druidspell: Broken (Broken)
Walking into that hospital room, I was probably more frightened than I'd ever been in my life. Aunt Anne, Ross' dad Randy, our grandparents, my Aunt Linda, my Aunt Doris, and my mom, sisters, and I all crowded around Ross' hospital bed (which dwarfed him--Ross was about 3'4", and the bed was adult-sized). He was hooked up to so many tubes and machines, and the TV was playing something asinine, and Ross was still screaming. Tears and snot were all over his face (my mom's family does not have the ability to cry beautifully, and Ross is no exception to that; no seven year old is). He was upset and in pain, and above all that he was hungry because he had to have tests run that required him to not eat or drink for 24 hours. It had been 12 when we got there.
It was cloudy and chilly, and I remember both how everyone gave Ross Beanie Babies while he was in the hospital, and also how everyone was so much angrier all the time--people were fed up with everyone; my Aunt Doris talked shit about Ross' dad like she was being paid to do it.
Myself, I remember being filled with sick, desperate fear, and rage I thought would never end. I wanted the whole world to disappear, just leave me and a Ross who would get better, who would stop wasting away, would stop crying, would stop being sick and pale and weak, would make me not feel so helpless. I wanted his doctors who'd missed the problem to be dragged over broken glass and burning coals, wanted to somehow infect them with Ewing's Sarcoma, the disease that was eating him up inside. I wanted my classmates, teachers, and family to somehow intuit that my heart was breaking, and treat me more gently than they were--more than that, I wanted the strength to tell them that my heart was breaking, and mandate that they treat me more gently.
Every day in Sr. Theresa Giardino's class (dear gods, may this lady rest in peace), I offered up my prayer intentions that my cousin would be cured. A few people asked me about it, and I remember Sister once remarked that it was really admirable the way I prayed for him every single day. But there were entire notebooks filled with one simple phrase: Please let Ross be cured. Please let Ross be cured. Please let Ross be cured.
And finally, finally, finally, after they'd done chemo and radiation and removed his appendix and tonsils and done a bone marrow and stem cell transplant, finally he came home. He was tiny--not just in weight (although he was that, too--he weighed something like 25 pounds at eight and a half) but also in height; he was still 3'4". The way chemotherapy works, one of the things it does is attacks rapidly growing cells. Well, in a seven year old boy, every cell is a rapidly growing cell. For a year and a half, Ross hadn't grown at all. He had no hair except for a few stubborn wisps on his head (none on his arms or legs, no eyebrows, no eyelashes), he was pale as death (because the cancer treatment reacted badly with UV light), he was severely underweight (because the chemo always made him sick, and for a long time he couldn't keep food down at all--they put an IV line in him for essential nutrients), he had a tunneled catheter line in his chest (and still has the scar from it), and he was the most precious thing I'd ever seen. Ross had to take the rest of the year off from school so that he missed first and second grades (he had a private tutor) and I babysat him every Friday night--some nights Aunt Anne wouldn't even go out, and I'd still stay over, because part of me couldn't bear to let him out of my sight for a weekend. While he was in the hospital one of the chaplains taught him to play chess, and when he was released, he taught me. (I was good enough to beat some people, and while I was there I was intensely dedicated to learning, but chess is never going to be my game; I'm just not good enough at plotting out moves and counter-moves far enough in advance to regularly triumph.) He also got me into trading Pokemon cards, and we'd battle Pokemon and watch the first movie for hours and hours--I probably spent, no joke, more than $500 on cards, most of which I didn't keep for myself; if there was one that Ross wanted, I'd give it up (not always without a fight). I still have a binder filled with the cards too precious for me to give away when I got out of the game.
druidspell: For you? Anything. (Anything)
I've talked around Ross' sickness a lot--the most common phrase I use is a variation on "when I was twelve, I watched this boy die by inches." And for what it is, that's a phrase that says a lot: I was young, he was incredibly sick, the illness lasted a long time and took him away bit by bit.
Here's what I haven't said since I actually was twelve.

First, the basic facts:

  1. Ross is my younger cousin on my mom's side; his mother is my mom's "Irish twin" sister.
    • Mom and Aunt Anne are 376 days apart. Mom is the oldest in her family of 8 siblings; the five oldest are all roughly a year or so apart--the biggest age gap is between Aunt Anne and the next sibling, my Aunt Doris.

  2. Ross is often referred to as my twin separated at birth (by five years, two different sets of parents, and different hospitals.) He's my mini-me, my best friend, my most treasured person in my life.
    • Possibly even more than my soulsister, but it's hard to say; once someone's that close, it becomes a "how many angels on the head of a pin" question: it's impossible to answer for sure, and debating it is something only people with a lot of time on their hands and a desperate need of a hobby discuss.

  3. I began babysitting Ross every Friday night when I was eleven and he was six; I stole the job from my older sister Stephanie.
  4. In April 1998, when he was six and a half years old, he began complaining of leg pain. His mother took him to the pediatrician, who couldn't find a reason for the pain, but advised him to take hot baths to relax his leg muscles and ease the pain.
  5. In July 1998, the family took a trip down to Huntsville, Alabama to celebrate the wedding of my Uncle Willie. Ross complained of such severe pain that several of our relatives were concerned. Aunt Anne was mostly frustrated at this point; for three months he'd been complaining, and there was no reason any doctor could find for him to be hurting.
  6. By late September 1998, in the space of five months, Ross had been to the pediatrician more than most children go the doctor in five years. He'd gotten every diagnosis from growing pains (hot baths, exercise) to constipation (drinking castor oil every night before supper and again before bed) to making it all up for attention. He was taking two or three hot baths a night, because the pain wouldn't stop--he'd take more when I was babysitting; four was typical, but five or six weren't out of the question.
  7. Early October 1998: Ross turned seven. His birthday was on a Sunday, and I remember that it was a perfect fall day: sunny, clear, a little windy, and the trees were turning from green to gold and orange and red. Everything was idyllic. He tried to get me to play Pokemon with him, and we played with his massive collection of LEGOs and dinosaurs; he had that Jurassic Park dinosaur toy whose rib meat detached and showed the bone and bloody muscle... it was my favorite.
  8. This was when I was in 6th grade, and our school district had just moved to modified-year-round schedule, which gave us two weeks off in October. Two days after his birthday, my sister and I were at home when our grandmother called. I answered the phone, and she said that Ross was in the hospital; some tests from the doctor had come back with results the doctor didn't like, but she didn't say what they were.
    • The next night, Aunt Anne called with the test results and the diagnosis.

  9. I was in the living room watching Full House in the dark, and Stephanie, Mom, and Andrea (home on break from college) were in the kitchen talking. Mom answered when Aunt Anne called, and I thought I heard them say the word "cancer." I came into the kitchen, and I remember blinking because the bright light disoriented me. Andrea and Steph looked really upset, and Mom told me that Ross had cancer.
  10. I remember being frozen--I know that I must have started to cry. Andrea tried to hug me, and I shoved her away and started to walk, then run, to the back of the house where my bedroom was. I slammed the door shut, punched the wall a few times, and then did that slow slide down the wall crying all the while. (People say that nobody does that in real life, that it's a chick flick cliche. As one friend so memorably, so pithily, puts it: They can suck my clit. I've done it, and my life is not a chick flick.)
  11. The next day, we went to see Ross in Kosair Hospital. The 7th floor is (or was at the time) their oncology ward. [Just as a side note: there is NOTHING sadder than a pediatric oncology ward.] We stepped off the elevator and the sound of screams immediately assaulted our ears. I don't remember the hallways we walked through, just that it sounded like we were getting closer and closer to the mouth of hell, and the wailing of the damned just kept getting louder and louder. When we reached Ross' room, of course, we discovered that it was coming from him. (He was only barely seven, had been told he had cancer, pulled out of his school, told he'd be staying in the hospital, denied food and water, and wasn't on sufficient pain medication. He was scared and in pain and so fucking young.)


druidspell: Me, bowling at a family reunion, with my username inset in the bottom right corner. The blurriness is intentional. (Default)

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