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Story Telling 2010

Janet Kuypers
(poetry converted to prose)

    Your see, my mom, eleven years ago, had breast cancer, and the three girls flew to visit her at her home across the country. and mom felt bad that she couldn’t make our trip better because she just found out she had cervical cancer too. but we couldn’t have come at a better time... and she had procedures, she had surgeries and she had a radical hysterectomy, and then the cancer was gone she was in the clear. so for a decade she went to the doctor and they found no cancer in her. and all seemed well. she had beaten a killer.
    when I was almost killed in a car accident and I had head trauma (no fractured bones, except my skull) they never told me (just my family but not me, the patient) that I’m expected to have a seizure within six months of my accident. I had a grand mal seizure seven months after I was almost killed. no one explained to me what was happening. I had to figure it out as I went along.
    well, a decade after my mom’s bouts with cancer she went to the doctor again, had a fever, felt tired... and they said, well, it’s funny, you’ve got all the symptoms, and most women who have had as much cancer in their history as you’ve had, well, you’re likely to have leukemia.
    well, she did.
    and when she found out at her home in south west Florida, she traveled to University of Chicago Hospital (they’re a good hospital, you know) and she got prepped for chemo, was in the hospital shorter than me (damnit, I shouldn’t be so self-centered that way) and had chemo, lost her hair (with her new crew cut, as her hair grew back she looked just like her brother, Uncle Pete, from this army photos) and the doctors said she was in remission.
    now, this leukemia is a tricky thing, cancer of the blood versus cancer of an organ: it was easier when you could just remove an organ and leave it at that but this was cancer in her blood, and the cancer crept into her bone marrow... and they had to periodically drill into her hip bone for a bone marrow biopsy to see if there was any cancer in her bone marrow.
    fun job, drilling into her hip bone.
    you wonder why there are so many hip replacement surgeries now? well, look at how doctors test now... a little bone pulled here, a little bone pulled there...
    well anyway, the doctors said she was in remission (happy happy, joy joy), but because this cancer-of-the-blood thing was tricky they’re going to give her another round of chemo just to be on the safe side, because you know, if people don’t go through this extra round of chemo the leukemia is more likely to come back. so mom took the chemo and she recovered at my sister’s house until she was well enough to go back home and recoup in her own home. I visited her in her recoup time just shy of my parent’s fifty sixth wedding anniversary. bought the cologne dad would give mom for their anniversary while I was visiting. she hoped that when her hair grew back after the chemo it would grow back curly — and it was. she was so used to having a hairdresser style her hair into a bee hive and she’d have to sleep on her nose to keep her hair style in place until her next hairdresser appointment. so her hair was curling now she bought curling hair gel. she wore a little white hat (we always could pull off looking good in hats) and curled the ends of her new short hair around her little cap.
    she looked so cute.
    mom would work in the mornings run errands, get groceries and by lunchtime she would be tired, so she’d watch her soap operas. but who can blame her, she’s still recovering from all the chemo Hell she went through. all of her neighbors said, it’s amazing how well she’s doing after all she’s gone through. and they were right.
    a month after I left from visiting, mom started to feel tired and feverish. so dad took her to the doctor and they said, silly us, she wasn’t in remission. they wanted to put her in hospice care immediately, and she looked at dad, and they both instantly agreed they’re not giving up that easily, so back to the University of Chicago hospitals. more chemo for mom (a different chemical this time so she won’t lose her hair) but after she went through the chemo again they found no change in her condition.
    and then they said, “you’ve got two choices: because you’re immune to chemo now you can go for experimental treatments, or you can decide to stop treatment”.
    she said, “I don’t want hospitals anymore”. so she made her choice.
    and the doctors said she had two to six months to live, maybe as long as a year. I said to her as she was getting platelets at the hospital, “when your father had cancer, doctors gave him six months to live. How long did he live?” and she said six years. so this was something she could beat; we Bakutis come from a strong stock, we can do anything.
    I know we can.
    well, I don’t think she wanted to fight. I think the pain in her bones was too strong and I think she was tired of fighting a battle she couldn’t win. so she let it take over.
    they said two to six months and she lived just shy of three.
    she struggled through it all, not telling us about her pain.
    just taking her medicine, so to speak, and hoping everything would just kill her and get it over with. and... and I think emotionally she made the choice despite us.
    and now I sit and write this story, and my father is sleeping in front of the tv in his lounge chair next to me. he says it’s more comfortable there to fall asleep. and I’m listening to his breathing while he sleeps and I hear him panting every thirty seconds while he sleeps, like he’s having nightmares about it all still. as I tell this story there’s still a panic in the air. even while we sleep.

Chicago poet Janet Kuypers
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