My aunt is dying. She was diagnosed with Stage 4 ovarian cancer five years ago and has done countless rounds of chemo, has gone into remission once, and no matter what, cancer comes back fiercer each time. My father brought his weak, frail sister to the emergency room for the second time in two weeks. She’s in terrible pain and all blocked up; nauseated and can’t eat.
Two weeks ago they aspirated ten pounds of liquid from her abdomen. When cancer cells spread to the lining of the abdomen (peritoneum), they can irritate it and cause fluid to build up. Also, cancer can block part of the lymphatic system so the fluid can’t drain out of the abdomen as usual. The following week she had another ten pounds of fluid drained so they inserted a catheter so it could continue to empty. But this wasn’t enough. She was still nauseated and throwing up so they put a tube up her nose down to her stomach to try to extract whatever black vile poisonous fluid was stuck inside her which was causing her this discomfort. They sucked it all out and she said she felt momentary relief.
It comes back: the pain, the blockages, the fluid. THE FUCKING CANCER ALWAYS RETURNS. Groundhog’s Day: The Evil Version.
As a family, we know we’re reaching the end of my dear aunt’s circle. I was there with her the day she got her diagnosis. I remember imagining this journey, never really being able to envision the effects on her psyche, on any of our mentalities. What it’s like to be sick for five years – every single day. What it’s like to wake up and imagine cancer spreading inside of you, a colorful dye spreading throughout the water, tinting the whole thing. How her entire life – beyond just her body – became consumed by this disease.
When my father is at his lowest, exhausted, devastated and utterly powerless, I encourage him to be strong, to take care of himself, not to let cancer corrode two lives. But it travels outside the body and taints the air with its acrimonious stench.
I was walking home from school with my 6-year-old daughter and my father called to say he was on his way to the hospital again. I stayed on the phone with him the entire walk and I explained to my daughter that my aunt, Deda’s (grandpa’s) sister, is dying and we’re extremely sad.
“Is she really dying?” My daughter asked.
“Yes, we’re all eventually going to die, but she is very sick and she is probably going to die soon. I don’t know what soon means, though.”
“That’s so sad,” my daughter says. “I feel so so bad for Deda. That’s his SISTER. His Reena [my sister].”
“Why me?” my sick aunt was crying to my father. “What did I do? I was a good person!”
She is a great person – one of those you use as a benchmark when you meet other people. Cancer is the greatest equalizer; the least prejudiced of us all. It curses the three-year-olds my husband entertains at the hospital and my aunt, the kindest woman in the world. Behavior or personality doesn’t bare weight in the court of cancer.
The doctors said there is one more chemo she can do, once a week, if she wants, but they aren’t sure if it will work. Either that or hospice.
We watch helplessly as it’s her turn to face the inevitable. You can’t escape it, can’t outrun it, can’t nuke it. It keeps coming back and strangling her from the inside out and we stand by unable to throw her a lifeline, watching her drown.