Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Watching other people die from cancer

I've been making an effort, although incredibly delayed, at getting out thank you cards to all my friends and family for graduation stuff, and a big part of trying to do that is hunting down everyone's address. While I wrote out invites to the parties, I left it to my parental units to send out invites, as I feel like the party was a lot more for them than me. I did my thing w/ my friends, the parties were all about showing me off, and really just getting the family together. But I'm digressing. On the address sheets my dad gave to my mom, he had also marked down the head count as to who was going to be at the party. As I was going through, I started noticing names of cousins and their guest count weren't at the party, and I knew what was coming on the last page:

Mary Sharky+ Charlie+ 2 guest 4

It was one of those moments that catches you right in the throat. Where you quickly look for someone on g-talk that you purge on, but realize no one would probably understand why you were upset.

Two days before graduation, my Aunt Mary passed away from cancer. I don't know the type, the family isn't that close to keep me up to date and informed. Nor did anyone tell me she was sick again, and they even waited to tell me that she even died. Like they waited over a week, and then my dad told me casually during dinner at a restaurant. And he only told me because he though I should know not to expect her and the cousins at the graduation party. Yeah, my family is sort of weird like that, and not in a good way.

Aunt Mary hasn't been the only cancer death in recent years. Back in 2003, before I was even diagnosed, my Godfather/Uncle Butch passed. They first found his cancer in his neck; that didn't help me much when they were telling me that I too had cancer in my neck. But upon dragging details out of my mom, it looks like he had kidney cancer, and it was most likely due to agent orange exposure in Vietnam. He was sick for a few years, and during that time we had managed to close a gap that grows when you don't ever see your family. He was always there for me when I was little; staying with me and my mom as my dad went out on six month cruises. He was also that glue that tends to hold a family together.

Just before he got sick, he ran into his high school sweet heart; they fell in love... again.

And then suddenly he was sick. The strongest of the family needed constant care and assistance. The chemo whithered him down, and I remember them having to drain excess fluid in his stomach. So then Thanksgiving comes along, his favorite holiday, and I made my trek out to Philadelphia a day earlier than my mom. And I had to sit in a kitchen and listen to my grandmother and I forget who else, I'm pretty sure it was his girlfriend, bitch and complain about how much they hated taking care of him. How he was just a big baby, and unappreciative, and wouldn't do everything that needed to be done. I vaguely even remember the "I wish he would just die" phrase being said. And all I could do was really just sit there... I lack the ability to stand up to my family and how they tend to treat/talk about people. I'm pretty sure that day has left a few lasting impressions on me. I never told my mom about the expereince.

The day before Christmas Eve, we got a phone call that he wasn't doing well. My mom told me that the next day I needed to go up to Philly to help take care of things. Mind you, at this point I was in Virginia Beach, about 6 hours away, and the entire rest of the family is in Philly. Being an incredibly stupid little 20 year old, and not want to have to endure a repeat of Thanksgiving, I wasn't happy about that idea. I remember driving off to my boyfriend's house, raging mad that no one else in the family was doing anything, and because, well I just didn't want to go. He died the next day. I don't think I ever quite forgave myself for being so self-centered that night.

After having a cancer of my own, I can look back at that experience and can see exactly what I could have done to be more helpful, and be more supportive, and hell even be more defensive. And at the same time I look at my Aunt Mary, and realize, I barely reached out to her at all over the past few years.

Just before I got sick I forced my dad to go to Thanksgiving with his family with me. It was the first time in about 10+ years that I'd seen anyone on his side of the family. I think it was that summer, only months after I had surgery that I saw the whole family at a party, and I learned that Aunt Mary was sick.

I don't know. It just sort of weighs on you. On here, we all turn to each other for support. We look for other people who know what we are going through, etc. But I can't help but feel when you are up close and personal with someone else that is sick, that you get the sinking feelings of guilt and mortality. I can't help but wonder if my presence, and my constant illness has the same effect. I also wonder how much seeing how unwell my family reacts to taking care of each other has influenced how I handle things. The last thing I ever want is to burden anyone, but do I push that to extremes, and lose my support as well?

Sigh... I don't think this is where I meant this post to go.

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