Thursday, July 15, 2010

Cancer, Caregivers, and DJ Curse

Since joining Team In Training and raising funds for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society,  I'm often asked if I personally know the people I'm running for. My standard response has highlighted our honorary teammates, six-year-old Celeste and Alyssa, who are both battling Leukemia. It's safer for me to talk about the heartbreaking stories of these little girls than express how the insidious monster called Cancer directly impacts my life. 


Cancer was the boogeyman that jumped out of the dark closet and terrified me at a very young age. I've lost many loved ones to this hideous monster since I was a little girl. It has kidnapped, terrorized, tortured, and fatally killed many of my family and friends over the years.  Although its destruction is familiar, this beast hasn't ceased to frighten and fracture my heart. 


Today it continues to be the bane of my existence. We've focused on the cancer patients but what about those who provide daily care for them? You see, my man, the love of my life, spends his entire waking moment providing care to his mother whose stage 4 breast cancer came back to life after being in remission for several years. 


Before I continue, let me take you on my time machine, back to 1983 when Ray and I were both fifteen-years-old. 


Homies for Life
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We were homies, Ray and I. He and our friend Ross would sometimes visit every night, knock on my bedroom window, and hang out on my porch discussing nonsensical matters of teenagers. I looked forward to their nocturnal visits and if Ray couldn't come he'd call to talk my ear off about all the girls he thought were fine or subject me to his beat boxing and rapping. He was oblivious to my breaking heart every time he told me he was in a relationship with a girl. Ray was completely clueless that I loved him in that pureness that only came from an innocent, googly-eyed fifteen-year-old. The naive and stupid kind that Taylor Swift sings about in almost all her songs. 


"Oh I remember you driving to my house in the middle of the night
I'm the one who makes you laugh when you know you're about to cry
I know your favorite songs and you tell me about your dreams
I think I know where you belong. I think I know it's with me." 

Then life interfered and cut our homieship short and we lost touch with each other. He went his way, I went mine, and our paths never crossed again. Until...

Fast forward 25 years later and I found him on Facebook while I was on a vacation with my two kids in Maui. Damn Facebook. Apparently, he was big shot DJ Curse and I was...well, me: mother, grandmother, twice-divorced, adulteress, (yes, I said it) lugging baggage with more issues than Rolling Stone magazine. Gone was the innocent, stupid, naive, girl who fell in love with the boy before the world turned him into a curse. When we reconnected on Facebook and met face-to-face after 25+ years it was like coming home. We were inseparable. Lo and behold, to my surprise, delight, and chagrin, Ray loved me back. 

Since time is not mine to control, his mom's cancer coincidently returned at the same time we reconnected. For the past twenty years he has taken care of his mom's every need and the first year that we were together I watched him drive his mom to her doctor, chemotherapy, and radiation appointments, drop off and pick up prescriptions at CVS, cook, clean, wash clothes, and buy groceries. In the midst of all this, he's had to deal with losing his job, getting into a serious car accident, dealing with a crazy girlfriend (yes, I said it), and almost losing his house. I recall one particular Friday in March, he had to take me to my early morning surgery (fibroid tumor extraction), leave me there, go back home to pick his mom up and take her to her doctor appointment, leave her there, come back and pick my groggy arse up from my surgery, leave me passed out at his house, pick his mom up from her appointment, come home, tried to get a few hours of rest, then went to DJ his regular friday night gig. I can only hope that my own son would selflessly devote his life to care for his elderly and frail mom. 

We are in our second year of our relationship and his mom's condition has worsened. Recently, he had to call 911 and thought we were going to lose her. After a week in the hospital, pacemaker insertion, and three weeks of rehabilitation at the skilled nursing facility (SNF) she is home again. The stress, fear, anxiety, frustration, and hopelessness of caregivers sometimes takes its toll. Ray can't force his mom to think positive or give her the will to live. Some days are worse than others but more often than not, she seems apathetic to the blessings and focus on the negative. For someone like Ray who perseveres through the onslaught of obstacles life has beaten him with, apathy is not acceptable. 


We've both had our breakdowns and meltdowns with flared tempers and harsh words. This is the path of strife, dissension, and destruction cancer leaves in its wake. But the one thing I've learned from Ray is that you NEVER give up in the fight against cancer. You hold your ground no matter how much it ravages you. If it hasn't killed you then continue to fight. Ray does his part by devoting his entire life to helping care for his mom despite the pervasive, tentacled grip of cancer. 

People have inquired about my well-being since Ray and I are unable to sustain a normal relationship. I silently laugh because my life has never been "normal" and griping about it is petty when I haven't experienced the trials and tribulations of caregiving. Twenty-two years ago I observed my mom care for my terminally ill grandmother at home and I was completely detached to her caregiving experiences. I know that everything is temporary, life ebbs and flows with mercurial, then calm seasons. Ray and I will have our own season but for now, his season continues to revolve around his mom. 


I believe that caregivers are unsung heroes whose tireless work needs to be acknowledged with high praise and glowing accolades. Their shoes are too big to fill and not all have the stamina or courage to walk in them. For caregivers, there are no extravagant ESPY awards show for recognition of services or commendable feats. If not for these stalwart soldiers devoting their lives in the battle against cancer there wouldn't be survivors to tell their tale of victory. 


Ray and his mom
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To help us in the battle against cancer, please donate any amount to my Leukemia & Lymphoma Team In Training  fundraising page below. Your help is greatly appreciated!