|Audrey just before port surgery a few months ago.|
My Aunt Audrey was diagnosed with breast cancer almost a year to the day before I was. Like me, she'd had a history of breast cysts and, like me, she was diagnosed relatively early and received radiation. While I opted for a bilateral mastectomy she'd had for a lumpectomy instead.
Ten years later, she had a new primary - a stomach tumor that made its presence known when Audrey started having extreme fatigue and anemia. She was diagnosed Stage IV from the beginning and shortly after, a spread to her liver and pancreas was discovered.
Cancer is a mean, evil, bird-flipping witch. Through the neuropathy-inducing chemo and regular blood transfusions, the tumor never even simmered down. It just continued to wreck havoc on first her digestive system and then the rest of her body. Because her stomach was so damaged, eventually a feeding tube was inserted. She lost a ton of weight, spent many days and nights in the hospital before the doctors declared that she'd exhausted all of her treatment options and suggested the family call Hospice.
Still, the flood of people who came to see her never stopped. And on days when she seemed the furthest away, any familiar co-worker, church member or neighbor's face in the doorway made her brighten up in ways that can't even be explained.
|The view from her window the day she passed.|
When we stopped by on Christmas Eve, she was practically catatonic. Her breathing was very labored and her heart-rate was extremely rapid. I knew it would be the last time I would be able to see and talk to her. While I was sitting at her bedside, I saw a little phrase printed on the pajamas she was wearing: "The day is done." Twelve hours later, her day ended. Her daughter-in-law who was next to her said that she just stopped breathing. She would have been 66 in February.
|Audrey and her oldest son, Melvin Jr (Mick).|
My aunt was a mother, a teacher, a devoted church member, a musician, a civil rights activist, a wife, a woman with amazing legs who had no problem telling it like it was, a person who cared about others almost as much as she cared about herself - and then some. And I'm sure there are things she did, thought about, wished for, planned to do and felt deeply about that we, her family and friends, never even knew about.
Every once in a while, she'd call me "Miss Militant" mostly because of my views on women in society and things like the terrible connotation of "good" hair in the Black community. Even before I first started teaching as an adjunct, she was the one person who called me "Professor." One of my biggest cheerleaders, she always made me feel extremely special and like I could do anything on the planet if I wanted to badly enough. "Nothing surprises me anymore. Nothing at all," she told me once. I don't even remember what we were talking about, but I do remember how surprised I was that my fabulous aunt was so, well, jaded.
She and my mom, Maxine, grew up as sisters. They were the children of two sisters, but my grandmother had left their tiny North Carolina town - and her daughter - behind to find a job in the big city (New York City, that is). My mom was one of nine kids Aunt Blanche and her mother, my great grandma Pearlie, raised together in the Jim Crow south. My mom considered all of her cousins siblings, and I always considered Blanche my third grandmother.
|Melvin and Audrey say "I Do!"|
As her immediate family is overwhelmed with the shear amount of things that have to be done, I offered to help put together a board of photos for Audrey's viewing/wake and funeral. As much of my family is staying in town between the two services, we had a blast looking through Audrey's photo albums and seeing pictures of her - and us - after Blanche's service. We found some of Audrey doing "circle time" with the pre-schoolers she taught. We found some of her in a beautiful, little black dress, playfully showing a little leg for the camera. We found some of her pregnant and on bed rest with her youngest, Courtney. We spent lots of time huddled around Audrey's dining room table laughing about times that seemed like they happened just yesterday.
|A photo and card left on her dresser Christmas morning.|
But a few yesterdays ago, she was here with us - then on Saturday, she wasn't. All of my family is feeling her absence this week. All of us are dreading the difficulty that will be Friday's service. All of us are hating cancer very much right now.