Tomorrow, July 7, is the 23rd anniversary of my final radiation treatment. While the first series of treatments covered more area of my body, I have to say the second series was far worse as far as the side effects went.
The area exposed in the second series was about a 4" x 10" rectangle along my abdominal midline below my diaphragm. This is when I stopped eating completely. While I was not eating much when I had the mantle (neck, and entire thorax) radiation, because food was too dry to go down, when I had the abdominal radiation, food came back up too readily. To this day, I cannot even fathom wanting to ingest a liquid protein shake. I get nauseous just thinking about it.
My treatments would have ended a week earlier, but my maternal grandpa died and with my doctor's okay, I went to spend a week in Milwaukee with my family. I did not know at the time that it was going to be the last time I saw my cousin, Gary.
At that time, Gary, unbeknownst to anyone but his parents, had just been diagnosed with HIV. Apparently, Hodgkins Lymphoma has some very similar symptoms to full-blown AIDS. And Gary, bless his heart, was asking me some rather pointed questions about what I was going through. I was confused as hell as to why Gary was asking me these gruesome questions, especially since Gary had a delicate sensibility. Yes, Gary was gay. But I have known straight men that had just as delicate a personality so let's just leave the stereotypes alone. Anyhow, at one point during our conversation (and I still kick myself mercilessly over this) Gary told me that he dreamed of meeting a nice woman, settling down, getting married, and having children. I wish I had told him to cut the bullshit, that I knew he was gay, that I loved him for who and what he was, and that if he wanted to marry a man and settle down, I would have nothing but blessing for him. I just did not have the guts at that time to say what needed to be said.
Gary died in the summer of 1990, when I was pregnant with my son. He did not allow his parents to tell anyone until a few days before he died. I did get to talk on the phone with him before he passed, and I told him I loved him, and that I wish I had known sooner, because I would have wanted to do something, anything, for him.
His death changed some things in his immediate family. Both of his parents got involved in AIDS related charities in Milwaukee. One of the things my aunt (Gary's mom) did, while I was sick, was send me these anonymous notes and little gifts (all containing Hershey Kisses), throughout all of my treatments. We were all trying to figure out who was sending the stuff the whole time. The last little gift came the day of my final treatment, when she revealed that it was she that was sending these things. I know people think I am so strong, but really I am not. She may never know how much the anonymous little notes and gifts helped me get through that time. One of the things she does with the AIDS hospice now, is send the little anonymous notes and gifts to various patients there. My aunt and uncle have served as the Grand Marshals of the Milwaukee Gay Pride parade. My aunt also made a quilt panel to memorialize Gary's life. Here is a photo of his little section:
I still cry when I think of him.