03 May 2015

A horrible week

          My cat, Diamond, had no more problems after her stomach surgery.

        I brought her home on 22 April. Earth Day.

        I hadn't been home more than half an hour when my phone rang. It was my brother, Matt.
        Now, as kids growing up, we didn't have much to do with each other. However, as we've both aged and matured into human beings, we have grown close, even though he lives over 3000 miles from me. The phone and the internet are wonderful things.

       Matt was a jock. Strong, good looking, and with a temperament that is kind, gentle and full of humor, Matt has always been the charismatic one. He's a nice guy. He had it all... a good solid marriage, his one and only, to a lovely wife whom he adores (unlike me, who's on her third marriage), two great kids who are highly skilled, well paid (my niece is a newly minted doctor) and decent citizens. Matt never had to look for a job...he was always 'in the right place, at the right time' to land a good one. He's never been out of work. He went back to school to get his Master's in Engineering. He built his own house. He's a devout Catholic. He has good friends in high places, ones who've helped him out when he needed it. He has a job that is both stressful and yet rewarding, one that he handles well and pays him well.

I never knew Matt to not have a laugh just bubbling under the surface. When he got that shiteating grin, you knew you were about to be teased, let into a joke, or told a funny story. 
Matt, in other words, has had a fairly charmed life.

    Until now. 

     Matt was calling from the ER in his home town. They were shopping for an upcoming trip to Spain when his wife, my sister in law, noticed that his mouth was drooping. They immediately rushed to the hospital where an MRI discovered that Matt has a brain tumor.

   A big one. A malignant one (now we know, after a nail biting week of waiting on the path report.)

     He has brain cancer.

     Less than 48 hours after the MRI found the tumor, Matt underwent brain surgery. They took out a golf ball sized tumor from behind his right eye.

   I literally had to sit down to absorb the initial shock. For the next week, I called daily, wanting to know how he was. 
Subsequent phone conversations with Matt were mostly his fears and his depression. 

   Of course, I thought, holy shit, he's going to die.

    And even though one isn't supposed to google medical conditions, I still did. I couldn't stand Not Knowing.

    In the meantime, silver linings...if there can be any in such a dire situation, still popped up.

Matt, my SIL, and their kids and significant others were all supposed to board a plane for a two week vacation to Spain. 
Imagine the chaos if he'd been on the plane when his face began to droop. Or if they'd made it to Spain and THEN he began to droop, or worse, had a seizure. Not that the Spaniards are incapable of doing anything about it, but being overseas in a foreign country (and only my niece speaks Spanish, and she's not fluent) when a medical emergency strikes is very bad. 

   So it was 'better' that it hit him before he boarded a plane.

    The week of surgery and waiting had already been scheduled for everyone concerned, so there was no 'oh, no, I have to call my boss and tell him I won't be in for work".

   My sister in law is a nurse, one who spent several years in an oncology ward. She works at the hospital he was taken to. Throughout the week, she received tons of support. Her co-workers would forego their breaks and lunch to go check on Matt.

    She went back to work but my niece, the doctor, is going to be home for six weeks. While her specialty is pediatrics, she does know a lot of basic doctoring. She'll be able to take care of Matt as he is going to start chemo and radiation therapy.

    I had a doctor's appointment, and told him. He told me about a new regimen of brain cancer work being conducted at Duke University in NC. He urged me to tell my brother about it.

   When I did, Matt told me HIS doctor (in Michigan) knows the doctor at Duke who is doing the research and is already working to get Matt into the study.

   My best friend, Sue, is a nurse, too. She was MY main support (as well as my husband, who never failed to be there when he saw me puddling up.) when I told her. 

   The pathology report was ambiguous...the 'outside' of the tumor was mildly malignant, the interior had 'just begun' to change into a much worse one. They caught it in time, before it'd metastasized. It was the only one in his whole body (three MRI's and two CT scans later). It was a 'primary' meaning it'd started in his brain 'about a year ago'. His only symptoms had been headaches starting about six months ago...ones that his doctor had brushed away with a 'it's just stress'. Wrong. 

    I and my husband planned to change our summer plans and head out to Michigan to visit Matt. He said, no, not now. 

   I felt.. and still feel, so helpless to help. 
   He didn't deserve this. No one deserves such a horrible thing. But after doing some research of my own, I am beginning to realize that it's not the death sentence brain cancer used to be. 

   I really think he can beat this. 
 

   The hardest part was how it hit him. I mean, above and beyond the utter terror of realizing that you have a brain cancer.

  My life...and I'm not whining, mind you...has always been difficult. I was never popular, pretty or well liked. I had to bust my ass at everything I attempted. Being female and growing up the tail end of the baby boomer pig meant there was never a job that I wanted that was available. All the good ones were taken. I couldn't afford college until far later in life. I've had medical conditions, to include breast cancer, a bone disease, and osteoporosis. I've got two divorces under my belt. I was laid off from my last minimum wage job and haven't found another.

   So I got used to life giving my tree whacks with a dull axe. I learned to deal with it, learned to deal with adversity, disappointment, frustration, resentment. Poverty. Unemployment. Backstabbing. I learned how to deal with a life that has never been easy and only in the last decade has been mostly happy and comfortable.

  I didn't resent Matt's 'golden' boy status, one where all the breaks seemed to shine on him, leaving me to eat his dust. I am not a jealous person.

   So for this to happen to him was probably inevitable. No one has a easy trip their whole life. Brain cancer...and it hit him like a ton of bricks...was like someone taking a chain saw to his tree and cutting it down right now. No whacks, no 'getting used to it'...nope, ripstart that saw and braaaaaaaaaaaaaap, he's down.

    I love Matt, like a brother (duh) but I will admit that a small part of me was very very glad it wasn't me. It wasn't me.

   I don't know what the end of his story is. I don't want him to suffer. But I'm glad this first week is over and done with.

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