Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Cancer, Livestrong and My Cousin Vernes

This Sunday, June 21, 2009, I'll be riding the 100 mile loop of the Seattle Livestrong Ride as part of Team Fat Cyclist. Thanks to many great friends and readers of this blog, I've already raised over $1,100 and the team has raised over $126,000. Right now I'd like to say thanks to all of you have pledged either your dollars or your time. You are helping good people fight a bad disease.

If you have not pledged yet and want to, we can still use your money. You can go here and pledge money toward my effort. This really is the last post I'll do on the subject, except for a ride report detailing how I faired riding the hilly, hundred mile course bald on my single speed.

Cancer is such a widespread disease that I'm sure virtually everyone has some cancer story to tell. Elden's wife is bravely battling the disease now and my wife's father lost his battle to cancer years ago when Christine was just a teenager. Just in my own small circle of family and friends, there are dozens of cancer stories I could tell. The one I'm going to tell you about today is the one about my cousin Vernes.

Cousin Vernes was one of my oldest cousins. My mom was the youngest child in a large, midwestern farm family. Vernes was the daughter of my uncle Carl, my mom's oldest brother so my Mom and Vernes were closer in age than many cousins. Vernes was more like a cousin or a sister to my mom and more like an aunt to me than a cousin.

Women from my mom's side of the family tend to be somewhat pear-shaped, a trait that makes them more stable when negotiating the icy streets of northern Minnesota. Some tend to become even more pear-shaped as they age, a trait my Dad noted a few years ago when cousin Vernes was visiting.

My dad, my sister Sheila, and Sheila's young daughter Katherine were in the living room chatting while Vernes was in the kitchen making a call. Vernes was perched on a small chair that was groaning a bit under the load. My dad, a man not entirely without tact, kept his voice low as he commented to my sister, "Wow, your cousin really has a big butt. You should never let your butt get that big." Katherine, with those perfect ears that kids have that lets them record and remember all those things that perhaps shouldn't be repeated, filed this information away.

A year or so later, we got the word that cousin Vernes had cancer and was dying. The doctors were out of options. My sisters, Candy and Sheila, headed off to visit Vernes for what would be the last time. In explaining the trip to Katherine, Sheila explained that she was going to visit Vernes, who had cancer. There are a lot of cousins in my family, so Katherine had to be sure she knew which one was Vernes. "Is she the one with the big butt?" Katherine asked sweetly. "Yes," my sister assured her, cousin Vernes is the one with the big butt. "And she's got cancer in her butt?" Katherine further queried. "No," Sheila explained Vernes has a big butt and she has cancer but the cancer really isn't in her butt and wasn't it time for Katherine to go to bed?

So my sisters went and visited Vernes, helping out as much as they could in her final days. It was only fitting, for Vernes had always been one of the people in the family who would come and help out when somebody was sick. Vernes was the one who would welcome people to the neighborhood. Like all of us, she had her faults, but she was someone who would pitch in when folks needed help and she would listen and she could laugh at herself.

It's a shame my sisters never told her how they almost lost control on one of those last days. It wasn't the sorrow that made them almost leave the room, they'd learned to deal with sorrow. Vernes herself always had a faith that stood with her to the end and she knew she'd had a good run and was headed to her reward. But when my sister asked the specific question about the cancer and Vernes explained that she had one very big, inoperable tumor, "behind my hip, kind of at the base of my spine. To tell you the truth, it's in my butt." my sisters nearly lost it.

And so I'm riding on Sunday for a lot of people, including my cousin, whose heart was always bigger than her butt. The Lance Armstrong Foundation is a lot like my cousin Vernes, they pitch in where they can. My friend Fatty tells me they have been a great help to his family and I know they've been a great help to many other families dealing with cancer.

Cancer is a pain in the butt. Sunday I'm going to go kick some of that butt, for cousin Vernes.

Keep 'em rolling,

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