....My friend died of stomach cancer a year and a half ago...
That shit fucks you up... But it also got me thinking, kinda contemplating the last 2 years of my life.. after a few seconds of trying not to vomit that is... and to be honest, even though I've had some pretty dire times, I feel stronger about who I am and about life in general because of it...is that weird...?
It's not the first time that I had to deal with cancer of somebody I know. My own grandmother died from it, as well as the mother of a close friend of mine. But it was the first time that I actually felt the effects first hand. I thought he was getting better..but then in the new year before he died we found out it had spread to his brain and one day in March after I was leaving my house to attend the wake of my friend's mother, my sister stopped me and said, hey Twink, did you know a guy called Eugene in the Drama Society coz he died this morning of cancer. And that was it. That was how I found out that one of the most genuine, honest, funniest, most unbiased and most wonderful guys I ever had the pleasure or the honour of knowing was dead. Obviously the texts came through a while later with, hey we hate to break the news.... but the damage was done.
It's hard not being able to mourn for your own loss when you have to be strong for your friend. In his honour, an award was created by the Drama Society (coz he was a big member of it) for a member of the Drama Society to receive every year, called the Spirit of Drama Award. And this year I was asked to present it. Knowing that every year people will remember him, and the new batch of members will be told about him is one of the most satisfying things to know.
I was lucky to have a counsellor at the time...
To be honest though, this was another milestone in a truly terrible start to the year.
On the first of february of that same year, my older brother was attacked in Galway where he's in college. A group of lads jumped him and his friend and tried to assault them. However, my brother and his friend are both members of the rowing team and because of that are extremely strong and fit guys so when they fought back and looked like they were gonna get the better of the thugs, the guys panicked, pulled a cement pipe off the wall of an old building and threw it at my brother. It hit him in the head and they ran. When he was brought to hospital soaked in blood and unconscious, the doctors assumed he was a drunk teenager who had one too many and fell over and left him there for 8 fucking hours, before they got worried, did an MRI scan and found out he had a fractured skull and a brain aneurysm. Rushed to Dublin to the Beaumont, he went into surgery for about 5 hours (it was meant to be 3) where they found he also had a clot. I swear I have never been so shaken in my life. I wasn't told til he came out of surgery because everyone worried I'd freak out coz of my OCD, and it was one of the most hurtful things that's ever been done to me. I mean, they meant it for my own good, but while they got to say their goodbyes, tell him they loved him, pray for him, I was unaware til he came out of surgery..
What if he'd died and I'd never gotten to say goodbye?
In the prep for surgery, his main concern was that they go handy on his long thick curls when they were shaving it, to which the doctor said, "Nurse, you might need to knock him out now..."
and his famous quote to my sister before he went in to be prepped? "Worst case scenario they have to shave my hair", and all she could think was, "worst case scenario you die!"
A year and a half on, he's fit as a fiddle, rowing again, and apart from a massive scar on his head, and a small patch of shorter hair on his head he's fine.
Two weeks after his accident, I got a message that one of my good friends had collapsed, coughing up blood, rushed to hospital, they found he had a brain tumour and 50-50 chance of survival. However, he made it through surgery to remove it and recovered..or so we thought.
A while later he texted me saying, I have these numbers on my phone and messages from people...but i dont know who they are... who's this for example...
"That's my sister. She's one of your best friends"
A week later, Hey, I know we're friends and from the messages we seem to be good friends, but I'm having trouble remembering who people are....who are you?
It took a while, but he is ok now. Apart from needing a cane from time to time when he suffers bouts of weakness in one leg, an effect of the surgery.
Within the space of 2 months, I had almost lost a brother, and a good friend, as well as actually losing another good friend.
It's not easy to think back on that time..it was one of the roughest of my life. But I survived it. I toughened. I got counselling and I got helped. I relied on my friends, I relied on family. I relied on the people who would listen to me say the same thing over and over again because I just needed to say it. And I owe those people more than I can ever repay them.
This year, my neighbours wife got pregnant. A month before the birth, my neighbour was diagnosed with leukemia. They already had a two year old. When she was pregnant with that child, he was diagnosed with leukemia also. He's a good man. He's caring and friendly. He's funny and welcoming. He's one of the best men I know. And he doesn't deserve this. He didn't deserve it the first time and he certainly doesn't deserve it a second time. But he's doing well, he's had a bonemarrow transplant and is getting treatment. Here's hoping. When I see him, I ask him how his treatment's going. Then I tell him that his three year old would look lovely with a lip ring, that his (now) 7 month old is almost old enough for a tattoo and I could hook her up. And he laughs. Coz we recognise that he has cancer, he's not dead.
We all need help sometimes, whether we're the one experiencing something or affected as a by-product. What helped me most wasn't the people who constantly came up to me and said, and how's your brother now, he almost died, it's shockin altogether I can't believe it. Coz I knew all that stuff, and as far as I was concerned they felt nothing compared to how bad i felt.
What helped me were the people who saw me looking down and brought me back up with conversations about nothing, about the sky or the trees, about who kissed who and who did what, about what colour hat their friends cousins neighbour was wearing. And knew to listen when I needed to talk. What helped me were the people willing to sit for hours and say, yeh, yeh, ok, hmm, when appropriate whether they listened or not, or who were willing to drag me off my ass and stop me feeling sorry for myself. The ones who wouldnt let me drop out of college. The ones who came into my room said,
Twink, you smell like shit. Get the fuck out of bed and have a shower, we're going to have fun today.
Shit happens. Shit hurts. But it hurts a little less when theres someone there with you holding your hand and inflating your life jacket. In the long run, I'm better able to handle downturns and upsets, I'm better able to handle myself when something bad happens. I cry. I mope. But I don't let myself give up anymore, coz I know it gets better. It will always get better.
And what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.