We want to forget tragic experiences. Cancer can certainly be one of them. Yet, to do so, would repress a life-changing event.
July 7, I was informed I had stage 4 tonsil cancer. I vividly remember the look of sadness, disappointment on my doctor’s face. My initial thought was more about how difficult it was for him to tell me than the fact I *had* cancer. Nothing was a blur. I remember every moment. Every moment with my doctors. Every moment with my family and friends. Every moment of solitude.
I remember July 7. Everything. The nurse calling and asking if I could come in to discuss my biopsy results. Calling Beth and telling her. We both knew what it meant. She and I chatting, while I sat in the examination chair, about what it could be other than cancer, about nothingness as well.
As I was deciding how to tell my family, two days later I received a phone call informing me my brother, Frankie, was in ICU. His condition worsened daily. No way I could tell my mom and sister. As I went to tests the next week, my mother would call each morning, crying, saying we needed to go be with Frankie. I’d say I couldn’t just yet because there was something I *had to do*, followed by reassurances that Frankie would be fine. He’d pull through. Anything to allay her fears and distract her from the fact I said I couldn’t go see my dying brother. I had no time to think about my situation. My mother had one son in critical condition. Learning her other son had a life-threatening disease? Too much. As moms do so well, she finally cornered me and demanded to know why I was not dropping everything in my life to go see my brother. I remember her saying, “Tommy, why are you not going to see Frankie?! You are always the first to be with family when something bad happens.” I remember the long pause. Then she asked, “Tommy, what’s wrong?” Her voice was soft and caring and filled with worry. More silence. I finally said, “Mom, I have cancer.” She must have said “oh my” a hundred times. I was able to get my final tests moved up and we were able to drive down to see my brother in ICU.
Frankie passed away three hours after we arrived. It was a Thursday. We buried him on Monday. I can only describe the seven days as a dark comedy. The tragic intensity. The dismay. “Is this really happening?! Did this really just happen?!”
My family, TOP SHELF. Love and support, they gave unendingly. However, it was their image of me, of who I was to them, that grounded and focused me. I remember one of my sons saying, “Dad, when you told me, all I thought was, ‘Hey, this is Dad, he’s got this.'” When people get bad news there’s always a part of them that wants to unravel. I remember that part of me. It was my family’s image of me that I lived up to, that gave me strength. I am eternally grateful for them.
I could write on this forever. So many stories. My sister, who like my mother, lost a brother and immediately had to deal with a brother fighting cancer. My nephew and niece who lost their father yet still gave me their unwavering love and support. My sister-in-law who lost her husband way too soon. My friends who drove me to treatment. My friends who mowed my yard and sat with me. The waiting rooms. The nurses. The doctors. The health insurance dealings. The wonders of God.
I remember July 7.
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