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. Oh David this is an awful disease. ๐Ÿ˜ข Two of my friends and my mother are struggling. My mother had already two cancers but this time it’s everywhere. May God look after your auntie. โค

  2. So sad to read this message ๐Ÿ˜ขour loved ones very sick means we felt very sad ๐Ÿ˜’
    My comment also how much we can help sure we will, that only we can do ๐Ÿ™๐ŸŒท
    Prayers ๐Ÿ™ Your Auntie get well soon ๐Ÿ™๐Ÿ‘โ™ฅ๏ธ

  3. Numbed acceptance is an understandable place to be – cancer brings up so many emotions. โค๏ธ

      1. The important thing was your agreement to help. So many people would have just left it to somebody else.
        Don’t forget, David, I work with charities and I see enough to have seen that’s how the world works.

        1. I understand, Pete. But really felt like a non-decision. Obviously we were going to do whatever we could – she’s very, very dear to us. (not disagreeing – just contextualizing)

          1. This is the single biggest benefit that a Jewish culture has over a secular one, I think.
            Just thinking generally – I know in your case it is personal, too.
            But just in terms of promoting selflessness. The big flaw with US society is that it never got beyond selfish, and we have followed their route rather than Judaism’s,, unfortunately.

          2. It’s funny, Pete, but my aunt is secular, and while I live a religious lifestyle, I’m very secular-minded… I am not sure I’d say that my approach to helping out a beloved family member has anything to do with being Jewish… just being human (so it seems to me…)

            But – I will say – in my experience, religious communities (definitely not just Jewish ones) tend to be very supportive of their members – providing them with assistance in sundry ways that secular communities do not. In that, I agree 100%.

          3. Sorry, buddy, I suspect being secular in Israel is somewhat different to being secular in the UK. You got some way to go before you qualify as godless ๐Ÿคฃ.
            Seriously, I think when you are immersed in that society, some of it will inevitably rub off. And yes, I meant any religion. They all preach selflessness.

          4. Your mileage in Israel will vary – Tel Aviv, for example, is a bastion of secularity in many ways. But it’s true that many Jewish Israelis who describe themselves as “secular” are actually quite traditional and prefer to have life cycle events and holidays performed in religiously normative ways…

  4. This is so heartfelt, David. Moved by your love and devotion to your aunt. Sending warm wishes to you and your family. ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Not melodramatic at all. โ€œwe live with her living with it. โ€œ So much care and truth in that statement. It is not easy to know someone we love is suffering. Thank you for sharing so honestly. Prayers for your aunt and family.

  6. I spent this week trying to get replacement pills for my post-cancer treatment. I lost the original bottle somewhere between camping trips and cleaning the house for family coming to visit. If your aunt’s insurance is like mine, they do not like to replace lost medication more than once. (This is my third offense. I am now in the pharmaceutical equivalent of jail.) Fortunately, I am a veteran and after only three days of begging, pleading, and calling repeatedly, I am hopefully getting a replacement bottle through their pharmacies tomorrow. And even though I was at fault for having lost the medication, I was anxious, overwrought, and overly emotional the entire time I was looking for the missing bottle. (I had to go through a week’s worth of garbage just to be sure it wasn’t in there.) Medication for cancer treatment–however it is delivered–is important and therefore, it just makes sense that you felt the unnerving responsibility weighing heavily on you. Just remember to breathe again once it is safely delivered. And my sympathies for the pain of balancing love and impending loss of a beloved family member

      1. Always. Anytime you need a painfully honest answer to a question, I’m your go-to girl. Unless you actually want to maintain a cordial acquaintance, in which case, do not ask me how your new haircut looks or whether you need to make any life changes. Somethings are better left mysteries.

  7. Less like melodrama and more so like critical care. Your aunt truly must be thankful for you in her life. I hope that you all have many more shared moments of love and appreciation. Family is the best. Please stay blessed!

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