Mom and Dad drive-dialed me last night on their trip to Des Moines to purchase more supplies for dad’s rewiring job at the local dentist’s office. Positioning the cell phone in the middle of the truck seat and placing me on speaker phone has become my parents’ preferred method of communication, which leaves my mother sounding like she’s yelling into an empty corn can and my father emoting like a malfunctioning cyborg.
It’s one of the many quirks that have emerged in adulthood that makes my love for my parents snowball from year to year.
After a brief introduction in which I proselytized about the overpriced stuffed animal I purchased for baby Aliyah (cute, no?), Mom’s corn-can voice engaged a somber timbre and, as the great Carol King coined, I felt the earth move under my feet – even before the negative news was revealed.
“Well, I didn’t want to tell you until I had more information, but we found out that Aunt Dee has colon cancer.”
Moved to the cusp of speechlessness, an “Oh, no,” was all I could muster, followed by an immediate, interminable silence. Aunt Dee was one of the major guiding influences in my childhood. My parents both worked, and during the summer and after school I spent my hours in her care. She always had black cherry Kool-Aid chilled and ready because she knew it was my favorite, and what I admired most was how she never pandered to my childishness. We discussed relationships, family and movies.
Random snippets of a life I never realized I revered are emerging, and every single moment appears insignificant on the surface, but every single one feels like a defibrillator applied to an otherwise healthy heart. The first time Aunt Dee introduced me to rhubarb cobbler. The time we cataloged her entire movie collection so I could use her in place of the video store that didn’t exist. The time she came with me to the doctor and I gave my first urine sample – I filled the cup to the top not knowing that what they needed was indeed a “sample.” That same doctor visit, where I put my feet in the stirrups and acted out an All My Children childbirth.
From sipping Orange Crush on the drive home from town to playing Pretty Pretty Princess (a board game) with her and my cousin, Amber, to watching Donahue and criticizing the crazies, my mother’s words sent me on a trip through territory I’ve always known existed, but much like my vacation to Disney Land, I never expected to return.
Aunt Dee’s cancer is somewhat advanced, but has not spread to other organs. She was having some pain in the region, but rationalized it as worsening of the daily pain she’s had since breaking her tail bone giving birth to my cousin, Cody.
The only reason she scheduled a colonoscopy was because my mom had one and her doctors found two non-cancerous polyps. Constance’s mom underwent the same colon cancer scare when her sister had a negative colonoscopy, and had to have multiple surgeries to remove the invading tissue.
But Aunt Dee has a large mass of cancerous tissue, and it’s not something they can fix by removing a small piece of the puzzle. I’m terrified that so many women in my life are being terrorized by this silent, lethal illness. Modern day colons are rising up to fight the foods we ingest, and we all need to be better about the substances that pass our lips - less preservatives, chemicals and hormones.
Today, I just need to take a note from the Sopranos finale and fade to black. I can’t write an ending to something that’s just beginning.
But if I could, it would be a happy one.