My younger brother Aaron died last month of pancreatic cancer. He was 33.
I'm writing this post for two reasons: one, so the world can help me remember him, and two, because I won't be able to write anything else ever if I can't get this out first.
I first want to re-publish something I wrote back in February, because it summarizes the feelings I had at the time that I don't think I can replicate, now that the end has already come.
My younger brother Aaron, my only sibling, is going to die of pancreatic cancer. This will most likely happen soon, within a year. He's only 33. And it's so goddamn unfair.
He was diagnosed last August, and it was a complete surprise. He went to the emergency room for abdominal pain, and after two days of tests, the doctors discovered an aggressive stage-4 pancreatic cancer that nobody knew existed. By the time they'd found it, it had already spread to his liver.
His oncologist told him the treatment plan, a form of chemotherapy that would most likely slow the cancer's spread, but not stop it. I won't forget what our mom told us the doctor said about it:
"At this point, I could treat it, or I could not treat it."
The implication being that it might not be worth the discomfort it causes, and it might not even make a difference. I don't think I've ever been so chilled by a sentence before.
Aaron chose to begin treatment. He started chemo that week and has now done eight rounds of it. At the end of these rounds, his liver numbers were much better, but not in the normal range. The cancer wasn't gone but had been beaten back. For a few weeks, I felt a sense of relief that we hadn't experienced in months.
Two weeks ago, another test revealed that his cancer had A) returned and B) become resistant to the first form of chemo. So now he's going to start a new round, one that will cause him more discomfort, more pain, more vomiting, more exhaustion, overall worse quality of life, and still might not work.
I cannot imagine what he is going through. I've tried, and I can't do it. But that isn't the hurtful part for me. What hurts, for me, is the guilt.
My guilt comes in three forms. First, basic survivor's guilt. Both our parents and his older brother (me) will outlive Aaron. That's not close to fair, not in the same ballpark. When he's gone, we will be left with the maw, the hole of where his life was, and what it could've been. It's so goddamn unfair.
The second form is the frustration guilt. I can't really do anything for him. I'm not an oncologist, I'm just a software developer. I don't know a thing about cancer! I can't help him. I can't take away the pain. The most I can do is comfort him and our parents and my kids for the impending departure of their son, their uncle, from this planet. But it feels so hollow, so pointless. It doesn't help him win this fight, beat this monster that can't be beaten.
It's so damn frustrating. His life hasn't really started! Crohn's and celiac's made his life difficult, and now this bullshit cancer! WTAF universe? Can't give a guy a break?!
That second form, though, might just be another variation of this last kind of guilt. This third form of guilt is the most damning, the hardest to live with. It's the guilt of lost time. The guilt of feeling like I could've done more.
I'll be honest: I'm not as close to Aaron as I would like. We grew up in the same house, but we had different interests and different friend groups. We're both ADHD, and we both get very awkward trying to have real, deep, meaningful conversations with people. I like to think I've gotten much better at this, but I don't know if he thinks the same.
For the longest time, we just didn't talk unless we happened to be in the same room, and even then it was only about surface-level stuff like the newest video game he was playing. All that time, wasted. We could've been closer.
I didn't push it. I should've, but I didn't. I know he doesn't like to talk about things like that, it makes him uncomfortable. But I should've pushed the matter! We're running out of time, and already there's not enough left. It felt like we'd have forever, and now we have less than a year, and that's if he's lucky.
He lives at our parents' house, only a short distance from mine. My kids and my wife K.C. and I go over there every Friday, and he plays video games with the kids while K.C. and I and my parents play board games. We all eat dinner together, but then we play separately.
I cherish this weekly gathering. But we're still separate, him in the living room with the video games and kids and me in the dining room. Separated by twenty feet, but it might as well be a thousand miles. I should've walked it, should've been where he was more, should've met him there and talked, even if just about video games. I didn't, and I regret it.
But we're making progress. I'm trying to talk to him each day now, even if only over text message, and only about Final Fantasy 14 or Nioh 2 or Pokemon or whatever. Because I know there's an end date to these conversations, a time after which we cannot have them anymore. It'll be here soon. I don't want to arrive at that date without doing more than I have been.
I don't write any of this to elicit your pity, or your sorrow, dear readers. I write it because it's difficult to focus on anything programming-related right now. I still crave the normalcy of writing this newsletter every week, because I enjoy doing it and because I want to be a source of good, quality information and opinion. But it's hard, harder than it has been in a long time.
I suspect the hardest parts are yet to come.
I don't have a conclusion for this story. Only one possible conclusion exists. I am desperately holding on to the idea that I won't have to write that conclusion down, but I know it's false hope. It's coming and nobody can stop it.
And it's so goddamn unfair.
And it remains so goddamn unfair.
The hardest parts were yet to come. Seeing him decline, be unable to be awake for more than a couple hours at a time, staying at my parents' house for three days when the end was nigh. Seeing his confusion in the last day of his life; he didn't know where he was or what was happening. Seeing the pain on our parents' faces, both before and since, and praying that I will never have to experience the same pain they are going through. Seeing the pain and confusion on the faces of my children, who knew what was coming and were still surprised in the way that only children can be and have now lost their beloved uncle.
Those faces, those words, those images, haunt me. I suspect they will haunt me for a long time yet.
But the last few months of Aaron's life were also filled with good things. We talked much more than we had been, and about more stuff. My family and I went over to our parents' house to hang out with him every week, without fail. We did things with him, for him. Things like throwing him a Japanese-themed birthday party (he loved all things from there) and making, and eating, strange candy. Things like getting a box of five-week-old kittens for him to play with only a few days before he passed; he always loved cats.
So I want to remember those good things, I want them to be foremost in my mind when I think about my brother.
In case you haven't already guessed, dear readers, this was the reason why I canceled The Catch Block, and the reason why I stopped blogging. Programming and blogging don't matter much when your brother is dying.
As I wrote back in February, I don't write this to elicit your pity or your sympathy. Instead, I write this for me. I don't think I'd be able to write anything else if I didn't get this out first.
I'm still not going to be back, not really, not right away. We only had his celebration of life service last Saturday. There hasn't been enough time yet. But I will be back at some point, at the very least to say more about the other big change in my life that happened recently.
Not to be too harsh, but I don't want money from you, dear readers, though I appreciate the thought. If you do have something to spare, though, there's an organization called Coastal Bend Cat Rescue that Aaron followed religiously on Twitter, and my family and I have set up Aaron's Fund with them to help their mission of rescuing stray cats. If you decide to donate to them, please specify Aaron's Fund, and the money will go straight to that fund.
Also, please follow @CagleCats on Twitter, as that account was what got Aaron associated with CBCR.
I will be back, Dear Readers. I just need some time. I look forward to more writing in the future.