June has become the ultimate dichotomy for me. In 2002, on June 8, I had my last of 20 chemotherapy treatments in 11 weeks. I was unbelievably sick, but I had finally reached a finish line of sorts. That was the day when I finally told cancer to “suck it.”
Of course, cancer sucked lefty right out of his apartment via the scalpel of a talented surgeon. I got through it with the help of my dear friend Traci, who said, “Ya know, Danno…sometimes a guy just doesn’t want a roommate.” And she was right.
June 8 became even more poignant in 2011. At 2:45am that morning, my uncle Declan died from bladder cancer. Dec fought like a madman, but cancer was too physically imposing in this fight. My mom told me the news, and I spent the better part of an hour driving around aimlessly listening to “The Book of Love” by Peter Gabriel, absolutely bawling like a five-year-old who gets the wrong Ninjago set from Santa Claus.
Of course, I had to compose myself because that very evening at 6pm, our charitable organization “The Half Fund” had its first ever fundraiser. It was a magical night, and I knew that my uncle was standing right beside me the whole time. His death was the only way he could have been there.
And that’s what this month has become for me. Every June since 2002, I have enjoyed the blessing of being told that I am cancer free. And for the last two years, every June, I reminisce about my uncle, and about the last time I saw him alive…about how he held my hand…about how we told each other “I love you”…about how I wept in his driveway, unable to drive back to work…and about how he had his arm around me on the biggest night of our young charity’s existence. Bittersweet, to say the least.
However, June of 2013 has become a bit of a nightmare. Last weekend, a girl I know, Molly, got married at 40. Four weeks from now, another friend, another Molly, is going to have her first baby at 40. And two days before the first Molly’s wedding, a third girl I know, Liza, became a widow…at 40. Her husband Ted went home while battling his second bout of cancer. This was the part of the circle of life that no one either saw, or wanted to see coming.
The day after our friend’s husband succumbed, those of us in St. Louis learned that former Cardinal’s pitching coach Dave Duncan said goodbye to his wife…taken by brain cancer. Her son, Chris, a former Cardinal outfielder, had just finished battling a brain tumor of his own.
But the straw that broke the camel’s back for me, personally, came today. Rahn Ramey was a stand-up comic, a real comedian’s comedian. He was a brilliant writer, lightning fast on his feet, and unlike so many comics I’ve met in my life, a genuinely happy, friendly guy. Rahn was diagnosed with colo-rectal cancer three years ago, and according to him, he was kicking its colo-rectal sideways. He and I often talked on Facebook, and we had planned to get together for an interview on battling cancer.
Rahn was a mile a minute, a bundle of human kinetic energy, which is why I knew he was in real trouble when one of his recent messages to me simply said, “Dan, your words mean a lot. One thing cancer does is remove all arrogance from a brother. Love ya and thanks so much.”
It was literally a feeling like a punch in the gut mixed with an electric shock when I found out that Rahn Ramey died today. I’ve read the story on the St. Louis Post Dispatch’s website about twenty times, and I still don’t believe it.
I know that I’m officially into survival mode. I don’t believe it. Won’t believe it. I’m going to see him again. Somehow, some way. He’s not dead. And I will say it a million times…lying to myself until I might just believe it…which I know will never happen.
Yet in a way, it really isn’t a lie. There was a study recently that said when people are in the rigors of dementia, they go to what can only be described as an inner room of thought. As the dementia becomes more severe, the room gets smaller.
However, the one thing that researchers now believe is that this room is a safe room, filled with memories that create a delicate layer of psychological warmth for the person suffering. The hard part for us to understand is why we might not be a part of those memories as a spouse, or a sibling, or a child, or a grandchild. And yet the heart I take in that story is that docs really believe that the memories imprinted in the minds of these souls are happy.
Because deep down, we do the exact same thing. I know this because I saw my uncle two weeks before he died. When I left his house that day, I knew I would never see him on earth again. And while the vision is permanently etched in my memory, it’s not how I see him. I see Declan playing Irish music with his boys in a smokey St. Louis bar, singing his can off and reveling in playing with his offspring. I hear his voice telling me stories of how he almost single-handedly sent my near-sainted grandmother to an early grave by not only getting kicked out of a religious preparatory school, but doing so by getting baked like a pie on “grass.”
I see Rahn in our radio studio having us in absolute hysterics, moving so fast we can barely keep up, and literally imitating and nailing Tina Turner’s diatribe on “Proud Mary.”
I see Dave Duncan coming back to the Cardinals in time to help them reach the pinnacle of success in the 2011 World Series. Can I get a “GAME SIX!!!!” anyone? And I see his love for his wife, as he left to be with her as quickly as he returned to help his beloved boys, the Cardinal pitching staff, achieve a “once in a generation” greatness.
I see Liza and Ted, and even though I’ve never, ever hung out with them, I can picture them in my mind’s eye enjoying the park on a warm spring day.
And while I am so unbelievably sad for all that I will never physically see, I am so unbelievably grateful for what I am able to carry with me for as long as my health and sanity allows: my memories.
So to cancer, I say that you took my courage at times and ultimately departed with my left ball, but you will never be able to eradicate the love or the memories from us, the survivors, that are left behind. In other words cancer…”suck it.”