childhood cancer

There was fear, when they told her it was cancer. But also a young boldness that everything would be ok.

Lee and her two sisters sat still on the couch, sandwiched between their parents, not knowing what to say or how to react.

Then May started crying.

Mom got up to comfort May, to tell her that it was good that they caught it early, and the doctors were already working on what to do. Mom and Dad were getting second opinions, things might be OK.

Horizontal black bangs, and a shrimpy size of the second shortest in the class, the things Lee cared about when she was ten were simple. It was September, and she had just begun fifth grade. She loved playing with her dog, play dates with friends, and drawing with chalk on the front driveway.

She had an easy, sheltered life.

So when the bombshell of cancer invaded her small world, she didn’t know how to take it.

She felt like she should be more sad. Why didn’t she cry when she heard the news like May?

This was DAD after all. Mom said he was too young to have cancer. Lee didn’t really understand what that meant. She didn’t really understand cancer. No one was telling her how to feel, or what to do about it.

It seemed like Dad was becoming a superhero. He took time off of work and picked Lee and her sisters up from school more often now. He worked on things around the house on the weekends and went running in the mornings and biking in the afternoon. During the day, he didn’t stop moving. He built a new vegetable box for Grandma in the backyard and had Lee and May carry bags of dirt in with him to dump.

He didn’t seem scared.

In class one day, a girl said a joke.

What did one unemployed cancer say to the other?
…Let’s get Jobs!

Lee didn’t get it.

My dad has cancer!

She said to everyone.

The teacher pulled her aside.

Prostate cancer.

Whatever it was, it wasn’t something that Lee or her sisters had to worry about getting, according to Mom.

Dad and I were the youngest couple at the support group yesterday

Mom said over cereal the next morning.

She said it with a laugh, as if she was retelling the plot of Modern Family last night.

It was odd to hear Mom laugh about Dad’s cancer. But slightly comforting too, to see that it didn’t just have to be a sad thing.

 

The day Dad had his operation, Lee and her sisters got to stay home from school. His surgery was early in the morning, and the girls all got up with sleepy eyes and slippered toes to hug him and wish him luck. He’d be done by noon.

Dad came home and went straight to bed, drugged and drowsy. He was home and he was OK.

A little while later, Dad got the results of his tumor. The doctors supposedly got all the cancer out, and he wouldn’t have to do chemo. He would,

…Keep whatever little hair he has left!

Mom joked.

 

That was good news.

 

 

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Late in the Mourning//My Former Distraction

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a print from my big sister

25 May 2016
My eleven year old golden retriever sits in a box on the mantle, no heavier than a gallon of milk, and it disturbs me more than I thought it would.

When I was away at college, I always forgot that I had dogs at home. I got used to not seeing them everyday, and that was totally fine, because I knew they would be waiting for me when I got back.

So after Koa died, and I went back to school, it was an easier transition than I expected.

I was already used to not seeing her. But because of that, I never really mourned her, and now that I’m home, I’m beginning to feel the effects.

Walking around the house, I catch a glimpse of her for a split second before realizing she’s gone. And I still wander around when I’m bored or procrastinating, in search of my former distraction to hug and hang out with. But she’s not here anymore.

I see the way my family still clings on to our dog. My older sister wears Koa’s dog tag around her neck. My younger sister keeps Koa’s old bed in her room. There are pill bottles from Koa’s last pain meds on the kitchen table.
My mom even waited for me to get home to fill out the insurance forms for Koa’s euthanasia and cremation.

I don’t want to forget my first dog; she was a milestone. After years of persistence and a year of pet-sitting to earn the money to buy a dog, my parents finally gave in.

But I don’t want to hang on to something that’s not here, either. She’s a phantom limb. She’s here but she’s not, and it hurts when I think of her.

The day Koa died was strange. My sisters and I slept the night in the sunroom with her, taking her out when she needed to, but mostly just being with her.

Mom took photos of us, which I’m thankful for now, but at the time I couldn’t help but think how strange it was that at the end of the day, my dog would no longer be alive.

It felt rushed, like we were trying to fit in as many activities as we could before Koa had to leave.

As the hours went by, we gave Koa more treats and crowded her so much more. Then at 9pm, the vet came to our house, and we all sat on the floor with our love. Everyone was crying as we whispered our last “I love you”s to Koa, hugging and petting her for the last time.

Then she was put to sleep.

I walked away at that point.
Koa stopped moving.
It was horrifying.
I had never seen something die before, and I couldn’t believe it happened.

Koa was my childhood, she was half my life.

I hid in the front room until the vets took her away.

The next day, I went back to school for a retreat, and then forgot about my dog for a while.


13 July 2016 
Life goes on, and sometimes faster for others. My 95 year old great aunt was admitted to the ICU in late June. Her kidneys were failing and she was put on life support. No one knew how long she had.

We were to decide what to do with her with a social worker, and when he told us to make plans for her death, I was hit hard with my final mourning for Koa.

In a room of ten people, spanning over three generations, who care deeply for my great aunt, I began to cry for my dog.

Us sitting in the family meeting room at the hospital felt like when my mom and I were at the emergency vet, and the doctor who had never met me or my dog before was telling me that I would have to put her down.

I hadn’t cried for Koa since the day she died.

It was a quick release. But it felt good, getting it out.
It was an incredible relief.

I loved having a dog growing up. Coming home after school and being greeted by the happiest face, a cold wet nose nuzzling you in the middle of homework, asking you to take a break and go play.

A friend to wake you up in the morning, a headfirst burst through the door, a lick on the face, and wag on the tail, leading you to the kitchen for breakfast and a walk.

I’m thankful for all of it.

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