Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Number Nine

Carla and baby Elizabeth, 2008
Three years ago my little sister Carla took her place as Number Nine on the list of people with brain tumors on my mother's side, the Ortiz-Argumedo Karg side, of the family.  I scribbled down this list on my aunt Monina's birthday a month ago, a day spent with Monina and my parents, hanging around, asking questions, listening to them talk, pawing through boxes and boxes of family photos.  Such a lovely day.  So many great stories in my family, so many bold adventurers on both sides.  I felt wrapped in history, integrated in a way that I needed, essential to the telling of the story.

The Karg Cancer list begins in 1943 with Cordelia, who lived into her 60s, and includes La Gogi, baby Olga, who died in 1953 at age 3, aunt Monina (1989), her own daughter (1981).  And my mother (1997), whose incidental findings qualify her for the list although she scoffs.  After all, she says, even the doctors called them "incidental."

In fairness to the Ortiz-Argumedo Karg stock, Carla's cancer isn't genetic, has an altogether different origin.  But since she has 8 precedessors on this goddamn tumor road and she's family, she's Number Nine.

Clearly, it's not paranoia but more like pretty well-founded possibility, that makes me view every headache as a suspected tumor, every unreasonable change in weight as brain cancer.  Crap, am I talking complete nonsense?  That's a symptom, too, the thing that got my aunt diagnosed.  We are ever watchful, sensitive to the smallest change, especially since Carla's devastating glioblastoma diagnosis in 2008.

Yesterday I spoke to Carla, heard her voice, for the first time in at least two years.  Her husband texted could I please call.  When I did, he shared the bad news, the news Carla's doctors had given that morning, reading the results of her latest MRI.  Get your affairs in order, they said.  Doomsday words.  They're trying one last-ditch effort from the sound of things, but the cancer's gotten more aggressive lately, invading Carlita's corpus callosum, breaking down her cognitive abilities, impairing her judgment, eating her memory.  It won't be long now, they say.  It's time to consider quality of life, they say, balanced against the ravages of treatment.

And so the ban has been lifted.  After years of lock-out, we're suddenly allowed back in, and I'm so glad.  For so long I've worried that I'd read about my sister's death in a (poorly written) obituary with no opportunity to see her, be with her, say goodbye beforehand.  I think we've all wondered how we'd hear about it, since news has been so sporadic.  But now none of that matters.  I see her tomorrow.

I'm preparing myself, making her an album of family photos (photos culled from that month-ago visit and list-making), baking cookies, cutting roses, picking up lunch on the way.  Thinking about what I could bring her that would be Christmas-y and would delight not just her, but her almost five-year-old daughter.  I'm loading the car with boxes of kleenex for the ride home, knowing that seeing her will be sweet and also devastating.  You can hear the change in her voice, the way she forms her words as if her mouth cannot keep up with the forms it needs to make, like she's talking through a long-distance connection with delays and odd pauses.  

You never, never know what might happen, what you might lose, who you might lose, from one day to the next. None of us know who is next on the list. Don't wait.  Make the call.  Write the email.  Send the flowers.  Do it right now.

Love your people hard while you can.  The rest will take care of itself.  


1 comment:

Hilary Hattenbach said...

*Sob* Please send my love to Carla!! So happy you're getting to spend some time with her.
Hugs and love,