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Thursday, November 13, 2014

A Personal Story About Cancer

Here & Now producer Alex Ashlock took this photo of his sister Melissa receiving chemotherapy treatment. (Alex Ashlock)

Here & Now producer Alex Ashlock took this photo of his sister Melissa receiving chemotherapy treatment. (Alex Ashlock)

This is a reflection from Here & Now’s Alex Ashlock on how cancer has touched his family.

It was a cloudy Monday morning in normally sunny Southern California. People were shuffling into the University of California San Diego Health Center in La Jolla.

Some pushed walkers. Some wore masks.

In the waiting room, a man sat next to a woman in a wheelchair. She looked really sick. He was fighting back tears and losing the fight. She patted him softly on his shoulder.

Half of the people here have cancer. The other half are the people who love them. I was there with my sister Melissa, who has breast cancer. She had a mastectomy in August and today is the second session of 12 weeks of chemotherapy. We’re in the lobby of the aptly named “Infusion Center.” Melissa will be getting doses of two drugs that are supposed to stop the cancer from spreading.

Her diagnosis came in a phone call that hit me like a punch in the gut this past summer.

But really, it shouldn’t have been a surprise. Cancer sits on branches on both sides of our family tree. We watched our parents die from it. Dad went first, colon cancer.

Late in his illness, I was sitting with him in his hospital room and he said “I wish I was dead.”

Mom had ovarian cancer. She had surgery and lived for a few years before she died at Melissa’s house in New Hampshire 11 years ago this fall.

I always thought cancer would get us too. But I thought it would get me first.

They called Melissa’s name and we went inside. She sat in an easy chair, feet propped up and they gave her a blanket. Then they took some of her blood and gave her some other medicines to get her ready for the chemotherapy before starting the slow drip of the first drug into her arm. The medicine they gave her first made her sleepy and she closed her eyes.

I walked back out into the lobby. It was still filled with people, but it was very quiet. There were several women with scarves covering their heads. They had lost their hair just like they say Melissa will.

A couple of days before we came to the hospital for this second chemotherapy session, we drove up to Pasadena to the Rose Bowl to see UCLA play Oregon. I had only seen the Rose Bowl on TV, but in person the setting is even more beautiful.

We were sitting in the upper section of the end zone and we could look out above the field and see the San Gabriel Mountains rising above the stadium.

Melissa said it reminded her of the days when we used to go to games with mom and dad, first at the University of Illinois where I went to school and later at Purdue, where she was a student.

I think they’d be glad we’re still together.


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Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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