When I was just a baby, my older sister Michelle, being at the wise age of 2, decided that I was boring and informed my mother that this whole baby thing had been a bad idea. My mom was probably only slightly tired at the time (after all, she had been given the entire 2 week unpaid maternity leave from work which was all you got back then, and then had had to go back to teaching full time. How could that possibly tire you out?) She responded in a mildly annoyed way (I’m making this part up of course, I have no memory of this but I like to picture it this way): “Well, Michelle, what would you have me do, throw her in the garbage?” To which Michelle crossed her chubby little arms across her chest and dared my mom: “Well, yes, let’s throw the baby out.”
There are differing versions of this story depending on who tells it, but in Michelle’s version I am actually casually tossed into the garbage can, at which point my valiant and righteous sister quickly changes into her superman costume and rescues me. My mom claims she pretended to walk toward the garbage can while holding me and Michelle flipped out and begged her to change her mind.
Regardless of which version is correct, I somehow survived the brutal garbage canning of 1968, and went on to become a normal child (Michelle is snickering as she reads that.)
From that moment on though, Michelle has been rescuing people. I have a relationship crisis: Michelle drives 8 hours to be by my side. My brother Billy’s car accident: Michelle is the first to the hospital. Younger brother Martin needs help out West: Michelle gets on a plane. My mom’s surgeries: Michelle is there day and night. I move across an ocean: Michelle keeps showing up just because I get married or I have a baby or my baby gets cancer.
Ouch that last one felt like a glass of cold water in the face. Let me re-group and re-cap: Michelle is the Family Social Worker, who is basically in charge of any Crisis Department. My family regularly has crises, so this keeps her quite busy. Never mind that she has a family of her own and a job… oh yeah, as a social worker.
Billy is the Strong Silent Type. I’m not sure why he’s always described like this because he’s not really that quiet. He did beat my son Jesse at arm wrestling last year, which I would not have bet on even slightly. So I guess that makes him Strong. He was pretty Silent during his coma for a couple months back then after the car accident, so maybe that counts.
Martin is the Black Sheep. This is only because he has dark hair and tans better than the rest of us.
And Julie is the Beautiful Young Princess of the family and gets to do whatever she wants. She will disagree with this when she reads this on her own laptop after watching tv while eating ice cream. Ask Michelle and Billy and I about desserts in our home when we were kids. Go on, just ask.
So why have I regaled you with descriptions of my family? Well, maybe to make you think of yours…
Family is what gets you through a crisis. For many of us, friends and extended family are included in that overall description of “family”. When you are dealt a cancer diagnosis, your family, whatever it’s form, is who shows up and closes ranks around you, a show of defiance in the face of an enemy attack. Together, we can fight off the attacker.
My family is a big one. I have… uh… a few cousins. (Shout out to my cousins here… just how many of us are there? I’ve lost count.) My dad comes from a family of 5 kids. My mom has 10 brothers. Yep, you read that right. And since they are all married and most have kids and most of their kids have kids… Let’s just say I’ve never had a reason to feel alone in the world.
When my grand-maman was still alive (she of the truck-caning incident) we had large family get-togethers, at Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, and sometimes just on Sundays, because, well, that’s what you do. But mostly in the summer, we would have the Family Reunion.
A Family Reunion in my family lasts three days. It also takes months of planning and strategizing, throwing together possible scenarios, location, theme, meals, wine to serve etc. To do the strategizing the family has to get together several times throughout the months leading up to summer, and eat and drink and debate anything debatable like the merits of whether to finally hold it out in Vancouver for once against the fact that no one feels like flying out there, and since none of the Vancouver relatives came to the meeting, they get outvoted. (Go on, Onc’Eugene, you know you need to comment on THAT!) It is always finally decided to host it in a location where we can all pitch tents and make campfires and sing songs loudly late into the evening while sitting around the fire, the kids running around behind us in the black starry night. So usually somewhere not far from Ottawa or Montreal. Often it has been at my cousin Louis’ who is not allowed to ever sell his home by the water in Aylmer. It’s actually been written into the family bylaws. (Has anyone told him this?)
This year, my family is planning the Family Reunion once again. I am picturing them in their “planning sessions”. They argue and they laugh. The kids who used to run and play in the starry night are grown, and have kids of their own.
I moved away from it all when I moved to Europe, and I miss it. Especially in times of crisis, you need your family around you.
And yet, somehow, magically, my family has managed to support me from across the ocean, throughout our cancer crisis. Cards, gifts, letters, emails. One uncle was so worried that he might miss Elliot’s birthday that he mailed the card priority, costing a small fortune, to show he cared. I have cousins who’s wives keep in touch with me even though we have yet to meet. Elliot feels he is part of one huge, extended family.
There is also my husband Martin's side of the family who have been there for us right from the beginning, about whom I could write a whole blog article too. (Note to self: write blog about Martin's family. Enquire through trusted sources (his mom and sister) about amusing anecdotes from his childhood to include in the story. Perhaps the time he was attacked by a monkey? Or that time he shot himself in the eye? There is definitely some material there.)
Cancer. It sucks, it scares, it robs of our innocence and our time together. But it doesn't define us. Facing Cancer Together… Great name for what this battle is truly about.