Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Cancer.

It's something everyone has experience with. Everyone knows someone who's had it, or they've been directly affected by it. It's something you can't run away from. You'd think by this point in time they would have found a way to cure it -- if at not cure it all, then at least cure certain types of it. There have to be better alternatives to chemo and radiation by now. At least you'd think.

My dad was diagnosed recently with prostate cancer. The moment he said those words, I think the blood rushed out of my face and I scrambled to remember -- prostate cancer, that's the one that's almost always fatal, right? No, he assured me, that was pancreatic cancer. Apparently prostate cancer is highly curable, if caught early enough. And thank God, his was. That doesn't mean he won't have to make sacrifices -- they're taking him into surgery to remove his prostate at the end of the month. But they're fairly sure it hasn't spread elsewhere in his body. So I should be thanking my lucky stars. And I am. Yet there's something about that ugly C word that gets everyone riled up and emotional for different reasons. Like almost everyone, I've had plenty of experience with it.

My cousin (the only cousin I have on my dad's side) died from cancer two years ago. He was young -- about 33 I think -- and he had a wife and two young kids when it happened. He'd had some sort of skin cancer that they had removed, and everyone thought that would be the end of the story. But he began having dizzy spells and severe nausea and at times began hallucinating. He was admitted to the hospital (a good one, in Charlotte) and they struggled to figure out what was wrong with him. They ran panels and MRIs and every sort of test you can think of. Somehow, though, they just couldn't figure out what was wrong with him. It only took a few weeks for his condition to decline. Rapidly. Into a coma. Before long, my aunt and my cousin's wife agreed that it was time to pull the plug, as the doctors were fairly certain he'd never wake up. It wasn't until six months after the funeral that the autopsy results came back. Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. You'd think that a hospital full of competent doctors could have diagnosed something like that. Apparently not.

My grandfather smoked a pack a day of Doral cigarettes. Growing up, I don't remember a time where I didn't see him with a cigarette in one hand and a scotch in the other. That was just his way, just his generation. It's what they did. I loved that man dearly, as did his entire family. Some of my fondest memories are of me cuddled up next to him in his armchair in the formal living room at my grandparents' house, listening to Rosemary Clooney crow on the stereo. He loved Rosemary Clooney. Before he died my mom took him to one of her concerts in Raleigh. My grandmother had grown up down the street from Rosemary, and Rosemary heard that my grandparents would be at the show that night. She invited them back, and my grandfather was able to meet her. My mom glows when she talks about that night, about how that was the last time he was truly happy. Shortly thereafter, he was diagnosed with cancer on my 12th birthday in September. He was gone less than two months later, passing away in his own home surrounded by his wife and four children on December 13th that year. I remember my mom breaking down in hysterics at the funeral home because they'd forgotten to bring his favorite pair of glasses to bury him in. That was my first true experience with death, something I remember with perfect clarity and with a great deal of uneasiness.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that the "C" word is something that's inevitable. We just can't escape it. We all know someone who has been diagnosed, and we all know someone who has lost their battle to it. Just when we think we're safe, it strikes again, and sometimes it strikes close to home.

All we can do at this point is pray that one day we'll find a cure.

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