Bad Right Breast

I've Always Hated My Right Breast!

No More Mangoes April 25, 2016

Filed under: cancer,in memorium — Bad Right Breast @ 8:23 pm

victor 1victor 2For as long as my girls can remember, almost every time they’ve gone to the garden (our community oasis in West Harlem) they received a mango. Victor, an 80 year old retired postman of Puerto Rican descent, would see them coming and plan his delivery. We never knew where he got the mango (grocery store, home or off the back of the truck – the latter is the most likely), but he’d stride over with the biggest grin, chuckling quietly to himself along the way, as if he was the only one on the inside of a joke. He’d tenderly tap one of the girls on the shoulder, and she turned around as he’d present the mango in slow motion as if it were a delicate flower. Seeing the girls’ eyes brighten and mouths water at the site would bring him more joy than you ever thought imaginable.

Victor Benitez passed away this past Friday at the age of 85, on Earth Day, succumbed to brain cancer. It progressed more rapidly than anyone could have imagined, having only been diagnosed in February. He returned to NYC with his family at the forefront, no other place they’d rather be. In my last talks with Victor, he remembered me telling him years ago how I’d rather go through cancer over and over again than to ever have to watch a loved one fight it. That it’s the caregivers, the family and friends, who can only watch and wait, that it’s the hardest on. He understood this. He may have not been able to express his gratitude for it, but he was forever thankful.

For those who were fortunate enough to know him, your heart is broken, but you also have a smile on your face because you know that’s what he would have wanted. Always so full of life, and ready to throw a handshake and a hug to each and every person he came into contact with. You could feel the warmth emanating from the shake of his head or the wave of his hand from hundreds of feet away. And that laugh….oh that laugh! When he laughed it was the deepest of belly laughs and you couldn’t help but join in, even if you didn’t understand what he said that got it all started.  For those that never knew him, it is his presence every weekend at the garden and in the park they will miss most. Knowing that Papi won’t be around, well …it’s just not going to be the same each summer without him.

Jenny & VictorHe was a husband who thought the world of his wife.  He was a father who loved his children dearly.  He was a grandfather who doted on all of his grand-kids and the kids of others.  And he was a dear friend to hundreds.   When I told my girls about Mr. Victor’s passing, the first thing they said, in unison albeit, was, ‘No more mangoes?’  Then it sunk in.  We won’t see that smile any longer, won’t see that giant hand wave from afar, won’t get another bear hug and won’t hear that laugh that tickled our insides.  But we know that where he is now, he isn’t suffering, nor is he in pain.  He is where we all know him best, behind the wheel of his heavenly gator, driving around until his heart is content.  As for us?  Well, I know that many things will remind us of Victor, but for me?  It’s the mango, that simple.   As I close my eyes, all I need to do is say the word and I’m reminded.   And I smile.

Photo courtesy of Basia Nikonorow



Filed under: cancer — Bad Right Breast @ 10:57 pm

You’ll be one at some time in your life, whether you like it or not. And I’m not talking about the natural caregiver as a parent (which is a whole ‘nother blog). I’m talking about the one whose life is turned upside down, has a whole new ‘normal’ (sometimes with no end in sight), all the while living the day-to-day life that can go completely unnoticed by the world around him/her.

Even before my own cancer, I never knew how people did it. A sudden accident turns your child completely immobile. A flood takes away a home and forces you to care for your ailing mother. A terminal diagnosis given to your spouse that can last months or sometimes years. I had seen all of these and more before my own cancer and watched in awe as the caregivers adjusted their normal lives, in almost all cases, without hesitation to the new normal which few can describe but unfortunately many experience.

It wasn’t until my own cancer that I saw it. When you’re sick, friends and family want to help, as that is all they know they can do. (And let me tell you, as hard as it is, please let them bring you food, shop for your groceries, do your laundry, take your kids for the day. It all helps more than you know.) I am that person the moment I hear of a friend or loved one with cancer, doing anything I can to feel helpful. Yes, being the supplier of edibles and green relief counts.

But it is the true caregiver that I never want to be. I mean, of course I will, when the time comes. I know I will do my part and step up to the plate as best I can. However, it’s the standing on the sidelines, feeling helpless, watching as your loved one suffers, that I know will be the hardest. All the while, you cook the meals, keep up with the cleaning, manage life. Then there’s the emotions that we all feel but are the hardest to acknowledge. The feelings that emerge simply because we’re human that become the most overwhelming.

The feeling of guilt is one that I feel all the time, even without a tragedy. I blame it on being a Recovering Catholic. The guilt of not being the sick one, of not being able to do more, or if you live far away, not being able to do it at all. The guilt can eat away at you without you even being aware of it. Guilt ….what a fucked up feeling.

Then there’s the feelings of anger and resentment at the ailing loved one, as if it’s something that could have been avoided. You know in your heart that it’s irrational, but the feeling lingers, and at times grows and takes over. There’s anger at the world, the doctors, insurance companies, and more. There’s resentment at other friends and family members who don’t carry your burden, either by choice or by reality.

The anxiety and worry of how you’ll handle the additional responsibilities. What will happen if the sickness progresses and a decision needs to be made? If something happens to you, who will take your place? Or if you become the patient, will someone do the same for you?

Then there’s grief, of all kinds. The sadness of an envisioned future lost. The loss of time and love, and then of life itself.

As I write this, there are more than a half dozen loved ones of mine dealing with cancer at all varying levels. (At this time, they’ve not determined that it’s contagious, so it’s not my fault.) A friend, a mother, an aunt, a veteran, a father, a sister. If you’ve read my posts before, you know I’ve said, “Cancer knows no prejudice.” And in the same sense, neither does being a caregiver. And in dealing with cancer or any illness, I believe it’s the same mental game. Stay out of your head, as the worrying and what ifs aren’t productive. Acknowledge your sadness, feel it, experience it – and then move on. And then handle it with a passion and resilience that you never thought you could muster, but somehow becomes your superhero strength.

But in the end, I would still much rather live through the cancer fight over and over again as long as I’d never have to see a loved one experience it directly. It’s the feeling of helplessness that I can’t stand the most. So please, give me your cancer. I’d happily take it, so you don’t have to.