Friday, April 20, 2012

Keep on the Sunny Side

In the past ten years, I've lost a number of people to cancer or have had friends lose family to cancer. I've had friends diagnosed with and beat cancer. I have friends who are still struggling from the effects that cancer has wrought. Shoot, I found out just this last week that a friend is undergoing chemo. Everyone and their mother knows that cancer sucks. It takes away dreams. It takes away family. It does nothing by weave a path of destruction. However, anytime I hear someone talking about cancer I always think about my Uncle Richard.

Richard is Daddy's youngest brother. He was still in elementary school when his dad (my granddaddy) died from cancer (he was 45, if you're wondering). When I was born, Richard was probably about fifteen or sixteen. I remember we all even called him Baby Richard. He was the baby after all. And he was awfully spoiled. Everyone in the family pretty much took care of him. I also remember when Richard got married my mother sat all the nieces and nephews down and told us that we had to stop calling him Baby Richard because he was a grown-up now.

But being a grown-up hit him like a ton of bricks. First, he was shot. Through the head. Accidentally. Amazingly, the bullet went right through his mouth and just took out some teeth. No real damage, you know, other than having to have some false teeth put in and having some wounds that had to heal. He dodged that bullet, so to speak, but the next one that came for him, well, he wasn't so lucky. In his late twenties, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. I think it goes without saying, that we all know what kind of surgery is done for testicular cancer. A couple of years later, he was once again diagnosed with cancer. But this time it was lung cancer. He went through the chemo. All of his hair fell out. He lost lots of weight. My 6 foot 5 inch, almost 300 lb. uncle became my skinny uncle. The man who could still pick me up and hold me upside down by my feet when I was in high school, became weak and frail. It wasn't pretty. He came through the chemo pretty well, and was pronounced in remission. And then a couple of years later, he was once again diagnosed with testicular cancer. Another surgery later...and we thought he was finally in the clear.

But then, more bad news. About five or six years ago, he was diagnosed with leukemia. About two years into the treatments, he lost his job because he had pretty much maxed out his health benefits and was costing his employer more money than he was making them. He is in remission now, thanks to taking chemo orally pretty much every day.

So, why all this bad news about my uncle, right? Well, despite the fact that he has had some form of cancer pretty much for the past twenty years, I have never once heard him complain. I've seen his hands cramp so much from the chemo that he couldn't hold a fork to eat, but I've never once heard him complain about it. He has the most cheery disposition of anyone I've ever met. Everyone loves Richard. And it's easy to love him. How can you not love someone who is happy all the time? When he was a couple of years into the leukemia, his son was in a horrible accident, crushing all of the bones in his face. I went to the hospital with Richard to visit his son. We were having to communicate with him on a white board because he couldn't speak. At one point in our conversation, he wrote that "he just couldn't do this anymore" because he was in so much pain. Richard took him by the shoulders, looked him right in the eye, and said "don't you give up, don't ever give up". Suffice it to say, I had to walk out of the room. Because here was this man, who had battled cancer three times and was battling leukemia then, telling his son who just had physical injuries to not give up. In the past twenty years, he'd had plenty of times to give up. Plenty of times to throw himself a pity party. Plenty of times to wave the white flag of surrender. But he never did. And honestly, I think that no matter what is thrown his way, he never will give up. He's just to strong. Cancer has ravaged his body, but it hasn't been able to take away his spirit. There doesn't seem to be any amount of rain that can ruin his sunny disposition. And for that, he is my hero.