My cousin battled and overcame cancer when she was a kid. We are the same age and lived within half an hour of each other at the time. She must have been around 10 or 12 years old when she was diagnosed. Our families were pretty close and I remember seeing them often. I was too young and stupid to know what was really going on. I just knew that at one point my cousin all of a sudden didn't have any hair and wore a kerchief over her head for quite a while. Her hair came back and everything was back to normal. That was my impression of cancer for a long time. You got cancer, you lost your hair for a bit, and then everything was good again.
The reality of cancer eventually dawned on me but that never really coloured my memories of what my cousin and her family must have gone through at that time. Until today. Today I learned that my wee cousin had a brain tumour 25 years ago. For some reason, knowing the exact type of cancer shook me awake to the fact that her ordeal was not the walk in the park that 10 year old TBone thought it was.
I know this now because we spent the afternoon at her husband's funeral. He passed away last Saturday. He too had survived a brain tumour, diagnosed at the age of 10. But his treatment left him physically weakened with a degenerative condition that progressively took away his balance and mobility. He didn't live as long as most people but he definitely packed as much life as he could into the time he had.
I've been thinking about him a lot this week. He truly was a remarkable person. Life had given him such challenges so early in his life, I am amazed that instead of withdrawing from society (as I would) he went out and demanded interaction. He ended up founding a charity group to help survivors of childhood cancer get in touch with each other and participate in group activities. It was through this organization that he met my cousin. Rebounders.ca. Reading through that site made me doubly honoured to have known him.
Faith was a big part of his life. And my cousin's. It made them fairly unique in my family. They were never pushy about it but they never tried to hide it either. It was part of them and probably had a lot to do with keeping them strong and marching over any obstacles that got in their way. Faith isn't part of my life but I truly hope that it is bringing my cousin and her two boys some comfort during this difficult time.
The service was a tough one to get through. Each story seemed more gut-wrenching than the last. I nearly had a breakdown when my cousin got up to speak. It was humbling to see the vast turnout as the church was absolutely packed. For a guy who was pretty slow moving around, he certainly managed to touch a lot of people's lives.
Typically, I'd be writing a vengeful, crass piece about the pure ass-fuckery of cancer. But to honour Andrew, I'll just add my small voice to the many who have already commented on what a good man he was and how special he made us feel for having known him.
p.s. Fuck cancer! Give in any way possible to fight the disease or support the survivors!