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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

When the door opened, the first words spoken were: "She just peed herself." And then I was handed a surgical mask and gloves and was led to a room where five fumbling, heartbroken adults were trying to get my 25-year-old cousin off of the couch so they could change her.

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This has been coming for awhile. Since that day in 2008, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 20. I remember crying at my desk at work: My favorite cousin, the one who is more sister than any real sister I could have ever had or imagined.

We all thought: Maybe she will win. And there were glimpses of possibility, like that time we went tubing down the Russian River or when the marathon was cancelled and we wandered all over the city or when she visited me in Seattle -- one of the first to come -- and we went to Hot Cakes twice because the molten chocolate lava cake was just that good.

But the cancer spread and ended up in her brain. First, her left leg got weak. And then the left side of her body. And now she cannot move her limbs or her head. There are seizures. She blinks rapidly. She drools. She stares at the wall. Drinking water makes her choke and cough.

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I don't allow myself to ask why, largely because I know there is no answer.

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The last time I saw her was in December. We watched Julie Delpy movies and concluded that Julie Delpy is hopelessly neurotic. Both of us decided we never wanted to be like Julie Delpy. We would be stronger than that, with better communication skills.

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Imagine what it is like to watch someone you love waste away slowly. What it is like to walk through that door and not recognize her because she has changed so much. What it is like to have to take her pants off, her diapers off, to have to hold her up while she stands half-naked in her parents' living room, and her mom cleans her. What it is like to not be sure if she sees you and also half-hope that she doesn't because you don't want her to be embarrassed or worry about what is happening.

And when everything is over and she is back in her sweats and sitting on the couch and the pillows are in the right places, you lose it. You try so hard, but you still lose it. You look her in the eye, and you completely break down and sob into that stupid surgical mask. 

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When she was still in New York, she loved to read menus. She would walk all over the city, pausing outside restaurants to read that day's offerings. I read her menus today. And she said one word, the only word she spoke to me all day: "Yum."

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My brother thinks it will happen this weekend. He flew down for this too -- arrived yesterday, went back to Sacramento this afternoon. We talked about what it was like to see her this way, if it was better or if we should have just waited, so our last memory of her would've been different. I think it's good to know. I wanted to know. 

We will be sad for a long time, perhaps maybe even a little sad forever. 

"Are you OK?" he said.

"It will be fine," I said. "We keep going. Because what else are we going to do?"

1 comment:

Layla said...

This made me tear up at work. I don't have any words to make you feel better or cures to make her better. But I agree that you made the right choice to go see her now, rather than keep your December memories as the last ones. On some level, she knows you came to visit her -- you took time away from your life and your work, knowing it would be no vacation, because she matters to you. Nothing can ever take that away from her, or from you.

 
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