarcinoma? Adenocarcinoma is a type of cancer that starts in mucus-producing glandular cells of your body. Many organs have these glands, and adenocarcinoma can occur in any of these organs. Common types include breast cancer, colorectal cancer, lung cancer, pancreatic cancer, and prostate cancer.
In 2008 we lost my Aunt Mabel, Dads’s sister, to cancer but, she was 87. She’d lived a good, long life and enjoyed most of her adult life with my uncle, Edgar, who died only a couple years before her.
As the years went by, we three remaining siblings (me and my two younger brothers) cautiously continued our lives. We religiously had colonoscopies and I had my annual mammogram (after which I held my breath until the results came back, thankfully clear.)
Last May, at the height of the Covid pandemic, one of my two remaining brothers ( four years younger me) developed a cough and thought he might have tweaked a muscle in his back playing golf.
But in keeping with the dark cloud that covers my family, he was diagnosed with Stage 4 Renal cancer that had metastasized to his lung. An effing death sentence. And he had done everything right. He didn’t drink or smoke. He ate right and exercised. He had his colonoscopies every three years. Exactly how could this be happening again?
He started immunotherapy in July and at the time he said if he didn’t know he had cancer, he wouldn’t know he had cancer. He felt great and had progressively positive CAT scans with the tumors shrinking. His doctor even told him that at the rate the tumor on his kidney was shrinking, he didn’t think he would have to remove the kidney.
Immunotherapy is not without its side effects though. After his second round, he experienced severe diarrhea which landed him in the hospital to receive fluids. After that was resolved, he had a couple good months, until he was struck with mouth sores so severe he could hardly eat. After many attempts to treat this so he would not become malnourished, the doctors decided to take him off immunotherapy for a couple weeks to let his mouth heal. This seemed to be doing the trick until two weeks ago. He started having trouble breathing, went to the hospital, and the cancer monster roared. Within a little over a week, he went from enjoying his regular life to being put on hospice and dying a day later.
None of us were ready for this. My other brother (who is twelve years younger than me and the family “oops”) and I both knew he wouldn’t be with us for a long time because of the prognosis for Stage 4 Renal cancer. But we really hoped we’d have a relatively healthy (for a cancer patient) couple of years. The pandemic put a kibosh on our annual Christmas outing, but on a relatively warm Sunday afternoon in December, we sat outside on his driveway, socially distanced, and talked and drank wine and ate desserts (our favorite thing to do.)
He was the oldest living male in our immediate family. He was larger than life. He was tall and loud. He was always smiling. His laugh was loud. He loved life. He loved his wife of 40 years and his two children and grandchildren. He was a salesman who could sell you something you didn’t know you needed and then make you glad you bought it. He was a husband, father, grandfather, brother, uncle, cousin, friend, and mentor. He facilitated a Sunday morning AA meeting and the men in his group loved him, so much so that one of them asked him to get ordained so he could perform their marriage ceremony. My brother was 62.
It’s hard to describe how much he will be missed. We didn’t talk every day or every week or even every month. But I always knew is he was a mile or a phone call away. And now he’s gone. I have to find a way to build a bridge across this huge chasm he left in my life.