LUNG FORCE Heroes
In October, 2006, I was leaving the office at 7 o'clock at night and I got a phone call from my brother. I was quite surprised because my brother was estranged from his family for a few years. When I answered, he asked me for my parent’s phone number, which I knew he had. I asked him what was going on and he told me he was in the hospital and just diagnosed with lung cancer. He had been in the hospital almost five days. His landlord noticed he wasn’t acting right, and having trouble understanding what my brother was saying. He insisted on taking my brother to the hospital thinking he was having a stroke. My brother had been having headaches, but he didn’t think anything about it, and was having another one. Due to the circumstances of not speaking with my brother for a few years, I didn’t know quite what to say. After all, how could he drop this on me after all these years. I told him I was sorry to hear this and to let me know if there is anything I could do. He said he was going to call my parents, and we hung up.
I waited and called my parents about an hour and a half later only to find out that my brother had not called them, and he never did. So I had to be the one to tell my parents that their son had lung cancer. I knew I was going to go down the next day to see him, but my mom wasn't sure when she would be going. I think she might have been in shock that I was telling her about her son rather than her son calling them. I then called my sister and told her about our brother.
The next day my sister and I went down to see my brother at the hospital which was not in the best area of town. We walked into my brother’s room laughing and smiling because of something that happened on our way to his room. My brother had a very sad look on his face, and after asking how he was, he told us not very good at all, the doctors had just told him he was terminal. The smile and the laughter went away and we really didn't know what to say. His cancer had metastasized to his brain, which the doctors said doesn’t usually go that fast. Both the lung and brain cancers were inoperable, and they gave him 14-months to live. Hence, another phone call to my parents, who did visit him the following day.
My brother was in the hospital for a couple more weeks, and began chemo and radiation treatment. I went to see him almost every day, took him slippers, baked him his favorite cookies, and took him his favorite candy bars. He made sure to share with the nursing staff, and would call to let me know when he needed more cookies and candy bars. It was like we never lost touch of one another, and bygones would be bygones.
As months went on, Cliff was feeling better with treatment, and we talked quite often. In the Spring of 2007, he and his wife took a trip to Florida to see his best friend, who he hadn’t seen in 20-yrs. Cliff was so excited to be going, and we knew it was his way to say good-bye to his best friend. When he got home, he called several out-of-town family members that he hadn’t spoken to in many, many years. Another time of saying good-bye. In June, 2007, after he got home from Florida, we all met at our parent’s house for dinner. To our amazement, he pulled up in a new car, something he had always wanted, and was so proud to show it off to everyone. He looked very tired, and was wearing a hat because he had lost all of his hair. He was also very swollen, which I knew was a bad sign. He had just finished treatment before he went to Florida.
My brother and his wife did not know what to do with bank accounts, car loan, and other things you need to know and do before he passed away. I called the banks, the credit union, and the attorney. Before I knew it, I was putting everything in order for my brother’s passing and to make sure his wife was alright afterwards. This is not something I ever thought I would have to do for my brother who just turned 55-years old.
As time went on, Cliff got worse, and the swelling was unbearable at times. The cancer eventually metastasized to his esophagus, which made it very hard to eat. We continued to talk, but he was tired and didn’t often want visitors, except for me. On Thanksgiving Eve, 2007, I picked him up to take him to lunch. When I went in to get him, he was frail and very heavy and his hair had grown back frizzy. By this time, he was using a cane to walk. We were gone 3.5 hours, and he ate like he hadn’t eaten before, and we talked and talked. His voice was getting tired but he didn’t want to leave. Of course, he had food to take home because it was hard for him to eat. On our way home, we had to stop and get two milkshakes because they felt good on his throat.
We were excited for Christmas Eve because Cliff and his wife were going to come to my sister’s house for a family gathering. However, I got a call the first week of December, 2007, and Cliff had taken a turn for the worse and was in the hospital. I got their as soon as I could, and the pain and swelling he was enduring was horrible. He made me, along with his wife, the only people the doctors and nurses could talk to. I had to be the one to talk to the palliative care staff, and prepare everyone for what was to come. The doctors put gates in his thighs and groin area to keep the fluid from going up to his heart and lungs. As the days went on, I basically lived at the hospital. It was very hard to watch him in pain, and his moods were not the best. One time he got mad, and threw his Kleenex box and his cell phone at me. Of course, I just said I hoped he felt better getting whatever it was out of his system. But then, he heard the bell that rings through the hospital when a newborn baby is born, and he got all excited and was in a good mood again. He always loved hearing the bell when a new baby was born. For some reason, this surprised me, and also made me very happy to see him light up when the bell rang.
One day he was somewhat down, and it was snowing. His hospital view was a brick wall, but we told him it was snowing. Cliff loved snow, so I went downstairs to a restaurant, got 3 small cups, went out and filled them up with snow, and we had a snow ball fight in his hospital room. It was so good to see him laugh, and the nurses loved it, even though thinking we were crazy. My parents were coming to see him, so we had to clean the room up and dry the floor. He wanted them to see him out of bed, and his hair combed, so we helped get him in a wheel chair, and cleaned him up. When they came, I went down to the waiting room to give them their time. After all, I was there every day. After they left, it took the nurses and his wife an hour to put him back into bed. I sat outside of his room on a bench, and listened to him cry and scream somewhat, it was awful. They kept having to medicate him to take the pain away before they could put him back in his bed. I cried sitting on the bench, and couldn't wait to just give him a hug. He was never out of a bed again, until the funeral home took him away Christmas Eve.
After two-weeks, Cliff got out of the hospital and went home. He had hospice care, and was so swollen he couldn’t get out of bed. They made a room downstairs, rented a hospital bed, and set-up shop for his remaining days. Cliff never saw his bedroom again, as it was upstairs. He kept saying he would be at my sister’s on Christmas Eve, but we knew better. My parents, sister and I went to visit him a week before he passed. He looked good, except for the swelling, and was in a great mood. The hospice nurses were encouraged, and felt he would live until February. He was on several doses of morphine, and other drugs, but he was determined to live a couple more months, and make it Christmas Eve. When we left, I didn’t think he would be gone the following week.
I got sick that last week of his life, and didn’t have much of a voice. I only talked to him a couple times because he would get frustrated if he couldn’t hear me. Early morning on December 23rd, I got a call from a friend of my sister-in-law’s. I will NEVER forget what I heard coming from my brother’s room. Nothing but screaming, screaming like I have never heard before. All I could say is “Oh my God, that is my brother!” She said if I wanted to see Cliff before he died, we needed to come now. So, I called my parents, sister, nieces and nephews. When we arrived, Cliff was very heavily medicated, and eyes were closed, but I knew he could hear us. My nephew said a prayer over him, and I know he knew we were there. The nurses were in shock, but they think the gates burst and all the fluid went everywhere they didn’t want it to. At one point, I was holding his hand, and he touched my hand. It was our last time to see Cliff still breathing, but he was no longer in pain. I was glad my parents and family never heard the screaming that I heard. To this day, I still hear it when I think of him.
That evening, close to midnight, I got a phone call that my brother had passed. He was pronounced dead at 12:10 am, Christmas Eve. I had to call my parents, sister, and my kids to tell them. No one can understand how hard that was for me, but I became Cliff’s caretaker almost from the time he told me he had lung cancer, and it was my responsibility to let his/my family know. I called my mom again around 1:00 am to make sure she and my dad were alright. Instead of me comforting my mom, she asked if she needed to come to me because I on the other hand, was not doing well. I kept hearing the screaming of my brother for his last final hours before being heavily medicated for his pain. At 1:10 am while still on the phone with mom, I looked outside my living room window, and saw it was snowing. Snow was not in the forecast anywhere for the holiday, and it had not snowed yet that year. I said to my mom, “Oh my gosh mom, it’s snowing - Cliff loved snow and it’s snowing for Cliff!” She said it wasn’t snowing where she lived, 8 minutes up the road. I called my sister, not snowing where she lived, 3 minutes from my house, I called my daughter who lived 5 minutes away, and not snowing there, and then my son who lived 3 streets over from me, and not snowing at his house. Only at my house, for around 10-minutes, and only covered my flower beds. The next day, I asked my sister-in-law if she had any snow, and she did not. However, the funeral home came and got Cliff at 1:10 am and they were there about 10-minutes!!! I cried so hard when I heard no one else had snow but me. It was my brother’s way of saying good-bye to his sister, and thanking her for being his caretaker, other than his wife.
That evening on Christmas Eve, the family and a couple close friends did go to my sister’s house, and instead of celebrating the holiday, we celebrated my brother’s life. It was a sad evening, as I knew how much Cliff wanted to be with us. But it was a warm atmosphere, and I felt his presence throughout the entire evening. He WAS with us.
It wasn’t over because he had passed. I now had to plan his funeral arrangements. I took his wife to pick-out flowers, and it was my choice. I had to secure a church, which wasn’t easy during the holidays, write-up the obituary, and anything related to the funeral. Again, not something I had ever planned.
Being a caregiver to my brother was not easy, in fact it was very hard. Not only time consuming (especially working a full-time 9-hr a day job), but hard to watch him in pain, looking like a Sumo wrestler because of the pounds and pounds of fluid due to lung failure and medications, and watching him deteriorate week by week. But, I got to know him all over again, and one thing I learned about him was shocking to me. He never complained, never. Got in bad moods and nasty at times, but never complained, never said “why me?” I would like more research done for lung cancer. No one should have to go through what my brother did, no one!
I love and miss my brother every day, but know he is with my parents, and they are all looking down on us as our guardian angels.
First published: November 26, 2018
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