This was not supposed to be how it happened.
I received one of those “rock your world” calls the other day. It was my cousin’s wife, and the news was not good, as it would not likely be if she was calling rather than emailing or sending a Christmas card. My cousin, who is my age, is expected to die of pancreatic cancer within the year. But it is far more than just my cousin we are talking about here.
Yes, we grew up together, riding ponies that bit at his house in Wisconsin, swimming in the muddy creek and riding home in the trunk of my parent’s car, sledding wildly down the big hill out back of his school, sitting at the kids’ table at one of the sisters’ houses for Thanksgiving meals while the adult table seemed to stretch through three rooms.
Things changed as we grew older and those sisters started dying off. Ties that the women had held together weakened and broke, and family members scattered. The two of us are some of the only ones who held on.
This wasn’t supposed to happen. We were the two who were supposed to make it. The generation who was supposed to beat the family curse. The ones left standing. Except, now we’re not.
As I’ve mentioned before here, my mother’s family has polycystic kidney disease, the most common inherited disease in this country. Yet it gets very little press. What is worse, it leads to other diseases, among them the one that is taking the life of my cousin and the one that took the lives of his mother and brother, brain aneurysms. Those don’t even get reported in the stats. Neither does the cause of my own mother’s death, which was officially infection after a successful kidney transplant, not the disease itself.
Neither does the collateral damage, like the fact that two husbands, who adored their wives and lived to care for them in their need, drank themselves to death after their ladies were gone. It does not count the families that scattered when the wives and mothers that typically glue extended families together were not there to be that adhesive, or the man who watched first his wife and then four of his six children die. Statistics do not cover such things. They do not cover my cousin,who is alone in his family, having already lost his mother, father, and brother, nor his wife, who will lose him.
Why tell you all this? Because one disease should never be able to do all this to generations. Ours is not the first generation it has devastated, and I have no idea if it will be the last. I do know my cousin chose not to have children because of this gene, so I am the only one of our two families who has the potential to pass it on. I don’t know about the other cousins with whom I have lost contact.
Other diseases devastate families, but they do not devastate generations of them, and several across the board. I don’t have an answer today, just sadness. And anger, and loneliness. We were supposed to be the only two left. The two who beat this thing. The two who showed that this beast did not have to win. Only now I’m the only one left standing. And it’s a pretty lonely place to be.