Since my last actual blog posting, prior to my 9/11 post, I believe it was May 3, 2021, my brother, Joseph, lost his battle with small-cell cancer. I was silent and did not blog about this experience, however much I wanted to. I should have, maybe. But I did not want to bring others down, or appear to act like we were all the only ones going through it. Or that he was the only one dying. Truth is, really, that if I did post it here and made it public, it would be true then. Facing his loss in silence might just make it go away. The truth actually was – if I had shared my experiences, maybe it would’ve been helpful to not just me, but anyone else suffering the losing of anyone they loved. And another real truth…I thought about at the time…was why am I moaning? After all, I was not the one dying. I did not know what to do.
Joe died about two months short of his 57th birthday. He could not take the treatments he needed to extend his life with any quality due to he had Rheumatoid Arthritis. It was explained that the immunotherapy he needed would severely cripple him if the RA was not in remission. He was able to take the treatment once due to the RA was in remission. But the treatments caused the RA to make a comeback, thereby being a main cause of his death. He fought this, and I could do nothing to help him. I just did what I could to take other burdens from him. I focused on what I could aid him with, or what I could fix, to make life easier for him so he could concentrate on other things. I think it helped him a small bit. He told other people that it did, and that he was grateful and he “didn’t know what I would’ve done without her.” That’s what I was told. It makes me feel better that I was able to do something to ease his burdens, since I could not save his life.
My brother worked his whole adult life as a commercial truck driver. 18-wheelers mostly. He had good jobs, decent pay and usually had perks and benefits with most of these jobs. But, when he could not work any longer – which was immediately at the time of his diagnosis. He was already sick for a long time before it got to where he could not close the doors of a container; even turn the large steering wheel. Well, he ended up on state benefits for the 11 months he lived after. Blue Cross Blue Shield, who I will call out right here, gave him few options for his treatments. Always denying, denying, fighting, fighting. But not fighting for my brother who paid taxes and worked his whole life. No they fought AGAINST his doctors and his treatments. I hate that company. Trash. I often wished I was a millionaire so that I could have taken my brother to a place like Cancer Treatments Centers of America, or even just over to Rush. I do not feel that the care he got at the medical system he was in was so great either. My brother was very ill the last week he lived. He had symptoms his girlfriend – who he lived with – could not find reason for. She called and called the cancer doctor. Over and over again. She got nothing from them at first. Then doctor said — there’s no reason for a particular symptom he was having. And that was it.
Well, yes there was – it was liver cancer. The day of his last cancer doctor office appointment, he ended up going to the emergency room, being admitted and dying two days later. Of course, there would have really been nothing they could have done during the week before. But, WTF! Sometimes, I think maybe it was better that he never knew what hit him. But, I know. I remember. I will remember forever.
Joe’s cancer was diagnosed in early June 2020 and he was told by his cancer doctor that it was absolutely cause from smoking cigarettes. Our story as siblings is a long one, but in short he was estranged from me and some other family for over two years. It does not matter at this point whose fault it originally was, but we all had chances to fix it and did not take those chances. Everyone is guilty, so let us just let it go at that. In the end, for the last year of his life, we were together. That’s what mattered most.
He was ill for quite some time before he was diagnosed. Thereby giving him a lesser chance of better treatments for a longer life with quality. He and his doctors attempted to fight this disease as it spread throughout his body. They were successful at shutting it down with chemo and radiation each time it hit somewhere, or some strange seemingly non-cancerous lesion showed up in a place. The cancer started in his lungs, and they got rid of it; it never returned there. Small-cell is just everywhere. It travels all around like a train running full-speed ahead with nothing to stop it, and only, and just maybe, able to slow it down here and there at a curve. It just keeps rolling, boldly, during the light of day, even right smack-dab at high noon…like a villainous gunslinger. You can just barely catch up to it, but you can never get in front of that filthy bitch.
Due to not being able to get life-extending immunotherapy, liver cancer took him out. The toxins crushed him and destroyed his body in a short few days. The day my brother died, hospice was supposed to come to the hospital to care for him. The cancer doctor wanted him to have in-hospital hospice. Well, the hospice called on to care for him did not take his stupid, worthless state-issued Medicaid Blue Cross – that insurance not accepted anywhere, by anyone who could have truly helped him during the last year of his life.
So, in the last hours of his death, starting at about 5pm on Friday, 05/21/21, his long-time girlfriend looked at me and my sister, and our mother, and said, “Well, it looks like we’re hospice.” It upset us all at first. But as the minutes rolled on, we would not have had it any other way. The hospital staff at Christ Hospital took good care of him in his final hours, and I commend them – the nurses who made his dying easier. I wish that I could describe to you what my brother went through that night. All I can say is that if you smoke – stop! And, while my brother was not a drinker, I’d recommend that if you drink too much. Stop it! It was so horrific I nearly had a nervous breakdown. Our then 85 year old mother, now 86, watched her only son dying and could not do anything about it. Do not let your parents or children see you die like that. Stop smoking! It was awful to see.
My father died in 10/2000. He went peacefully. Without moving. Without sound. Not my brother. I was NOT expecting this horror. I learned then that not all of us will go peacefully or quietly into the night…or day…or winter…or summer.
Our mother was tired, and after the medical staff calmed my brother’s body down, I took Mom home. Traveling at night with little traffic, the hospital is only about 20 minutes from our house. I was only gone a little more than 45 when he left us. I was on my way back to the hospital, unaware of what was happening there as I raced back. I made a right turn and then there it was. The smell of stale cigarettes on a hot summer day. It caught me off guard and then I recall saying aloud, “No. Wait for me.” But he did not wait, as by the time the spirit visits us, the body has stopped working.
When I arrived back to the hospital room, he was still. Our sister and Joe’s girlfriend were just sitting there, quiet. They told me the staff was in to check him once but thought they heard vital signs. Then the charge nurse came in soon after I arrived, and then went to get a doctor. Doctor came in and looked at the clock. She checked him for several minutes, then called his time of death at 11:11pm, 05/21/21. And I will never be the same.
I wrote the following poem quickly to read at Joe’s graveside during his funeral. I have tweaked it a bit since, but I will share it here. It might not make sense to you, but it does to me.
I will miss you, Joe, for the rest of my life. Until we meet again…….
SUMMER CAME EARLY
(a tribute to my brother, Joe: August 20, 1964 – May 21, 2021)
Born in the summer
Summer turned into spring
Spring imitated summer
Because summer was really not meant to be
In among the daylight
Daylight out by dusk
Dusk turned into a balmy night
When spring imitated summer
Out before daylight
Light up among the stars
Stars shine bright
In the balmy spring night
Night be damned
Damned be the light of day
Day of the passing of a summer’s star
Star gone by quickly
Too quickly burned out
Gone out to light up
Up before the stars
Star amidst the galaxy
Galaxy of stars of that balmy spring night
Born in the summer
Summer stolen by spring
Spring then imitated summer
Because summer was really not meant to be
Copyright 2021 Wanda S. Paryla
My big brother, Joe, and I – January 2021.