Monday, October 09, 2006


I received a call recently from an ex girlfriend asking how I coped with the recent illness and subsequent death of two uncles. She only knew about one of them until she made the call. Her uncle has just been diagnosed with the same illness. It's the all too common and dreaded lung cancer. There is nothing more vile, more sinister, expected yet surprising and ultimately as devastating as lung cancer.

When my oldest uncle first told me he was sick I almost laughed. Uncles are often kidders, and mine are especially playful at times. I thought it was a bad joke. I was devastated, but he was positive he could fight it. He lasted longer than expected, and hosted Christmas at his house as some kind of last goodbye to the whole family. You could see it in his eyes just how much he loved having us all there.

He didn't quite make it to the following Christmas. He had good days and bad ones. We cried with him and laughed with him. He finally succumbed with most of the family being able to sit with him on his last day. By this time he was no longer conscious. My dad called and the phone was held to Uncle Gary's ear. I still don't know what dad said, but he never forgave himself for being in Darwin when his best friend died.

Not long after my father and I were out for breakfast and ran into Gary's younger brother Michael. Always quieter and less confident, Michael didn't let on much about what was happening in his life. His wife had died of cancer a couple of years before, so he and his very very shy 12 year old son lived in isolation in the hills. Running into them at breakfast was not uncommon for me, but this time they seemed tense. As if in passing, Michael leaned forward and told us that he too had just been diagnosed with lung cancer. He hadn't wanted to say anything as the family was still reeling from his brother's death.

We spent a lot of time with Michael. His house was a few miles from where I grew up. We cleaned his house, took him to appointments, went out for coffee. Unfortunately, Michael didn't last very long. The coughing fits were too much for his heart. His son Jordan, found him dead on the couch one morning, and not knowing what to do, he went back to bed and cried until our aunt found them.

My favourite author Haruki Murakami wrote a line in a story "In a certain sense you can see a person?s whole life in the cancer they get". I know what he means, but I?d like to think that Gary and Michael were more than smokers.

And in a sense I don't entirely agree with Murakami. I think we see society as a whole reflected in the cancers we get. Individuals are the diseased parts of the society. One individual can do all of the right things and still get sick, similarly an individual can live an unhealthy indulgent life and make it to a ripe old age.

But why risk it? Give up smoking, drink moderately, eat well, and live long.

In the end, the only advice I could give my ex was to let her uncle leave the world knowing he was loved and that his passing will be noted.

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