Tuesday, Sep 02, 2014
Joyce Minor

The plot thickens on cancer


Published:

Just when I thought I was kicking cancer out of my life for good, I got a phone call from my brother telling me that he has bladder cancer. He will have surgery in September and may need radiation too.

Roy is five years older than me and my only living sibling. All my life he has been my protector. In school, kids who teased or threatened me had to deal with him. More than one went home with a bloody nose. I never asked Roy to defend me; he just took it as a big brother's job, and he was good at it.

My brother lives in Michigan where we grew up so we rarely see each other, but we talk on the phone often. He is still very protective of his little sis and it has always been a comfort to know that anytime, anywhere, if I needed him, he would be there in a flash. I can't imagine life without him.

Roy has had heart problems for years, but somehow I just assumed that a spot the doctor saw on his CT scan could not be malignant, yet it is. So, here we go again, facing off against that insidious, prowling beast called cancer.

What are the odds that all three of my parents' children would develop cancer? (We lost a sister to bone cancer when we were teens.) And yet my mother is almost 86 and has never had any sign of it.

Do we bear some elusive cancer gene that medical science has yet to isolate?

My father died of a brain tumor at just 45 years old - a malignant tumor. He was a World War II vet who served in the Philippines as a medic. After the nuclear bombs ended the war, Daddy was transferred by ship to South Korea. Did they sail too close to Japan where the air was still full of radioactive fallout? Did he suffer exposure that the Army never told us about?

When Daddy was discharged they sent him home with a year's supply of medication, supposedly to head off relapses of malaria, but those pills could just as easily have been something to quell radiation sickness. Daddy would never have known the difference.

All I know is that when he got sick, representatives of the Veterans Administration showed up on his doorstep without any notice from him or his doctors. They knew his diagnosis before we did, and they were quick to deny responsibility, even though no one accused them. They even knew all about my sister's illness and death four years before. How?

Was my father on somebody's list of cases to watch? I find it hard to believe that the VA followed every soldier who had malaria that closely, since almost every man who fought in the Pacific had the disease at least once.

I'd really like to find out what they know that we don't, and when they knew it. Obviously, if there is any basis to my suspicions, we deserve to know and should have known back in 1974 when my father died. Should they have helped with his treatment and funeral expenses? Probably.

But the fact is, even if I could find proof that they concealed an awful truth from us, it wouldn't bring my Daddy back, nor my sister. And it won't change the fact that I've had cancer, and now my brother has it too.

It all sounds kind of like the plot of a novel. Maybe that's the best place to put my suspicions, into the next New York Times bestseller. Hummmmm ...

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