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. My deepest synpathies. My brother, the oldest child in our family, has been fighting cancer heroically now for a few years.He has Multiple Myeloma, a difficult cancer of the bone marrow which spreads easily. I know you do end up feeling somewhat helpless. I pray for him every night. Best regards, Phil.

  2. the big C, at some time I think it touches many of us… you with your dear aunt, me with memories of my dad who died of cancer 22 years ago. I felt a deep helplessness, knowing all I could do was love my dad as always, and look after his daily needs.
    I’m so sorry you and your family has this happening, I wish you all the best, and may your aunt beat this and be healthy . Cures and solutions are being developed all the time.

  3. Sorry to hear about your aunt’s cancer. But so wonderful you can be there to support her and your perspectives on life and death.

  4. Sending much love and hugs to y’all, David. This is not melodramatic at all, and I find it extremely emotional and moving how you talked about your aunt and her disease–how she is your loved one and not the disease, that was so heartfelt.

    I will pray for you and your family, if that is alright.

  5. David, this touched me on so many levels and I understand the weightiness of needing to get her necessary medication. It is a blessing that you and your wife are close enough to help her. Sending light and love to all of you. 💖

  6. It seems normal to me… you were reminded of the gravity of the situation.

    Back in the late 80s, I had an acquaintance with AIDS. One day he’d be out and well, the next we were fundraising for his meds – with him missing the event due to pending death. Then a week later, a miraculous recovery. We went through that many many times, with increasing guilt for me as I accepted his death before he actually left.

    I wish all of you well.

    1. with increasing guilt for me as I accepted his death before he actually left.

      that’s so hard, Leenda… but there’s almost no way around it 😦
      thank you for sharing that story with me.


  7. Sending love from afar to you and your family, David. I know I don’t “know” you, but your words move me. They make so much sense to me – the numbness, the lack of control, the fear … the love that washes all else away. I am praying for your Aunt and for you and your family. God bless you. May He make His face shine upon you and give you peace – a peace that passes all understanding.

  8. She’s a survivor. And that statement is not to be underestimated. It’s inspiring when strength and determination can be seen in the old. She lives with it, you live with her living with it… But you are strengthened, because she is strong.
    I shall be praying for your family sir.

    1. Thanks, Nigel. One of the saddest things about all of this is that she’s in her mid-50’s – not so old at all… and she was first diagnosed when she was in her mid-30’s 😦


      1. As I just said to Eleanor, you are not being melodramatic. I have difficulty with a certain medication, an injection, which would do untold damage should I not get it. Lockdown,till the end of September, makes it more difficult for us to navigate the Health system, to get what we need.

    1. It certainly is not melodramatic! I feel anxious just reading this. Many of my Meds. Are controversial and each time I need new script I become afraid something will go wrong again.

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