I don't know if I ever mentioned it, but I had a distant cousin who had the same cancer as I did - she passed away one year ago last week. I didn't know her very well, as she was my (pay attention now) Grandmother's sister's granddaughter on my Dad's side. In fact, I didn't even know that she existed until a few years ago when my Grammy mentioned something about maybe talking to her since we had a common bond through cancer.
In the past, anytime anyone around me has had cancer, I've had to separate myself from them. Seeing people that I loved in pain and in the process of dying from the same disease (even though they had different types) that I had, was just too much for me to handle. You know how some people avoid situations in order to protected their heart and well being? That's what I've always done... Looking back, it's not something that I'm proud of, but it was a result of my immaturity.
My Mom's twin sister, Barbie, died of breast/lung cancer when I was twenty years old. My Mom moved her into our house to better take care of her and spend the remaining time with the one whom she shared a womb. I remember calling my mother from Washington where Dustin and I were vacationing, and gushed that Dustin had proposed to me. My mother had this sadness to her voice and I knew that my Aunt's condition was worsening. Part of me was so angry that she didn't make a bigger deal out of the news, but I was young and selfish and didn't truly see the gravity of what was going on. Maybe I didn't want to see.
I don't remember where I was staying at the time - I used to stay the night at Dustin's house (he'd sleep on the couch and I stole his bed) - but I know that my Aunt was in my old bedroom. I remember visiting her twice while she was there. Twice. I couldn't bring myself to do it, to see what it would be like if I were to die. If I were in that bed. Gosh, it was all about me then. What I wouldn't give to go back in time and spend time with my aunt while she was still here! I bought her this stuffed puppy, this giant, soft toy and psyched my self up to go into her room. It was dark out and I think she was just laying in bed - she was getting worse. A movie may have been on, a flickering glow danced off the walls. It may have just been a nightlight, though. I don't remember. I told my aunt that the toy reminded me of her dogs and she stuck a hand over the bed and onto the toy. A small sigh of happiness spilled from her weak lips. I wanted so badly to make her better, but she was past the point of no return. I couldn't even look my Mother in the eye. I couldn't face the emotions, the reality of death, because my own numbness way trying so hard to mask the sadness inside of me. Avoid it. Block it out. Don't go there.
The same goes for my Dad's sister, my Auntie Cathy, who passed away in 2008. She and I had a special connection and I wish with every bit of me that I had appreciated it and her more during her lifetime. She had recurrent Leukemia. I recall when my Mom told me that Auntie Cathy's cancer had come back the final time. I was sitting in my car in the parking lot of some random Target. It was grey and rainy and gross. I remember feeling this horrible ache in the pit of my stomach as Mom told me and then immediately feeling nothing. It was like the switch of my body's defense mode had been flipped. Numb. Go to Target. Go home. Tell Dustin, put on a brave face and then cry once in the shower (I'm a shower crier). Auntie Cathy had chemotherapy, her sibling, children and Mother stuck by her side. Oh how I wish I would have visited her just once. I couldn't bring myself to do it, though. The thought of having to go into any hospital's Oncology ward and smell the smells, see the beds and baldness and nurses, and see my Aunt in medical jail... I just couldn't do it. If you have ever had cancer or have been close to someone who has, you know the smell I'm talking about. Chemo has this distinct, pungent smell that just fills every square foot of air. During treatment, you get infused with the drugs and then sweat and vomit and pee it out and it all has the same sort of smell. I would even smell like it for a few days after going home as the drugs worked their way out of my system. Ugh. Maybe it's just the self administered negative reinforcement, but just thinking about it makes me lightheaded and anxious. I wish I would have sucked it up and been there for my Aunt, though. She, like my Auntie Barbie, was worth sucking it up for.
So, back to my distant cousin. Janika passed away over a year ago. In the short amount of time we communicated, we became sort of digital penpals. I tried so hard to be inspirational. I tried so hard to give her the hope that even though she was sick now, it was possible for her to overcome it and have this totally normal, beautiful life. I swear. All anybody with cancer wants is normal. Dishes. PTA meetings. Trips to Costco with the only thing on your mind being what you're putting in your cart. None of the, "I need tuna and olive oil and... FUCK, I HAVE CANCER AND I MIGHT DIE," thoughts that we have. I wanted so badly for Janika to have a quiet life and for her to be as lucky as I have been.
Janika had a friend, Cassondra, who was also battling cancer, who I got to know a little bit through Facebook pleasantries. After Janika passed away, I stayed FB friends with Cassondra. Again, I tried to express to her that she should have hope, that not everyone who has recurrent cancer dies from it.
She died on Tuesday, friends. I didn't know her very well at all, but she was a beautiful girl and it's rubbed my heart raw in spots knowing that she's gone. Another one of us girls, gone.
How is it that a heart can feel so heavy? It can't weigh more than a couple of pounds, but sometimes when I think about the people that have been taken out of my life by this shitty disease, it makes me want to shrivel up, anchored to the floor of floors by my lead heart.
God, I miss my aunts. What I wouldn't give to talk to them even once more! One long Barnes & Noble trip. One backyard BBQ. One hour of sitting at a table with nothing but each other. What would we talk about? I know they both would love to hear about Roman. I'd probably ask my Auntie Barbie what her favorite recipe of all time was. She loved to cook and some of my fondest memories are of her in her little white chef shirt. I'd ask for her to write the recipe out on an index card for me so that I could have something written in her hand. I'd let her know that she was loved and wanted and is so missed. That every time I go to Barbie Beach (what we call it) in Lake Tahoe, we think of her and miss her. It's like shes almost there.
I would tell my Auntie Cathy about her son's (my cousin's) new baby boy - I'm positive she knows about him already, though. He's too sunny to miss. I'd tell her that I can't count the times that I, to this day, make a mental note to email her about something and then feel the crack in my heart deepen as I realize that she won't receive it. I haven't had the heart to delete her info from email contacts and have all of the most recent emails from her saved in a folder. I'd tell her that anytime I see Mexican themed dishware, she pops into my head, her grey chunk of hair (the rest stayed dark brown) still there like it was the last time I saw her. I'd tell her that I feel like an ass for not being there for her and for not staying at her funeral reception (is that even what it's called?). I had to go. I couldn't be there with all of our family and her friends in their black outfits and puffy faces. I couldn't see my grandma so sad, with me putting on a happy face and feeling like an asshole for smiling. Sometimes I guess it's easier to plaster on a fake smile than it is to melt into the floor. It's easier to be numb and not allow yourself to think about things, right? I don't think it's the better choice, but I guess it's what I had to do in the moment.
And if you're still reading this, I'm totally sorry for such a downer post, guys. Sometimes we all need to let it out though, right? Flip the switch back off and let some of the numbness fade away and let the pain sting a little.
These life experiences have re-affirmed that I am so entirely fortunate to be here. To be breathing with my one little lung. God has blessed me with hope, you guys. I have hope that I will get to see Roman go to Kindergarten. That cancer won't steal me away from him like it has the others. That Dustin will have me, farts and all, until we are wrinkly old prunes on our front porch laughing about our prom and the potpie pukes. Talking about Roman's graduation and our other babies here-or-there incidents and this-or-that achievements. Please God let me someday be 75 and nagging Bubby about leaving his pajama pants on the floor. His old man pajama pants.
Here's to having hope.
To having many normal years with the people that I love.
And to pajamas.