"I feel great. I feel so healthy and strong. How can I have cancer?" my niece Karen
More bad news. Unbelievable. When does it stop? I just want to know. What does anyone do to deserve this? I want to know that too. How did it happen to this boy, his mother, her mother ... and us? Why do the hits keep coming? Somebody please tell me. Somebody, please make it stop.
One family. Too much pain.
My sister Judy, cancer survivor, husband killed in a plane crash 3 years ago this July. She's loving, kind, outgoing, generous. A nurse, she works with Doctors Without Boarders and other international agencies bringing health care and life-saving surgeries. She takes care of everybody. Rarely lets us take care of her.
Judy's daughter Karen, diagnosed with melanoma 2 years ago, lost an eye to it last year, cured, we thought. Then it metastasized to her liver and spleen this April. Now, a surgical procedure every month. Long term systemic treatment too.
Karen's first surgery was two weeks ago. Not great, but not as bad as we feared. Today she started the systemic therapy. No problems yet. Still, while she waits for symptoms, for news on Alex, she's thinking positive, taking care of business. Being her same bright, funny, sweet, delightful self.
Hold on. Did I say "news on Alex"? Yes.
Karen's son Alex, 13 last week, locked in determined combat with a rare cancer since age 4, old enough now to be self-aware, vigilant, alert. Called from school to report "floaters" in his eye and a new, odd "spider web" shape blurring his vision.
Hemangioblastoma. Just above the retina. Okay. Well. Shit.
He's at the eye hospital right now, with his dad and his Grammy, waiting for the surgeons to plot a course of action.
I am poised to join them, 5 minutes away. Or, to jump in the car for the hour+ drive home to Karen and 10-year-old Amy.
The icing on the cake, so to speak? Today is Karen's birthday. Well. Shit. Happy Fucking Birthday To You. That's what we sang to her on the phone this morning. A tiny island of ironic comic relief.
Not much relief. But this is not about me.
My "abduction brace"
Okay, it sort of is, because I'm the Caretaker. And I just found out I need rotator cuff surgery on my right shoulder. It's brutal surgery. Months of pain. I'm still rehabbing my left shoulder from it last September. Plus, tonight I get an MRI to see if I also need back surgery. But hey, it's not cancer. Yet. Yet?
We thought Karen's cancer was in remission. No.
We thought Alex's cancer was in remission. No.
We thought Judy could take a deep, cleansing breath and let it all the way out for the first time in a long time. No.
Waaay down the list, we thought I was finally on track to full, healthy, fighting shape. No.
There is a plus side.
Betsy and Amy
At least my other sisters, Betsy and Nan (also a widow, another story) are hanging in there, both breast cancer survivors. Poo-poo-poo.
At least Amy's healthy. Poo-poo-poo. Judy, her son (Karen's brother, aka my nephew), his wife and kids, all the cousins and the husbands are healthy. Poo-poo-poo.
At least Mom is reasonably healthy, still active and productive, though she's getting progressively more blind. Dad's even more deaf now and starting to forget stuff but he's still at her side.
Though let's face it, at 86 and 93 they've already lived long, happy lives. Karen's barely halfway through hers. Alex's is just starting.
I want to scream, No More! No Más! Enough! Basta! Finis! Stop!
I want to know why?
We'll all keep plugging and working and loving and living. Even laughing. But there are days I find it hard to take those deep, cleansing breaths. Because I'm holding my breath wondering what's coming next.
UPDATE, RELIEF: Alex's tumor has shrunk, some of the blood reabsorbed. He'll have surgery next Wednesday, 5.27. The surgeons, and therefore we, are hopeful he will not lose any more of his sight.
PERSONAL NOTE: To all who weighed in with so much kindness, good thoughts, prayers and support, including those didn't know what to say but are with us in spirit, my heart is filled with gratitude.
I apologize for ranting. For dumping my stress and angst here.
You don't need our family's pain invading your life. Everybody has trials and tribulations. Everybody has to face them and try to overcome, to cope. Each family in its own way. Each person in his/her own way.
So many of you are doing just that. Coping with pain, uncertainty, loss. You keep the bar of courage and dignity high. You amaze and inspire us all.
I apologize for letting my anger and frustration and really, my sense of overwhelming helplessness spill out, but I had to offload some of it or I feared my head would explode. Not to mention my heart.
Thank you for giving me a safe haven in which to howl at the moon. Please don't feel you need to respond, especially if you've got your own shit going on.
I'm not seeking validation, pity or the limelight ... simply some measure of relief. Because I can't get unattainable answers or change any outcomes.
I am trying to be the strongest me possible. It's my role and I'm not giving up. I refuse to quit when the stakes are this high.
Writing helps me find strength. You help me soothe my soul and gear up to soldier on. I am truly, sincerely, everlastingly grateful for every single kind word and thought.
If wishing made it so, I'm convinced we would collectively cure cancer. Who knows, maybe someday we will.