Saturday, August 05, 2006


It's something when the body turns on itself, when rogue cells decide to multiply without restraint, endangering or killing the host... the person. Cancer has touched many lives- mine only in small ways (or large). My grandfather died of bone cancer. Extremely painful, but I didn't really watch or understand. Grampa Pat had been a cool old guy that I saw once a year or so. He taught me to bowl. He'd killed a cougar with a knife (his story, of course, the truth according to local papers was that he'd killed a very large, dangerous, marauding cougar... but with a rifle). He'd taught me to hate the British with a naive Irish nationalism from the cradle and he'd actually run log drives down rivers of the Northwest...but in his stories it was as part of Paul Bunyan's camp.

My mother is a cancer survivor. Lymph cancer that through an insane fluke closed off the duct before it could spread. Other than some very scary talks , it didn't affect my life much. Mom was sick and she got better. Had it gone the other way, it would have been devastating.

Want to hear a secret thought? When I learned that my brother had died crashing his Air Force trainer, I was elated... because I knew from my sister's face that something terrrible had happened and I knew that mom was driving over the mountains that night and I was sure that she had died in a wreck.... when Kristi told me that Rick was dead my very, very, first reaction was a rush of joy and relief that it wasn't Mom. Losing Mom would have crushed me- not because of some deep mother-son bond but because in a crazy and in some ways very ugly time, she was the one friend I trusted, the one I could talk to.

Frenchy is dying. There's no good word in English for "Mom's boyfriend", especially when mom is in her 70's. Frenchy is the closest thing my children have ever had to a grandfather. He is/was a tough, strong, smart, hard-working, opinionated, foul-mouthed cajun. His own personal life and family were disasters (how horrible would it be to be in your eighties and distrust and despise your own children? How much responsibility would you have in creating that situation?) But he and mom got along well- dancing or bickering.

I like him. Brutal. in-your-face honesty and a heart. I'll miss him.

About a month ago, some tests showed some spots on his liver. Possibly cancerous. They did the biopsy... This man is a mass of old injuries and surgeries. I can't keep track of the number of bypasses that he's had or the number of times that the doctors gravely said, "It's not likely he'll pull through." Within a few weeks I'd be at his place or my mom's topping trees or digging rock, and he'd be working right along side.

I saw him about two weeks ago and he was in a lot of pain, he looked shriveled and shrunken.

I saw him this morning and he looked like a mummy: shrunken yellow skin with sores stretched tight over a framework of tiny bones. I talked to him, to tell him that he meant a lot to me, that the family and I love him and will miss him terribly. That he was a good man and I was proud to know him... His eyes were open, but not a flicker.

Until... I was a 91B combat medic and worked for a time as a CNA. My mom knows this and she asked for help with changing him. The only flicker in his eyes the entire visit was shame- that we would see him so weak; that he couldn't attend to his own functions himself. I'm so sorry for that... In the very extreme, at the edge of death, Frenchy was surrounded by people who loved him enough to wipe his ass. He saw the shame that he couldn't do it and not the love.


  1. Thanks, Or
    I wish I could be there. Thankful that you and Kristi can. Mom is lucky to have you so close. Tell the tough old coot "bye" for me. :'(

  2. My mom was so embarrassed, and scared, while she was dying of lung cancer. She told me every time I saw her how much she was afraid of the pain, and begged me to make sure to keep her free of it even at the cost of losing mental alertness.