Cancer has been a part of my life, since I was a child. I have always known and lived with cancer. Never in my body, but always in close proximity to my body. In fact, it is my worst nightmare. Today 2010 is no different.
In the 1980s, I was just getting to know all of my family. Meredith, my cousin, was diagnosed with Childhood Leukemia. I recall her being bald from chemotherapy and struggling during treatments. She recovered. Next came my paternal grandmother, Nova (NoNo) Bowen Henderson who had a malignant tumor on her kidney. She had it removed. Following this was the diagnosis of prostate cancer for my paternal grandfather. Surgery to remove the prostate seemed sufficient. He recovered. Two professors in the school of theology were diagnosed with cancer, but were both treatable. Then, one evening as I worked on an English paper, I received a phone call from my dad. He informed me that he had been diagnosed with cancer and was beginning treatment. I remember that I was devastated. He eventually succumbed to the disease–he died. He lived with cancer for ten years, and I always dreaded knowing when he died. I was living in Chicago and he was in San Antonio. I still live with sadness. Not long after I learned of his death, a colleague-friend was diagnosed with Lung Cancer. She never smoked, yet she had an aggressive form of this disease. She was a therapist in Chicago, serving much of the LGBTQ community and even had started a “Bitch-to-Quit” Program out of Howard Brown. She was also the ED (interim) of the Lesbian Community Care Project and worked at the Center on Halsted’s anti-violence program. She made waves!
I recall sitting in her office one evening talking about migration, her own border crossings, and ways she has dealt with cultures. Lisa was originally from Plymouth, England, so getting to know the US culture was challenging. I recall that conversation we had as one of the most invigorating conversations, and one that helped me think about my own academic work. I attended the celebration service at the University of IL Chicago; it was huge and many friends came to give account to the greatness of Lisa. She continues to be missed in the LGBTQ and Anti-Violence worlds.
During my time in Chicago, I learned that my partner’s aunt was diagnosed with Lymphoma. And, though it was treatable, she would undergo some extensive therapies. She continues to live with the disease and is doing well, despite some bumps in the road.
Last fall I learned that my college-friend, Matt Chandler, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He collapsed having a seizure on Thanksgiving day. Following brain surgery and several rounds of chemotherapy, he is doing better. He continues to live with the disease.
Last week, as I was sitting in the drive-thru at the Dairy Queen. The phone rang. It was my partner’s mother calling to share some news with us. Wayne, my partner’s paternal grandfather, is living with an aggressive from of Lymphoma (which we knew), but did not know that the oncologist was going to recommend HOSPICE. Really? Death is immanent? Apparently…so, the whole family descended onto 5280, coming in shifts, but everyone was here by Sunday. We had a nice BBQ with everyone, including the grandparents. They are now home with 24-hour care, including hospice.
Yet, Wayne, whom I have loved as my own grandfather, has responded with this question:
WHY is it So Hard to Die?
There have been so many people in and out of the grandparents home: hospice, family, kids, nurses, etc. He is tired. His children are tired. I am tired. I am also scared. Why IS it so hard to die? Cancer is indeed a bitch, and I hope I never have to face it–in my own body, that is. I am facing it now, again, for the whatever tenth time. It is hard to watch him deal with this, and it is also hard to watch the family deal with death, dying, suffering, etc. I want to claim that life is good, but all I have now is that Cancer is a Bitch.
Everyone dies. The end.