In August as my husband and I were driving to New Orleans for a Fly Tackle Dealer Show, we decided at the last moment to call my brother who lives in Mobile, Alabama. Because we had left so late that morning, we had decided not to contact him on the way there. Then, I had this “gut” feeling that I should call him and see if he and his wife could meet us for dinner. They had just finished a pizza and asked if we’d like to stop by. After arriving at his home 20 minutes later, my brother announced that he had just received some bad news. His doctor had called him an hour and a half earlier to tell him that he had leukemia. His only symptoms were that he felt tired and had recently collapsed after fishing all day and suspected he had suffered a sun stroke.
The word “leukemia” coming from my older brother made me numb. My brother and I are both in our mid-sixties and expect that we will experience more health problems as we get older. But, when you hear the word “cancer” coming from a sibling, it just stuns you! My husband and I drove onto New Orleans that night, but for the next few days and weeks I felt that there was a dark cloud hovering over my head; I could not see the sunlight. I just couldn’t adjust to what was happening to my brother. He found out the following day that he had Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. Apparently, this type of cancer gets worse quickly if it is not treated immediately. The leukemia cells can spread outside the blood to other parts of the body, including the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord), the skin and gums. People can go into remission with AML but it is not curable.
Knowing his diagnosis, a friend of my brother’s advised him to go to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. He and his family flew there the next day, and on his 29th wedding anniversary, he was admitted to the hospital. They immediately started giving him chemotherapy, blood transfusions and within a week secluded him in an isolation area for more intense treatments. He was to stay there 30 days; but his body responded so well that he was out of isolation in a little over three weeks. He was discharged on his 67th birthday. He returned home to Mobile but had to fly back again within two weeks for more chemotherapy. Then back home again.
Since my brother has been back in Mobile (where his doctors said he could stay and have his blood taken and monitored), he’s been trying to get his life back to normal. He continues to work out at the gym to keep his strength up and goes to his office as much as possible. I just talked with his wife today who said that results of today’s blood tests were very low and that my brother was exhausted. Because his white blood count and neurophils are so low, he cannot go back to work or to the gym or be out in public. He has to receive two more blood transfusions tomorrow and return to M.D. Anderson in two weeks. Just when we think he’s recovering from his month-long ordeal in Houston, he’s back to having more transfusions.
Since there are 12 of us in the family, he has a strong support system to back him up if he needs a bone marrow transplant (which is the last resort since it carries the highest risk). All eleven of us were sent empty vials to have filled with our own blood for matching purposes. We’ve all sent them back, somehow feeling a part of the healing process for my older brother.
So, as things stand today, cancer in the family is still looming over our lives. There are so many uncertainties; so many unknown factors on what lies ahead. All we can do is hope and pray each day that he will stay in remission; I say that knowing he’s really not in remission; it’s just a word they use when the lab tests are looking good. Then, the next time, he needs a transfusion. The one thing that keeps us all strong is my brother’s attitude. My sister-in-law says he is so amazing; his spirits are always high and he continues to stay active in every aspect of his life. He is an inspiration to us all. I asked him tonight how he feels after the recent tests results. He sounded positive and says it’s just a learning process. He’s taking one day at a time. Life continues and cherishing our loved ones and this precious life we have is all we can do.
My youngest sister is keeping up his website on www.CaringBridge.org which is a non-profit website “helping family and friends when health matters most.” It has kept us all connected to my brother and his progress. Friends from his past are logging in and cheering him on. It has been a great support system for my brother and our family.