For the aforementioned spring break, Jonathan and I are in Salt Lake City, UT. Well, technically we are in Farmington, a small suburb about twenty minutes north of Salt Lake. We are visiting Jonathan’s parents and spending the week bumming on the couch, watching basketball games galore (Jonathan and his dad are doing most of this action, I can only stand about one game worth before I become interested and intrigued with something, anything, else), and helping out around the house. Jonathan’s dad has esophageal cancer. It’s not something we talk about or share too often. I think Jonathan believes that somehow it makes him a liability. And he does not like to receive pity. I also think he does not want people to somehow look down on his dad or have an altered perception of him. In his mind his dad is still the healthy, strong man, though the reality is far from it. I love Dave. Jonathan’s family has become my own and it pains me to see Dave this way. I cannot even begin to fathom what it must feel like and be like for Jonathan and his siblings.
This past summer we stayed with Jonathan’s parents in Utah for a month. Our lease in Iowa City ended at the end of July and our lease in Davis did not begin until September first. I gained a new level of respect for people who live with terminally ill people. I did not think it would be easy, but it was far worse than what I had thought. And don’t get me wrong, what makes it difficult is not the extra work or the various chores that needed to happen that had once been fulfilled by him, it was the having to see day in and day out the extent to which this disease was diminishing this wonderful man and the effect it had on his family members. It is beyond hard to watch someone you care for and love grow weaker, essentially become a shell of the man you knew before. The degradation was not only in his physical being, but his mental and emotional ones, too.
Over the summer we heard from Jonathan’s grandpa and grandma Rose quite regularly. They would call to talk to their son, and on one such call, when Jonathan’s sister was in town with her boyfriend, they dropped a bomb. Grandpa Rose had lung and kidney cancer. They had found a spot on his lung and a rather large tumor on his kidneys. Since then he has had radiation treatments to diminish the sizes of the growths and then removed them. He, luckily, did not have to go through chemotherapy. He recently had a surgery to remove his adrenals and is recovering at home, though somewhat slower than previous surgeries. When we found out, the room went kind of silent. It definitely hit hard.
We left Davis on Wednesday. We were originally going to leave directly after Jonathan’s final, but that morning brought with it the news that the Sierra’s had been hit hard with snow. The roads were not cleared and they looked dangerous. Jonathan was despondent and sad. After his final he came back to the apartment and was checking the weather and travel conditions on I-80. An hour later, chain restrictions were off and we were good to go. We packed in a rush and left. We drove straight through the 10 hours and managed to get to their house near 3:00 AM. The next day we went to the hospital for Dave’s chemotherapy infusion. At one point we went in search of Jonathan’s mom, who is a nurse at the hospital where Dave receives treatment, and when we found her she casually mentioned that one of Dave’s brothers had recently been diagnosed with colon cancer. Shocked, Jonathan and I asked who. His mom was a bit flabbergasted that we had yet to hear of the news, but responded to our questions. Within a year and a half, three men in the family were diagnosed with cancer. Esophageal, kidney and lung, and colon. When it rains, it sure as fuck pours.
It makes me wonder and worry about Jonathan’s health. Also all his siblings. What potential does it give them? Was it something in the water? Something about where they grew up? Is there an environmental cause? We are on edge, and almost waiting to hear about Jonathan’s other uncle, or even his aunt. At this point I am sure we would have initial shocks if we found out more family members were ill, but I am not sure it would not already be somewhat assumed. I heard a devastating statistic over the summer. There was a large push to educate people about cancer and there was a call for donations for research and in the “advertisement” for this call the statistic came out that one in two men will be diagnosed with cancer, and one in three women. 50% of men and 33.3% of women. I remember telling this to Jonathan because I was in shock that the statistic was so high. He rolled his eyes and said, “I doubt that.” But three out of four men in a specific family have now been diagnosed. There are three women in my immediate family. One was diagnosed. My mom has skin cancer. It is the most treatable cancer, it was also caught so that the treatment was to remove the small melanomas, though my mom needs yearly scans and to forever wear sunscreen and hats. My sister and I are at higher risk for developing skin cancer. How much higher of a risk does Jonathan have? His siblings?
I have always had a place in my heart for cancer research and funding. There have been many people in my life who I have lost to cancer. An uncle, my grandmother, a close friend. Jonathan had never really had too many instances. His aunt had lost a battle to cancer. It has repeatedly struck his life, though, in the past year and a half. I feel like it is even more important now to donate money to cancer research. It is a heartbreaking disease, in whatever form it presents itself. Be thankful if it has not touched your life, but remember empathy. One in two men; one in three women.