CANCER TALES Loss of brother, dad helped her understand loving, letting go


My dad (left) and his best friend Lamar

My dad (left) and his best friend Lamar

“There are no do-overs in life.”

Of the many words my brother Danny had spoken to me – these I remember the most. He had been diagnosed eight weeks earlier in July 2003 – and little did we know we would only have him for nine more weeks.

Once a strong, determined, active and funny brother – the cancer made him tired, angry, quiet and not so funny.

I had never been close to my brother who was eight years older than me – but we lived and talked a lifetime in those 17 weeks. We learned a lot from cancer. You can mend broken bridges, you can forgive and forget, but most of all you can truly love.

He forgave my father, Dan Sr., for years of arguments, anger and poor choices. It was something he had to do so that he could let go. As I watched my brother’s health decline – I realized that those years were gone forever.

Then on the day after what would have been my brother’s 49th birthday, on July 16, 2004 – my father was called back to the hospital after some tests. An MRI revealed two masses in his brain. We would learn that an earlier diagnosis of a sinus infection was the cruel monster cancer – and in fact a tumor.

It was ironic that my dad would get cancer – and a different type – only one year after my brother. After he’d watched my brother suffer and said “I could never do that.” Now he was being put to the test.

We rushed to get him baptized, and then celebrate his and mom’s 50th wedding anniversary. The chemo didn’t help; the radiation got rid of his headaches – but not the tumors. They were all over his body now.

He went downhill with every treatment – not only physically, but emotionally. Day by day, pieces of him would disappear. He saw things that weren’t there, spoke to people no one else saw, and fought with every ounce of his being not to let go.

But my brother taught me that letting go is not giving in – and daddy finally had to let go as well — a short 51/2 months later he passed away. Losing those two people has had profound effects on those left behind. Sores that won’t heal and memories not yet made. But I have to move on and hold dear the memories I made while they were here – because that is all I have, because there are no do-overs.

  • Cancer touches us all. Nearly everyone living in metro Atlanta knows of someone living with cancer or dying from it. Email us your story: JKJOHNSTON@AJC.COM

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