Reub's journey

20 July 2015

Warriors

It has been four long weeks since I sent in the DNA samples, a test to see if I am a perfect match for my brother who is fighting an aggressive cancer, likely brought on by his exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam war.

In the meantime I have gone about acting as if everything is normal. I go to my drawing classes on Mondays, yoga 3 times a week, tai chi on Thursdays. I stay in touch with the kids. I manage the over-dry yard and lousy garden. I cook interesting things for myself while my husband is gone to Japan with a class that he leads. I avoid all images of death, harbingers of ill luck. But it's like a radio has been turned on in the back of my brain, and it plays incessantly....noise...noise that I defend myself against.


Then last week in figure drawing class the model who showed up, smiling, was a breast cancer survivor. She was so beautiful. The radio in my head went silent.

I must regress.

My brothers were like the three musketeers, a unit, until Jim (on the left) died in a motorcycle accident. Jon, in the middle, and Jeff on the right, grew up to be drafted into the army. Jon, assigned with the terrible task of driving ammo trucks, signed up for an additional 6 months of duty to prevent his younger brother Jeff from being in the even-worse job of infantryman.  There is a law that says siblings don't have to be in war zones at the same time.

Decades later Jeff pleads with doctors to let him be the donor of stem cells to cure Jon's Agent Orange cancer, but they say he isn't a match. Jeff cannot repay the favor of life. My heart bleeds for him.



But can I?
I carried candles in peace marches. I did not join the army. And I am a female. But I want to take the DNA test anyway.





Sometimes close, sometimes at odds, Jon and I are are a strange twosome in this battle. Our personalities are unlike.



This morning while I was in yoga  a voice message came from Wisconsin. I am a full match for my brother Jon. Sometime in the next 3 months I will give my stem cells to him. A nurse will call me in a week or two.



Today I skipped figure drawing class and stayed home to imagine myself in "warrior two pose," where I feel strongest of all. Invincible, really. I drew myself over and over.




Can you imagine how happy he was when I called to give him the news? He volunteered the information that perfect-match-blood-cells will hunt and kill cancer cells in his body, like soldiers. After all of these years, I too have become a warrior. At long last it is a war that I am prepared to fight.


38 comments:

  1. A huge sigh of relief for everyone involved. Good luck with your endeavor. You are truly blessed.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you. I know that you are intimately familiar with the scenario I'm living. Thank you for your support.

      Delete
  2. Tears came to my eyes as I read. Your drawings and words are poignant. Not everyone can give the hope of renewed life to another. I hope all goes well for both you and your brother.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Barb. Thank you! I hope that this does result in a renewed life for another, gonna give it my best shot.

      Delete
  3. Oh my gosh, I have goose bumps! What happy news and the symbolism of a fighting soldier is so perfect. God bless you all!!!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Gail! This is happy news, and man was I glad to be able to call up my brother and tell him. There was a 75% chance of it NOT being good news, and it would have been my responsibility to tell him that as well.

      Delete
  4. Oh Karima. I have so many emotions swirling around in my body. Grateful for John's sake, anticipation for the actual procedure, conflicted over the image of war although this war between bone marrow and the enemy, cancer, is a good war. Most of all, I feel so humbled by you and this life-giving gift only you can give. I am so proud of you, and yet so sorry that the whole thing even has to happen. That damn bad war and its agent orange. This just gives me one more reason to "idolize"you! I love you, sister.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ah Merry, thank you so much. Don't idolize me, though! I'm still just a dweeb. A warrior-dweeb. You yourself have battled cancer far more directly than I.

      Delete
  5. Glad to hear you can help your brother. Fingers crossed that all goes smoothly.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Fingers all crossed here too. :-)

      Delete
  6. How wonderful that you are a match and able to help your brother. My heart is singing. Fight the good fight soldier Kerry. May everything come together and may the healing go better than expected.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Linda! You know better than anybody how it is to sit at the side of a family member with serious cancer. Your words mean a lot to me.

      Delete
  7. This is the most precious and lifting post I have read in a long time. Your art intertwined with life itself and the battle for it is very touching. I am so happy for you and hope the radio is now playing a waltz or two in between a John Sousa march.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Tabor! What a great comment! Searching for the knob to that confounded radio righttt nowwwww....

      Delete
  8. Keeping you both tucked up in my prayer sleeve. Fight the good fight. (I'll be in OR from Aug. 19-Sept. 9. Perhaps we can meet?)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Pauline! Yes! I will be sending you a message as the time draws closer for your visit this way. Exciting.

      Delete
  9. Wow! The mix of prose, photos and art make this a very powerful post.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Oh Kerry.. this is just wonderful. In every which way. Best thoughts for you and your brother. You are awesome.

    And I hope that you and Pauline can meet up. You're two of my many favourite bloggie peopel.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Hilary! Thank you so much for these words. Glad to see you on FB now, too! Your photos inspire me. Pauline and I are going to try and meet up when she's out this way, for sure. What a kick.

      Delete
  11. I am so happy for you. While I was reading your wonderful news and looking at your drawings also telling the story I was hearing Helen Reddy singing "I am strong, I am invincible, I am woman". Yes, indeed, you are!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know that song! That is what Warrior Two does to me. But usually I am very quiet, timid even. But all of us have super-woman/super-man underneath, don't we? Only rarely do I call upon this place.

      Delete
  12. I am so sorry about your brother's cancer and his exposure to agent orange. What a joy it must be to know you can help! You are so courageous.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is helpful to be able to donate. Makes me feel less useless. We'll see how brave I am when I'm hooked up to a bunch of needles, though, eeek. :)

      Delete
  13. oh my gosh...this brought chills. truly hope this will be a saving gift for him!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Tex! He has a tough battle to fight after the transplant, but he is a tough guy.

      Delete
  14. Kerry, I wanted to read this at a moment when I could give it my undivided attention. I cried. So happy that hope is coming out of this traumatic period. Warrior One & Warrior Two connected together. Sending love to you all. xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Daniella. Warriors One and Two will enter the battlefield sometime this fall. Thank you so much for your kind words and support. xoxoxoxo

      Delete
    2. It just occurred to me that the law won't apply. We will be siblings in the same war zone after all.

      Delete
  15. My eyes are brimming with tears. Drawings are lovely and the story is even more lovely. God bless each of you.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I’m glad as can be that you’re a match. Why is it, though, that you weren’t tested right after he was diagnosed? It seems that he’s in such a bad shape now that his chances are probably lower than they would have been had he gotten your marrow sooner.

    “I did not join the army. And I am a female. But I want to take the DNA test anyway.”

    I don’t understand what gender or not joining the army has to do with anything. Do you simply mean to say that it’s hard for you to want to do this? I have three siblings, one full sister, and then a half sister and a half brother. My half-sister at least writes to me, but we never see one another. As for the other two, I wouldn’t go very far out of my way to save their lives. In other words, if the risk to myself were great, I would say no even if their chances were good.

    I didn’t know about Jim and am very sorry to learn that he died.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good questions.
      The process of stem cell transplant is in fact, the last ditch effort to beat multiple myeloma, not done until many other things are tried. He has a 25% chance of surviving this transplant-which doesn't sound good-but will cure him of the disease altogether. High risk-high benefit in his view. After he was diagnosed he donated stem cells to himself, and when I inquired I was told that at that time I would be unable to donate because of having been pregnant 3 times...something about antibodies created through pregnancy. In the past 6 years they have developed meds to counteract my antibodies, so now having been a pregnant female does not matter so much. Jeff would have been a better match but his arthritis treatments have altered his immune system past the point of safe donation. And Jon's cell were found to have cancer in them.
      It turns out that for the purposes of this DNA analysis, gender does not matter (I was surprised by this, but you obviously already knew that), except for the antibodies created when a woman has become pregnant. Another thing that surprises me is that my blood type is different. I guess I don't completely understand what being a perfect match really is! And that's why I am shocked to find that I am.
      Fortunately the risk to myself isn't very great, just uncomfortable and involves a trip.

      Delete
    2. Thanks for the info, Kerry. It's not that I KNEW gender to be irrelevant, but simply that I have never heard that it was for any transplant.

      Delete
  17. Happy for you. And him. And a little jealous too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes it isn't every day that one has a chance to be somebody else's last chance. If you are interested in being a stem cell donor though, you should visit the website "Be the Match." You could be that person, who knows?

      Delete
  18. Kerry,

    You are just SUCH an inspiration to me. In terms of being a donor, well, that's luck of course, but the fact that you share such an intense story and the strength that you have within you to cope with life's vicissitudes does honestly give other people hope and i think that's the most important aspect of your post here. By not going to your drawing class but instead staying home and drawing yourself as 'warrior'? Well, that's just such an amazing expression of what your mind was going through at that time, to need to see and feel yourself as that, what a bloody incredible way of expressing your feelings. Most of us just go through the thinking process and internalise and although that can help, to get it out of the mind and into the World is by far a better way of 'ejecting' that which can cause us to suffer even further grief, ie the monkey mind.

    And as always, this post is superbly written and presented, you really should win a damn BIG prize.

    Go beat the shit out of that cancer, Kerry...

    x

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey Saul, thank you so much. Of course I am a small warrior compared to people who must personally fight cancer in their own bodies, like you. Thank you for reminding me of Buddha's monkey mind, which is an apt way of describing my reaction to the news of my DNA match. It was a way of taming the monkey of Fear, and certainly a way of summoning the courage I will need.
      May you continue to be cancer-free, and add light to the world.

      Delete

Talk to me.