Boca Grande’s 2012 Relay for Life will be held next weekend, March 24 and 25. There will be cancer survivors, some cancer patients, and some who have dealt with the death of a loved after they fought cancer. Everyone is invited to attend.
It is a time of community, of family, of friends and of laughter. Whether you stay all night or you just drop by to grab some food and browse the makeshift booths, you are welcome.
This is a story written by the Beacon’s own Liza Strout. She has, to say the least, a way with words.
While this isn’t a story to necessarily be enjoyed, it really explains what many go through as they watch a loved one die from the insidious disease of cancer. Here is her story.
When John was diagnosed with brain cancer, I did the math. Glioblastoma multiforme stage IV has an almost nonexistent survival rate. While everyone around him was busy reassuring him and themselves that he would be around for years to come, I was cutting out the part of my own brain where he lived.
John was my step-dad, but in every way that mattered, he was my father. He was the one I cried on when I broke up with my first boyfriend. He made me learn how to change a tire before I could get my driver’s license. He watched me graduate.
Not long after my graduation, he began to change. What had been an easy-going man became quick to anger. He yelled. He raged. He became violent. And since he did not see the difference, he refused to go to the doctor.
In the end, my mother left him and moved to North Port with my younger brother and I. She kept in contact with John with an occasional phone call and updates from mutual friends. Six months after the move, we got word that the sudden onset of aphasia, the inability to recall words, had finally convinced him to get checked out.
The results came quickly. He had a mass in his brain, pressing against his speech center. He went to Moffitt for surgery, but even before the operation the doctors knew they wouldn’t be able to get to the entire tumor. He came to stay with us on the weekends. We would go to the beach and watch people, sit on the couch and watch TV and on really good days he would go out and shoot a few hoops with my brother.
When the tumor started growing again, he moved in on a more permanent basis. The next step was radiation. Since he was being treated in Port Charlotte; it was easier than three trips a week from Arcadia and back. I was the one who took him for his treatments.
Even though I knew that the changes in him were from the cancer, I was still angry. It was easier to hate the man who was dying than it was to lose my father. One hour changed that.
It was summer, the sky was black with an oncoming storm and it was a radiation day. We had already decided that we should go for our post-treatment Frosty, even with the weather being the way it was. I parked the car, got out and headed towards the center. His car door opened, but it didn’t close. I turned around and saw a strange look cross John’s face. Then he fell. All 6’7” and 300 pounds went crashing to the blacktop of the parking lot.
It was impossible. This man, this mountain, was the strongest person I knew. I remember walking into the center and telling the receptionist what had happened. Then going back out to sit with him in the rain until an orderly came with a wheelchair.
They took John back to clean his hands and knees where he had skinned them in the fall, and then started his treatment. I was just coming out of the fog when the power went out. The wonderful receptionist took me to a waiting room in the back. The people I met there changed my life.
Sitting in the seats around the room were the women who had breast cancer. They were comfortable enough to laugh and joke together in the dim emergency light. They were all wearing robes and fuzzy slippers. Some were bald; some had wigs in their laps. Some were emaciated, and some were bloated from the poison that was being pumped into their bodies in the hope that the cancer would die before they did. A few looked like anyone you would pass in the street. They made me feel welcome.
I was still in shock, and in the middle of the indignity that life had thrown at them; they took the time to comfort me. They did not try to tell me that everything would be all right. They told me that no matter what happened, I would get through. They told me that it was okay to be angry at the world. To admit that what was happening was tearing me to shreds.
And in the end, they let me cry over the man who I hated, who I loved, who raised me and who was being destroyed, bit by bit, in front of me. When the power came back on and I walked out of that room, no one could tell what had happened, and I knew that none of them would ever whisper a word about it. The oncologist came out and explained that John had had his first seizure in the parking lot, and that while they were waiting to restart his treatment after the power came back on he had had a second.
I took him to the hospital and called my mother at work. While what happened that day was confirmation of what I already knew, it was also reassurance and reminder. I spent what time I had left enjoying what I could, and preparing as much as I could for John’s death.
Six months later, I watched my brother act as his pallbearer.
I write for a living, which is - surprisingly enough - not a lucrative trade. While I may not be able to give a lot of money, I can give my time. I volunteer for cancer studies. My DNA is in labs across the country. I have filled out forms that ask questions that I would slap my best friend for asking. Every now and then, I spend an evening captioning videos. Nothing exciting. But every bit is one step closer to eradication.
They say that cancer never sleeps. It shouldn’t. It should be chased and hounded and studied until one day, we can wash our hands of it.
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