Cancer

My mother, always a large and heavy woman, was, for the last few years of her life, almost gaunt.  She’d been a fat baby, there’s an oblong portrait of her as an infant, she’d had it blown up and put into a gilt frame.  In the photo her eyes are black, she looks like an apple cheeked glittering-eyed Italian bambina.  She was overweight for most of her adult life, but for the last few years, gaunt.  Cancer and the Widow’s Diet, as she called it, did that for her.

Her mother had died of cancer, a terrible, painful, wasting death we all watched up close.  When it was finally time for my grandmother to die, she couldn’t go.  Her eyes turned huge, and black, and she screamed.  My grandmother was not in there any more, just the will to live.  It was dreadful to see.

My grandfather was gone over a year when she died.  He had survived lung cancer and the removal of a lung.  This all happened when I was a baby, he lived until my 24th year.  Although an ideal weight for his body his whole life, he was terrified of living alone without his mate and started cutting down on his calories.  He went on a low salt special diet with his cancer-stricken wife, although there was no medical reason to do it.  There was no practical reason either, they had always prepared and eaten different food every meal anyway.  My grandmother used to scream at him that he was an idiot, that he should eat what he always ate.   He was stubborn.  He lost a couple of pounds, carried too many bottles of seltzer back on a bus one 90 degree, 90% humidity Miami Beach afternoon, had trouble catching his breath when he came into the apartment.  Died not long afterwards of a heart attack.  Not to say that cancer wouldn’t have killed him too, it had already tried and almost succeeded once.

My father felt like crap the last two years of his life.  Looked terrible, had no energy, went to a cardiologist, endocrinologist and a hematologist regularly.  They tried a B-12 shot, which didn’t do much good.  One day he woke from a nap, paralyzed and yellow.  In the emergency room there was no doubt among the doctors and nurses there, he was clearly in the final stages of undetected liver cancer.  He didn’t keep his appointment with the hematologist the following day, he had only one pressing appointment to keep after that.  He was dead six days later.

His parents, my grandparents on my father’s side, both died young of cancer.  My first cousin, Ann, died of cancer before the age of 40.  Another cousin, Emily, same thing, dead of cancer around 40.  Emily’s father, my father’s cousin Gene, now 85, fought cancer as valiantly as my mother had, for more than twenty years.  He plays tennis and feels good.  He’s a tough bird.  

About five years ago I had skin cancer removed from my nose and my arm.  A year or two later more cancer removed from my nose, a few millimeters from the first site.  “It’s a hot spot,” explained the dermatologist, taking another biopsy.

I’m not bragging about all this cancer, please understand.

But it’s the background, explaining, in part, why this call to my old friend tonight has been tormenting me so much.  Soft tissue sarcoma is rare, the exact kind he has is a rare form of soft tissue sarcoma.  They’ve been cutting at him, assured him they got the whole tumor when they removed a buttock and part of his leg, but cancer is a cunning little fucker and it made liars of the doctors and their assurances.  Nerves were removed from his leg, most of the sciatic nerve on one side, recently the foot on that leg stopped working.  The doctors gave no guarantee about the surgery helping.  It was a good thing about the no guarantee, because the surgery didn’t help.   Chemo, the only game left for him, has been hit or miss, largely miss.  They are blind men throwing darts at a theoretical dart board in a room with no floor.  

I found myself talking like a nattering fool after getting his frank update tonight, blindly changing the subject at one point, the way I’ve heard others talk to people with end-stage cancer.  Tap-dancing, self-conscious, trying to be sympathetic, and helpful while feeling helpless against a horrific futility.  So, nattering on about everything else.   It made me sick to hear people do it to my grandmother, my mother.  It was more sickening still to hear me doing it.  My friend gently interrupted, it was time to change the dressing on his latest surgery, get some sleep before his doctor’s appointment tomorrow.  He was hoping to feel up to a visit soon, but no guarantees, he has been feeling pretty shitty.

I walked in the humidity trying to hold on to my new habit of cultivating happiness.  Might as well have tried to hold a fart in my hands in the merciless New York City night.

One comment on “Cancer

  1. oinsketta says:

    Reblogged this on gratuitousblahg and commented:

    From nine years back

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