Yesterday I ended my entry talking about the clean fall I am trying to execute, in order that I can get back up and restart my life. I expect the next few months to be rough, but I fully expect to land on my butt and get back up from all this. All the stuff I need to deal with is just that, stuff. As I wrote a few months ago, Barbara died leaving virtually no unfinished business. My life was already at an inflection point, so I don’t have a pile of loose ends left to manage.
But I’m not the only one who is negotiating a tough fall.
Over a year ago my sister-in-law was diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer. It’s a frighteningly aggressive form of cancer. Up until recently, time from diagnosis to death was typically measured in a few months. When they found it, it was already in an advanced state.
My brother is a few years younger than me, and we’ve always been close. We both married girls who were the babies of their families, and wanted to raise a family young. Kris is even younger than Barbara, and they have a correspondingly younger family. The oldest of their three is the same age as the youngest of our three. We didn’t get together nearly often enough, but when we did, we had a blast.
When Kris’s cancer was diagnosed, her youngest was a senior in high school, and all of their kids were still living at home, as the older two worked at starter jobs and plugged away at college. She was relatively lucky, in that they found an oncologist who happened to be a leading specialist in exactly the form of lung cancer she had practically in their back yard.
Barbara took the news about Kris hard, thinking about her own mother’s battle with cancer when she was young, and worried about both Kris and the kids a lot. By the time of Kris’ diagnosis, Barbara’s own undiagnosed cancer had probably already metastasized to her bones, but she didn’t know that. There was huge accidental irony in her frequent comments that with all the financial troubles we were having, at least we weren’t going through what Dan and Kris were.
The doctors found a treatment that pushed Kris’s tumor way back, shrunk it down and drove it dormant. It wasn’t without side effects, but it was well worth it. By the time Barbara was diagnosed and died, Kris was in partial remission. Her youngest had graduated high school, and she felt well enough to let my brother start taking short business trips again. Dan was on his way here when Barbara died. He stayed a few days afterwards to help prop me up. I hated doing that to him, knowing the road he was already on.
Cancer is an evil beast, especially if it gets to a late stage before treatment starts. It keeps mutating, and treatments lose effectiveness. The doctors had to switch Kris to a traditional chemotherapy shortly after Barbara died, because the first treatment had stopped working. It bought her more time. She was weak, but managed to have a good Christmas. They did it up big, and her brother and sisters came to visit. In January, she even felt well enough to travel to see her parents with her sister for a week.
In March the setbacks started, but they managed to get her home. In April she went into the hospital and hasn’t been out since. Tomorrow, she transfers to hospice.
If you’ve been following this blog, you now know part of the reason I went quiet for a while. Kris has a blog of her own, on surviving cancer one day at a time, and I know she and the family read mine. As long as she had hope in the fight, I wasn’t going to add any to their load. It has been clear for a while that they were in the fall, but this wasn’t the place to talk about that part.
The doctors bought them time to prepare for this, a good year that they needed. It’s never enough time, ever, but you take what you can get. They have days still, and I hope they manage to find little bits of magic yet.
But someday, altogether too soon, my tribe will have a new member. Maybe he can find my notes useful, but as I told him six months ago when I called him with the bad news about Barbara, this is the wrong damn thing to have in common.