Opening up about my aunt’s cancer

We live with her living with it

This post may be short because this is not easy for me to write about. The subject is one that I usually only mention in passing comments: my dear aunt is a stage 4 breast cancer survivor.

In much the same way that thoughts of Papa are always at the back of my mind, so too are thoughts of my aunt. Whenever I think about my extended family on my mother’s side, my thoughts inevitably come to her, as she, more than anybody else, has always been at its center, holding us together. All who love her live daily with heightened concern for her health; it’s impossible to ignore.

On the other hand, speaking personally, there’s a certain degree of acceptance that I have come to live with – there has to be. The simple fact is that all of us are powerless to cure her. When we visit with her, our conversations are wide-ranging; we don’t avoid the subject of her health (that would be unnatural), but it’s rarely the focus of our discussions. It simply is. She lives with it; we live with her living with it. She’s not her disease – she’s our loved one.

Being helpless to help her gives me a certain sense of “calm” about the situation. It’s not apathy – there are very few people that I love and worry about more than my aunt… It’s just a numbed acceptance, for lack of a better word.

An unexpected request for help

This morning, my aunt unexpectedly contacted me and my wife with a request. She needed us to pick up some of her medication from somebody here in Jerusalem. Of course, this was a very easy matter to arrange; my wife contacted the woman with the medicine, and got it from her on the way home from work.

Hopefully, we’ll be visiting my aunt at her home in Modi’in (half an hour from Jerusalem) some time soon… perhaps next week; and we’ll bring her the medication. None of this is a big deal.

Except it is.

When I realized that my aunt needed us to bring her medication, I felt myself tensing up and worrying… the responsibility felt tremendous.

Unlike my casual relationship to whatever medications I may “need” on occasion, my aunt’s relationship is anything but; she needs her daily dose of medication to keep cancer at bay. I may sometimes “suffer” from headaches, indigestion, allergies, etc., but I am in good general health, albeit overweight (not healthy for me). In my personal life, medications are a luxury – I can easily live without them. My headaches will go away; my allergies will pass.

Some difficult, additional perspective

I can never forget that due to various health-related restrictions, my aunt was unable to fly to the USA for Papa’s funeral several years ago; and, months later, unable to join us at the unveiling of his headstone. She was devastated by this, wanting nothing more than to get on a plane and pay her respects to her beloved brother-in-law. The two of them loved one another like siblings.

I don’t know all of the details regarding her health, but I know that she regularly needs to get tested, regularly needs to receive treatments at the hospital, regularly needs to deal with doctors; medical insurance; pharmacies… and, of course, the drugs that she takes are not common to come by. Ensuring that she has her medications is a never-ending saga for her.

These are things that I know, but I’ve never been directly involved in any of these processes, other than providing her with emotional support and visiting her at the hospital in Jerusalem. My helplessness has long been the lens through which I view her battle with cancer – all I can provide is my love.

Today, however, I was struck on a very personal level with the all-consuming importance of making sure that my aunt has enough of the very specific and rare medications that she needs. Technically, the task was incredibly simple – we only had to contact a local Jerusalemite and pick up a box of pills from her… nevertheless, on an emotional level, I spent the entire day worrying until I was certain that my wife had the package in her possession.

I suppose this all sounds very melodramatic… but I still find myself thinking about it, even now. A simple request threw my usual sense of numbed acceptance completely out of whack and has given me some difficult, additional perspective.


This post inspired some lanturnes the morning after I’d written it.

100 thoughts on “Opening up about my aunt’s cancer”

    1. Very much so, Sarah – but so many people are suffering… it’s not just my aunt, obviously – some of the poets whose blogs I read are either battling cancer now or have fought it in the past… It’s truly horrid.


  1. Love is complicated and life and death are complicated. Sometimes they stand right in front of us and refuse to move until we look. (K)

  2. May your aunt stay blessed, David. It’s a long and hard battle. I can understand your feeling nervous about getting her her medicine. Sometimes, the tasks may seem small but they come with great responsibility. Wish you and your aunt all the best. Health is so precious.

  3. so heartfelt and raw David.
    As you hold your Aunt the best way you know and feel hopeless and somewhat numb,
    know that we are all holding you in the best way we can from afar.
    Hugs and love.. 💖🙏🤗

    I loved this because this is truth…

    “She’s not her disease – she’s our loved one.”

    Enjoy the time you have with her and let her know that she is the glue that has held your family together if you haven’t already. That will mean the world to her.


  4. Very brave to share this story with us and hard to find the right words to answer it. Enjoy every moment you can be together, if possible try to do fun things, because these will be the memories for later…. Lots of courage and strength !

  5. So sorry to hear about your aunt, David. This post of yours is touching one. Such a situation is not easy, I understand. My good wishes to your aunt and your family! May I ask who resides with her?

    1. she lives with her husband, my uncle, and her younger daughter has been living with her part-time these last years, whenever she comes home from her studies abroad.

    1. One of the reasons that I haven’t written much about it at all, Marieke… is that it feels like it’s not my story to tell. And I don’t want to get into the details of her life… but, still, she is very much a part of my life, and I can’t act or feel otherwise.

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