I should have known it was bad when the first thing she said to me was, "Is Mario with you?"...when I answered yes, she told me that my Aunt Barbara had died. Nothing like having a breakdown in "Party City". Gotta love that store, however, not the place that I want to get horrible news. After fighting cancer on and off for the last six years, my closest aunt passed away today. She was my father's older sister and is one of my favorite people ever! She was fun, goofy, so so loving, caring, thoughtful, and just one of the bestest people you ever could know.
Just before Thanksgiving 2002 my Aunt Barbara was diagnosed with breast cancer. She did so well with her treatment. By February of 2003, after chemo and having a mastectomy, she was found to be cancer free. It had been such a long crappy year. During that year we lost my grandmother and my father, among other scary and bad things. However, her health was such welcome news that year.
Aunt Barbara and my cousin Jennifer...they're so cute!
Thanksgiving 2006, I brought my new boyfriend, Mario, home for Thanksgiving. The first guy I brought home to meet the family. We had a great time. He fit in with everyone and everyone loved him. I was so happy. However, after I got home that weekend, Aunt Barbara called to tell me that her cancer was back. I remember her telling me earlier that year, her biggest fear was finding out that her cancer was back. I thought about this as she told me. She said her doctor was optimistic. The cancer was in her bones, but not in her organs, the doctor felt like they could really deal with this. After we hung up, I called my sister and we cried. I hated that her biggest fear had come true and I hated even more that she had to go through this again.
2005 our family spend Christmas in Hawaii. That was our gift to each other. It was great.
We knew Christmas a month later would be emotional. We's emotional ladies in this family. We had our usual fun, relaxed Christmas and our spirits were high. Although the doctor was optimistic, I remember thinking the cancer was already hitting her. She was feeling good, but she was having a lot of back pain. They suspected it was just arthritis. However, we still wondered how the cancer would be this time.
She remained pretty steady through to the next Thanksgiving 2007. I was preparing to drive up to northern California for the holiday, when I got a call from my mom (see a pattern? Thanksgiving, mom calling...) The week before, my aunt had woken up one morning and couldn't feel her legs. That pesky back pain had actually been a cancerous tumor on her spinal cord. I was so mad at the doctors. How could they have missed this. Looking back, it seemed to obvious. I was told to stay home until we heard more. My first thanksgiving away from my family. I was lucky to have my future in-laws and Mario to spend it with. However, while I spent a cozy day at home, my family spent a quiet thanksgiving in the hospital waiting to see how Aunt Barbara would do. This whole thing was devastating for everyone, but mostly her. Aunt Barbara was the family matriarch and someone who took care of everyone else. Her and my uncle have been raising their two grandsons...and doing an awesome job I might add. Now she was the one who needed to be taken care of. It was quite a fight to get her to a spot where she was stable. There were so many days when she wanted to give up, but she hung in there.
We saw her just after Christmas. She looked and sounded good. They were positive about getting her back. We were so happy to see her home and comfortable.
The next time I saw her was May. It was a little shocking to see her. There was progress with her walking and moving, but there was definitely something unspoken there. Although we weren't being kept filled in on her prognosis, they were giving this positive feel. It was very hard to determine how things were. Looking back, you could see in the looks that my aunt would give my uncle, and my uncle would give her. They would hold hands and just look at each other. You could tell they were taking any moment they could. It was so beautiful to see but alarming too. We had no idea what she was facing.
Uncle Chet and Aunt Barbara married when she was 18 and together for close to 45 years. They are definitely the example of marriage that I strive for.
Thanksgiving this year, as you know, my mom came down here to visit. My sister took that time to spend at my cousin's house with my aunt and uncle. She finally pulled my cousin aside and asked how things were. My cousin said that the cancer was stable, but aunt Barbara wasn't trying like she had previously. She wasn't trying to walk at all, and wasn't giving it that gusto she had before. My sister said that you could tell that Uncle Chet was savoring each and every moment he had with her.
I don't think it ever occurred to us that she might not be there. We certainly had no idea how soon she might leave us. We had been told things were ok. Now we had this feeling to be with her now. So this Christmas, we were all going to spend with Aunt Barbara. Christmas at my cousin Jennifer's. We wanted to spend what time we could with Aunt Barbara.
However, today she woke up and told my uncle that this was the day. He smiled and said ok honey. I think he had heard this before. She was awake for a while. He gave her medicine, came back ten minutes later to check on her and she had passed. As much as it was expected, it was such a shock to him and all of us.
I'm so torn between relief for her, and sadness for everyone she left behind. It never occurred to me that we could loose her so soon. I guess I thought she'd be here forever. She was one of those people that was happy, sweet, and thoughtful. She wasn't afraid to tell you how she felt about you. No one was safe from Aunt Barbara just walking up randomly, hugging you, and telling you she loved you. She always got me on the way out of the bathroom. She had a talent. She always had little funny stories about all the family. Most the time we spent with her, was spent around the kitchen table talking and talking and talking. I'll miss that and her laugh...ok and her random hugs, and her goofy jokes. I can go on and on. I can tell you she has relief now. She's free of the cancer, free of pain, and free to move as she pleases. Mom says she's walking around in heaven with two boobs again. I love that thought. I am so relieved that she can be free now but there's still that selfish part of me that wants her back...I can't help it.
When she first had surgery on her back last year, I had Mario draw up a get well card. My mom has had that card as her screen saver for the last year and that's how she pictures her now.