Tag: chemotherapy

Death, a constant presence

THE OLDER you get, the closer to death you are and the more death you witness in one way or another.

In my years here on this Mexican mountaintop, plenty of people I’ve known have died.

The brother-in-law, of course. He killed himself unintentionally with a small-caliber pistol that he aimed too close to his heart.

Long ago, there was an old fellow named Charlie who drove around town in a rattletrap Volkswagen Bug the color of a bluebird. Every time he saw me, he asked: Are you still here?

And I always was.

Once Charlie was having lunch at a sidewalk table outside a restaurant on the main plaza when a car pulled up and thugs got out. They walked by Charlie, went into the restaurant, grabbed a man, tossed him into the car trunk and drove off.

They were rivals from narco gangs. This all happened right next to Charlie who didn’t bat an eye. He later said he thought the guys in the car were cops. But they were not. Charlie is gone now, a natural demise. He’s not here.

But I still am.

There was another fellow. He was quite fond of my child bride, and he often would sit with us Saturday afternoons during the weekly pastry sales that my wife did then and still does now.

He was a nervous man, gay, quite smart, about 50 years old, but very nice. We enjoyed his company. He was a Cárdenas, a descendent of Mexican President Lázaro Cárdenas. One day we heard he died under questionable circumstances.

Then there was the wonderful Al Kinnison. I loved that guy. He was almost like a father to me. When he died here in 2005 at the age of 79, I wrote a tribute to him. And I miss him still. His wife, Jean, preceded him into the unknown a year or two before.

Almost two years ago, a nephew died at age 31 of cancer. We had driven him almost weekly for a year to the state capital for chemo treatments, to no avail. He left a wife named Alma (soul) and two small children.

Last May, a second brother-in-law died. A heart attack in his early 50s. He was a younger sibling of my wife. No one had a clue about his health issue, so his death came out of the blue.

And very recently, two more. One was an old man we knew fairly well. The other was a young boy we knew far less well but who had impressed us mightily the last few years.

Almost every Saturday, before heading downtown for our pastry sale, we eat lunch at a very humble, roasted-chicken eatery on the highway near the Hacienda. The family business started about three years ago in exceedingly low-rent surroundings. A small dark room with a couple of metal tables and chairs.

A father, mother, two children and a granny who made the tortillas by hand.

The father roasted the chickens on wooden stakes stuck vertically into glowing coals which were spread directly on the ground outside. He also cooked chorizo and ribs in the same way. He is a very serious young man whom I’ve seen smile just once.

His wife is far more outgoing, a young, happy woman who looks in her late 30s. The husband is about the same age. The children were a daughter about 7 and a son, 16.

They toil seven days a week.

The food they sell is excellent, and the business grew. Last spring they moved a few doors in the other direction to a larger, less gloomy location, but the roof consists of log beams and a plastic cover. That’s what keeps the rain at bay.

My wife and I always noticed the boy. He was tall, good-looking, clean-cut, polite, attentive to the needs of both customers and his parents. He seemed like a great kid, the sort of son anyone would be proud of, and they were proud of him.

He did home deliveries on a small Honda motorcycle. He was killed on that bike two weeks ago. This is what tragedies are made of. We learned of that last Saturday.

Last week, Michael Warshauer died. He and his wife, Susie, came to our house not long after they moved to the mountaintop in 2005. Mike was a superlative cook, and I had mentioned that I missed Vietnamese pho soup, which I often ate in Houston.

Mike and Susie visited, and Mike made pho. It was good. Not quite what the Vietnamese served in Houston due to the lack of some ingredients hereabouts, but it was a stellar effort. The inimitable Jennifer Rose has written an excellent tribute to Mike, which you can see here.

She did it far better than I could have.

R.I.P., Mike, and to all of the others I mentioned or, as it’s written in Spanish, Q.E.P.D.

Perhaps I won’t be far behind you. Have pho prepared, please. Fixings shouldn’t be an issue up there. And I’ve heard good things about your chocolate eclairs. That too would be appreciated. I adore eclairs.

Thanks in advance.

Year of cancer

NO, NOT ME. And not quite a year either.

Last January, a nephew discovered he had cancer. The problem began when testicular cancer was misdiagnosed as a cyst.

The testicular cancer, untreated, spread to his lungs, and that’s when the problem was discovered. The cyst diagnosis had come from a doctor practicing at a generic drugstore.

Mexico is chockablock with doctors, and many find work at drugstores, charging about 20 pesos a diagnosis. While this may not be a bad option for minor, routine ailments, I wouldn’t count on it for anything potentially serious.

The drugstore option is used primarily by folks who are financially challenged. That would be our nephew.

He is 31 years old, married, two great kids, 10 and 6, and few real occupational skills. His father — my wife’s brother — was murdered by a lunatic when our nephew was a toddler.

His mother died a decade later due to diabetes, which she simply ignored until it killed her.

The nephew was 14, and his brother was 16 when mom died. They have been on their own ever since.

The testicular cancer has been removed. The lung cancer is more stubborn, but test results have been going in the right direction. By sheer luck, he had health insurance from a job driving a wrecker on the autopista near here.

He has been receiving chemotherapy at a government hospital in the nearby state capital. This has been going on for the past year. At first, we were part of a group of friends and relatives who ferried him to these sessions.

He has no car.

But, in time, the others have dropped out. Now it’s just us. Once a week. Some weeks on, some weeks off.

* * * *

Alternative medicine

In addition to this traditional treatment, he is also going to a witch doctor. At least, that’s what I call him. Others call him a practitioner of alternative medicine.

The witch doctor was recommended by another aunt and, unfortunately, he is not located in the nearby state capital but hours away in the City of Querétaro.

Once a month, the nephew travels to Querétaro by bus, leaving early in the morning, and returning late at night. The witch doctor is not cheap, and he prescribes all manner of medicines, none of which is covered by the health insurance.

My wife and other aunts pay the witch doctor.

The nephew has more faith in the witch doctor than he does in the oncologist at the government hospital.

The test results have shown a good bit of improvement over the year, but the lung cancer is not in remission.

I hope for the best while thinking of Steve McQueen.