It truly is the ugliest, most contemptible word in the English language.
If you don’t agree with me, quickly (within the next 60 seconds) try to think of ten other words synonymous with body-and-mind-devouring-pain. I’ll wait.
In the meantime I can address another ‘C’ word, a good word seldom used when contemplating someone with a life threatening illness: caretaker. Yet there we are. Right by the invalid’s side without complaint, because who are we to gripe about life in the face of someone who may be dying?
It was five in the morning the day when I discovered the cold truth about cancer. My mom, a primary caretaker, had already left for work and I was alone in the apartment with her.
This was unlike other times—whenever I had to be with her (which was all the time, really), there had always been at least one other person there. My uncle was with me the day she needed assistance using the bathroom; feeling a strong sense of urgency coming from the patient we lifted the night shirt over her head.
“Hurry up,” he implored.
I did my best, but the mass of her body (albeit emaciated due to a drastically diminished appetite) was far too much for me to support. After wrestling for several minutes, we were able to get her on the commode at her bedside and my uncle immediately left her for privacy.
For some reason he thought I would be able to get the ailing woman back into bed by myself—despite the fact that the two of us had a hard time getting her out in the first place. Struggling to pull an extra absorbent diaper over her legs, I panicked for fear of being rushed again.
Trying not to lose my composure—but failing—I called my uncle back to the room. I know he (out of respect) did not want to be there to see this woman naked if possible.
He asked why I hadn’t called him sooner. I didn’t know that I could, quite honestly.
Within minutes, she was back in bed. All that was left was to wait for the visiting nurse to arrive. Too tired to even guess what the brown substance was on the bottom of her feet, I reached for the bottle of spray on body wash most commonly used on infants.
Maybe that is exactly how I have to treat her. It would certainly make things easier. The substance was gone, but the scent lingered. That must be the disease. I didn’t say anything.
“What’s that smell?” My mom had returned from work, her nose sensitive as ever.
I looked down. There was poop on the floor.
The sound of my name snapped me out of my flashback. I looked at my iphone; five-fifteen. Though I was lying in bed right next to her, she screamed my name as if I were in the living room. The sadness induced by my reverie had to take a back seat.
I popped up and went to her side. Still, the screaming did not stop.
“I’m right here, don’t worry. What do you need?”
“I need change.”
Checking her clothes to make sure she didn’t need to be changed, she insisted that I give her coins. I decided to play along. What else can you do with someone whose mind is slowly being destroyed by something so awful?
Not herself—as she hadn’t been for a few weeks—she resisted every attempt I made to give her anti-agitation medicine. But she had always been there for me, I wanted to be there for her then. She has been gone a little over two years now.
Even after it’s over, that monstrosity, the ‘C’ word still manages to find you.
If I have one more dream about being diagnosed with cancer, I just might go out of my mind.
At least I know why these dreams keep coming to me at night…it is not so hard to figure out after watching someone you love take their final breaths after an arduous year of battling the cell-consuming illness.
For two years, that someone had been my grandmother, or “Memom,” as I affectionately called her. As the disease ran its course, her final stages of life left her a shadow of the high quality person she truly was. Though her brain cells had been ravaged by the sickness, she never ceased to make it clear how much she loved me.
“I believe you, Jeanine,” She would say after a bout of narcotic-induced uncooperativeness. She would put an arm around me or hold my hand.
That was just the type of woman she was.