Fuck Cancer

I started to write a post about how stupid New Year's resolutions are but then I found out that my aunt is dying so I need to get this out. I guess everyone is dying, but my aunt is dying in two months. After making it an entire lifetime without really losing anyone close to me it seems like everyone is peacing out now. My boyfriend's sister just died on December 15 of complications with her liver. I never write anything about her because I don't feel comfortable putting his family's business out there but they're really close and it's been a hard holiday season without her.

Then there's my great grandmother. She'll be 102 years old in March of 2012. She's been saying she's going to die for probably ten years or more (I love her to death but she's a huge complainer) and we joke about how she'll probably outlive us all, but two weeks ago she fell down and passed out at my grandma's house. She woke up quickly but they took her to the hospital to make sure everything was okay and they ended up keeping her for about a week, including over Christmas day. Apparently there's something wrong with her lungs and they were scared she might be getting pneumonia, which would mean death for someone like her. They ended up letting her come home on the 26th, but she's still shaky and she keeps telling me how much she loves me and how important I am to her because she doesn't think she'll make it to June. One of my biggest fears is her dying while I'm gone. I don't know how I'll deal with it by myself and I won't have the money to make it back.

A couple of years ago (2008, I think?), two of my aunts got breast cancer at the same time. Literally within a month or two of each other. We have a huge family and no history of cancer at all. The younger one was an alcoholic, smoked everyday, had no support from her children (and no significant other), and had no job so she had to rely on government healthcare. The other one, older by a year, had great healthcare from her husband's military service and had never drank or smoked a day in her life and was relatively healthy. We were all so worried about the younger aunt because we thought she didn't stand a chance. We didn't even know where she was going to get the money for treatment. We were all willing to help her out, but we're a pretty poor family. We didn't need to worry, I guess, because she went through the treatments and was cancer-free within a year or so and has been fine ever since. My older aunt went through everything and it took her a little longer, but she beat it too.

But now it's back. I was at my grandma's a year and a half ago when she came to tell us that they had found out the cancer moved into her bones. It's incurable. They told her the best case scenario was that she would live a few more years, so it's not like we didn't see this coming. It's hard because I owe so much of myself to her. My mom had me when she was only 18 and my dad died six months after I was born so my grandmother basically raised me when I was a kid. My aunt lived next door and would play with me and take care of me all the time. Her first grandchild wasn't born until I was 5 so she's always said that I was really her first grandkid.

She's one of the most creative people I know. In a poor neighborhood where there was no such thing as an art class, we'd spend hours coloring with crayons. She taught me to paint and encouraged me to do crafts. Her husband was in the military and often gone so I'd spend the night at her house and we'd stay up doing our makeup, curling our hair, and watching videos. I remember spending summer afternoons in her pool taking pictures with our underwater camera. She and my uncle took me to see my first (and only) drive-in movie - Jumanji - before the drive-in theater in our town was torn down. She painted the whole playroom at her house with a mural of our favorite cartoon characters - Eliza Thornberry, the Rugrats, dinosaurs from the Land Before Time. I could go on and on. She was always up to date on what we were interested in, one of the only adults who genuinely cared about my interests and treated me like an equal even though I was just a kid. She even added a treasure chest with the Heart of the Ocean to one of the playroom walls because of my obsession with Titanic. One time she had a huge box (maybe a refrigerator box?) for some reason and she cut this elaborate castle out of it for me to play in with a drawbridge and a little mailbox and everything. She'd take shoe boxes and cover them in wrapping paper until she had probably 100 of them for us to use as bricks and build whatever we wanted. I remember one mother's day I was at her house and we made a butterfly for my mom out of an old egg carton and some Mylar balloon scraps. She had a kiln in her kitchen and would make and paint ceramics, some of which my family still has.

She's all about family. As I already mentioned, our family is huge. My grandma had 6 kids and has around 20 grandchildren, most of whom have children of their own. All of my aunts and uncles (and most of their kids) still live in Florida, so we all get together at my grandmother's house for major holidays. My aunt would make us a family calendar every year that had all of our birthdays (along with pictures) and anniversaries on it. She's also really into astrology and the Chinese zodiac (having spent time in Asia while her husband was in the military) so she would include those little facts in there. She couldn't make one this year because the bone cancer moved to her organs and was attacking her eyes. She couldn't sit at the computer and get it done.

She always encouraged me to write. We put together a newsletter template that I updated monthly for the family when I was younger. We would include whose birthday was coming up that month and any achievements of the cousins at school or whatever. Almost all of my favorite childhood memories include my aunt. I have a poem she wrote about me when I was a toddler in one of my photo albums. Even when cancer was making her weak in March of 2010, she wrote poems and printed up family tree posters and other decorations to put up at my great grandmother's 100th birthday party.

We visited after my grandma's birthday party in June (my aunt is no longer able to make it to family gatherings, even though she lives less than a block away from my grandma, because she can't get around very well and is often so tired that her day is just moments stolen between a series of naps) and she was angry. It was the first time I had ever learned of the feud between her and my oldest aunt, which has apparently been going on since they were teenagers. I was confused and shocked. How could one of the most loving people I know hate someone so close to her? But now I realize that my aunt is going through a lot. She's dying and she knows it. I really hope that she forgives her older sister before it's too late, but time will tell.

Cancer has taken a lot from her. The first family event she missed was a wedding in the summer of 2010. My aunt is one of those people who makes everyone feel special and loved, so it was hard for her to accept that she wasn't able to be there for one of her nieces. She missed two more this year. I emailed them some pictures of my boyfriend's nephew in October because he was Yoda for Halloween (she became obsessed with Star Wars when she started spending a ton of time in the hospital and watched all of them) and my uncle replied telling me that we needed to come see her as soon as possible because she wasn't going to make it long. When we visited her this fall she was like a different person. She's so skinny you can't hug her without feeling like you're comforting a skeleton. She would start to say something and trail off, unable to remember what she had been saying literally less than two seconds ago. It was hard to be around her.

We visited again after Thanksgiving at my grandma's and then a few times in December. We were just there on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I was amazed at how much better she looked. She told us that the cancer in her eyes was gone. She could see! Maybe she'd even be able to do the calendars for us next year! She wasn't able to get out to the store to get presents for everyone this year so she gave everyone a card and some scratch offs. She had made super tacky Christmas vests for my boyfriend, myself, my cousin and her husband and she was so pleased that we wore them to visit her. She apologized for not being able to help me out more before my trip to France but promised that maybe around February she'd be able to. I guess she meant financially? I didn't ask because I was too busy telling her that she's done more than enough for me my whole life and that it was enough just having her around. She looked 100% better than when we had seen her at Thanksgiving. She was walking around a lot and thinking clearly and talking about the future.

One time, when I was 13 or 14 and had moved 15 minutes away, I talked to her about my not coming around as much. My grandma would rib me about it and how much she missed me. My aunt said that it was okay. She said she knew that this day would come, as it did for all the other cousins, when we would go out and have our own lives. She told me not to worry about it. To go hang out with my friends and live my life. That they understood and they would be there anytime I needed them or wanted to visit. So I stopped going. I can't tell you how guilty I've felt for not being around more, but I always remember that day when my aunt chose to send me out into the real world rather than make me feel bad about abandoning her. One of these days I might ask her if she still feels that way.

She's such an absolutely amazing person. Everyone should have the chance to know her, to have someone so accepting, thoughtful, and unconditionally loving as my aunt. I keep trying to end this post but there's so much to say about her. Every time I think I'm done there's another important memory.

Within the past week, my grandma mentioned that they had told her she had a year to live. We were sad, but a year seemed great compared to how little time we thought she'd have when she was at her low point in November. Privately, I was ecstatic because that meant she'd be okay while I was on my trip. I would have six months after I came back to sit and talk with her and tell her everything about Europe. She spent time over there when she was my age because of my uncle's military service and had nothing but great recommendations and excitement for me. I know she'd love to hear about my experiences. It seemed like things were looking up!

But now they're saying two months. On Christmas she told us that her doctors had instructed her to fatten up because they were going to do chemo again. I don't know what changed in five days, but I guess it's worse than they thought because now they're not going to do anything for her. Everyone is giving up.

That's the worst sentence to type because I'm writing this at work trying not to cry and hoping no one will come in when I inevitably do. If she could just hang on until December of 2012, she'd turn 60.

When I was 8 or 9 we made a time capsule of all my favorite things for me to open when I was older. She mentions it every once in a while and even showed it to me recently. I'm not sure when the time to open it comes, but it's unfathomable to me that I'll be opening it alone.


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