The C Word Strikes Again

The C Word Strikes Again

I just received a text from my sister-in-law, Barbara:

“All prayers welcomed! Doctors have found Mark to have a growing brain tumor. Gamma Knife procedure scheduled for this Thursday. The doctors feel this intense radiation would be better, for fear trying to operate would cause it to spread. The girls have arranged to be with us. And I know you all are with us in spirit, love & prayers!!”

My brother, Mark, has been through a long war with cancer, earning the nickname, ‘The Bull’, from his doctors, as no one has survived as long as he has with the type of cancers he has faced. Mark’s battle began about ten years ago when he was diagnosed with lung cancer. The tumor metastasized, throwing fourteen brain tumors, followed by an adrenal gland tumor, and then prostate cancer. He faced radiation, chemo, and two brain surgeries that left deep marks where the bolts had been screwed too tightly into his skull, along with severe problems with his short-term memory. Throughout all of this, Mark exercised every day, and continued working as Vice-President of a big company in Atlanta, scheduling his chemo on Friday afternoons so that he would have the weekend to recover. He stayed positive and relied heavily on his faith. The local news station even did a story on him, as he had inspired and mentored a friend’s child who had been diagnosed with brain cancer.

Cancer has not been a stranger to my family, and its impact has been deeply felt. My father died of complications from prostate cancer, my sister, Sharon, died of lung cancer, my brother, Bud, died of a heart attack but had prostate cancer, my Aunt Robbie died of lung cancer, my Aunt Sara died of brain cancer, my brother Mark’s struggles…and I have lost one of my dearest friends to cancer. It is a horribly cruel disease, and I have to admit that each time I go in for any kind of cancer screening, my stomach is in knots until I get the all clear. Mom lived in fear of cancer her whole life.

Mark was my idol when I was a child. He had been the baby of the family until my surprise arrival ten years after his birth. In recent years, we have not been close. We disagreed often about how best to help Mom in her last years, and Mark became fanatical in his religious and political views, which are pretty much the polar opposite of mine. It reached a point where I couldn’t be around him without being preached to or ridiculed for my views, and he did the same with Mom. It became easier for both of us to grow more distant, and I am sorry for that. He is a loving husband, father, and grandfather, and has built a very successful life. I hope and pray that he is able to write the book he has planned to inspire and encourage those facing cancer.

This is all so close on the heels of losing Mom, who passed away on Mark’s birthday in August, and I can still see Mark so clearly, speaking at Mom’s celebration. I feel the tears coming yet again, the sadness threatening to overwhelm me. I will let it wash over me for a little while as I process what this all means, but then it’s time to follow my brother’s example and be positive and brave. It’s time to put away our differences and remember our shared blood, our shared history, to be family. I think of how bravely Mom faced the end of her life, and how bravely and ferociously Mark has fought to stay alive for his family all these years. I can only hope that I have a portion of their strength in my heart, as I am determined to face my life with courage and gratitude, no matter what happens.

Seeing you in the light, Mark. You are The Bull, one of the bravest people I know. Namaste.

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