Millions of people and their families are affected by this insidious disease every year! My family is no exception. With me, it runs on both sides- maternal and paternal, which leads me to believe that if I live long enough, I too have a strong chance of facing cancer at some point in my life.
I was very fortunate to be in my mid-thirties when it struck in my immediate family for the first time. In early August of 2004, it was a gorgeous day and my eldest son (not quite 14 at the time)and I made a day of it with swimming, then later, we went shopping for his school clothes, had a good dinner at a Mexican restaurant, then completed the night with a good movie…”Catwoman”.
Upon returning home just after midnight that night, we both noticed the number 12 flashing red on the answering machine. Immediately, my heckles went up and I knew that something was terribly wrong! I had never received so many messages in one day! After instructing my teenage son to go to his room, I listened to the messages and sure enough, it was either my aunt or my grandmother urging me to call them as soon as possible. The tone in their voices was only another sign which told me that something terrible had happened.
When I returned the calls, my aunt and grandmother were still awake and they told me that they needed to see me as soon as possible. It was after midnight so by this time, I knew. Something terrible was amiss, but what it was, I didn’t know. Immediately, I told my son to grab his pjs and we headed out into the night for my grandmother’s house.
As I drove, being sure to have my flashers on, thoughts and images raced through my head…a car accident? A drowning? A murder? Did someone fall several stories? I didn’t know. All I knew was that I had to get to Grandma’s as soon as humanly possible! My son just sat in the passenger seat, looking at me questioningly and with fear in his eyes.
As it turned out, there had been no car accident, no fall, no drowning or murder. But it was terrible nonetheless! My father had been rushed to a hospital in Memphis after nearly passing out at work. He was diagnosed with Acute Mylogenous Leukemia…a cancer of the blood, and it was aggressive! The shock of it sent me into a feeling of numbness! How? Why? My father had been a powerhouse his entire life! He had been a very strong, hardworking man, who often worked overtime in excess of 90-100 hours a week as an electrician and maintenance guy. He had served this great nation with pride. He had quit drinking and become the rock of the family! He was only 52 years old! Why? How?
Then, only five months later in January of 2005, while Dad was still battling Leukemia, cancer struck the family again when my maternal grandmother was diagnosed with Small Cell Lung Cancer! And although she was 73 years old at the time and had lived a full life, we still could not help but wonder. Why? How?
“Uma” had also been very strong and healthy. She had worked hard all of her life, having worked from the time she was four years old on the family farm picking cotton, milking cows, slopping hogs and helping with the harvest every fall. During young adulthood, she had worked hard to create a good home for husband and children and later worked her fingers to the bone in a factory before retiring early at 59 years old due to carpal tunnel syndrome. She was the rock and matriarch of my mother’s side of the family! And with family rocks, we tend to take for granted that they will always be here.
I felt as if the heat had been turned up a hundred fold! Now we had two loved ones suffering from cancer…at the same time! As a family, we all became a team, doing everything we could to stand together and be there for our sick loved ones, trying to make them as comfortable as possible and being sure to emit as much positivity as we could while we were in their presence. We also became much stronger in our faith!
Sadly, only eight weeks after her diagnosis, my maternal grandmother received her wings on Good Friday in March of 2005. I remember the call very well. We had known that this was coming and had tried to prepare for it, only to be brought to the realization that death of a loved one is something that no one can ever prepare themselves for.
When I arrived at my mother’s house that night, I walked into my grandmother’s room and there she lay, her frail little body finally free from the suffering she had endured. Her eyes closed, hands at her side, she looked as if she were only asleep. I sobbed as I rained kisses all over her face, knowing that I would never again see her in this lifetime.
Then again, only ten weeks after the death of my grandmother, my father, having fought with everything he had in him and tried so many treatments, lost his battle with Leukemia. I cannot help but think back to the last time Daddy smiled at me. On the evening before his death, knowing that he only had just a few hours left, I went into Dad’s room. Feeling the tears well up, I stood watching him sleep. In only ten short months, Daddy had gone from being a strong, healthy, hard-working man, who seemed to have everything under control, to being so pitifully weak that he was bedridden and could not even use the bathroom on his own. Even facial expressions took every ounce of strength he could muster.
When Daddy opened his eyes and looked at me, I stood there crying and blew him a kiss before mouthing, “I love you”. Having lost his powers of speech, Daddy could only let out a soft sigh. He did not take his eyes off me. His moist eyes softened and he made a tremendous effort to smile back at me. He passed away at 1:43 am on June 3, 2005.
Today, not quite 12 years later, my uncle, the younger brother of my father is now battling terminal cancer and according to the doctors, only has a few days left at best. Throughout the years, I have watch this bully…this unwelcome visitor called CANCER invade the lives of so many loved ones- family and close friends. And it is only through faith that we have managed to pick up the pieces and move on. Nothing is worse than seeing someone you love suffer and lose control of their facilities and knowing there’s nothing you can possibly do to help them! You want so badly to do something…SOMETHING that will take their pain away…to take the CANCER away! But you are powerless! You find yourself pleading with God to take their place if it means that they get to be healthy again and stay with you. It is a feeling of having both hands tied behind your back!
With a bully like cancer, only your faith can fight it. Only a strong faith can give you assurance that although your loved one won’t be here much longer, they will never again know pain nor suffering. And although I’m going to miss my uncle just as I do my Dad and others who have gone before me, I take comfort in knowing just that…that they will never again suffer.