Yesterday was a sad day for my family and I. My uncle Ed passed away after a long and valiant struggle with Pancreatic Cancer. He died peacefully at home in bed surrounded by his family. I was there by chance and the experience was powerful and incredibly emotional. The Oberfrau had put it in my ear that I should stop and check in on him since he has been fighting this terrible disease for about a year and a half. We had visited uncle Ed during his illness, but not nearly enough. It never is. But my father and aunts and uncles were a near constant presence at the house helping my aunt and cousins nurse him through his struggle. My kids saw him enough to understand he was sick and probably wasn’t going to get better. I wanted to protect them on some level since I am intimately familiar with this process. Somehow I suspect a women’s intuition was at work.
When I arrived at the house I was a bit surprised to see so many of my relatives. I was under the impression that uncle Ed was doing better than he was. He was sedated and his breathing was labored and pronounced. After an hour it began to get noticeably quieter. Ironically my one uncle rather perceptively called the whole family into the room as I failed to put two and two together. All the time there was laughter and stories of Uncle Ed to help ease the pain. Oh to be Irish at moments like this. In a last grasp of life, uncle Ed opened his eyes for a minute or two staring intently at whoever caught his gaze. Everyone called out his name. He was with us one last time and I was lucky to be there. After that he put his head down and quietly slipped away.
Between the age of about ten and twenty I lost my grandfather, grandmother and mother to different forms of Cancer. As a young boy I remember my grandfather hacking and coughing from the effects of smoking two packs of cigarettes a day for a good portion of his life. Ironically he played the saxophone in the old big band era. He died from lung Cancer and was the first person I can remember being close to who passed away. I remember being terribly sad at the time. When I was about seventeen my grandmother was diagnosed with Cancer. I was close to her and was sad to watch her get sicker and sicker. She lived her last days in our house, on the couch like many people with terminal illnesses. Our family, especially my mother, spent days and nights tending to her. I was in basic training when I got word that grandmom had passed so I couldn’t make it home for her funeral. That kind of thing is tough when you are all alone, on your own for the first time in your life.
A little over two years later my mother passed away from breast Cancer at the age of 42. I was stationed in Germany then and I was isolated from her suffering. I don’t think I fully comprehended what was going on until I got a personal visit from the company commander in my barracks room (highly unusual). He informed me that my mother was very sick and I was going home. By the time I landed mom had already passed away. It was my uncle Ed who told me in the car on the way home from the airport.
Along the way other family members died from different Cancer as well. My best friend Mike (Racor X) passed away in his early thirties from a deadly form of Melanoma and his funeral was one of the most difficult in my life. Somehow you can be strong for a family member, but losing your best friend can be devastating. It’s just different somehow.
Cancer is a horrible disease. It’s brutal on the patient and the family. It’s something I’d have a hard time wishing on my worst enemy. Seeing uncle Ed go through that brought back a lot of hard memories. His suffering is finally over. If anyone reading this is so inclined, the next time you are thinking about donating a few dollars to charity, keep Cancer research in mind. It’s a disease we could absolutely do without. And prayers for my Uncle Ed and his family would be appreciated as well.