I actually don’t know why I’m writing this. I hate talking about it. I know even right now, only 19 words in, that it’s going to be a long post. Even if no one reads it, I will still write it, and I will still leave it it up. I want to remember the details, so that when the day comes that none of us remember the small details of the last almost three years, I can come back to this post and remember. I thought that I would never want to remember, that I could be 35 with my kids running around and have no recollection of this part of our lives. But I think it’s important that I remember, that I never forget what it meant to be truly vulnerable, what it meant to be truly afraid, and what it meant to truly know what love was.

December 19, 2013. I remember going to my parents house around 5:00, after I had left my wallet at a clients house and had gone to pick it up. I thought I’d just pop in and say hi, seeing as how they only lived a few streets away. I found my brother on the couch, with this look on his face. It was extreme pain. I asked if he was OK, and he just said “no” and tears started rolling down from his eyes. That was the first time I had seen him cry in what seemed since we were kids and I told him a ghost lived in our attic. He said he could’t handle the pain in his stomach anymore. I asked him if he needed me to take him to the hospital, and he just said he wanted to wait for mom and dad. My mom and dad came home from work, and so I left. I didn’t think it was THAT big of a deal. Oh, little did I know. I got a text around 11:00 that night that they had taken him to emergency because the pain had gotten even worse. I didn’t hear anything until the next day, late in the evening. He was in emerge all night, and didn’t really have any answers. He did however, get morphine for the pain. I was supposed to be going to a Christmas party that night, it was a Friday. I called my mom anxious to hear what was going on. When she answered I could tell something was wrong, and she kept saying “hold on” until I heard her leave the room. She said “Sorry, I just didn’t want Gabriel to hear. But we just talked to the doctor…” And the next four words she said have stayed with me and haunted me for the last two and a half years. She said “It doesn’t look good,” while she fought back tears. I never, and to this day, still have never asked her what she meant. I hung up, puked my brains out, and waited for Dane to get home to take me to the grey nuns hospital. When we got there, he was still in emergency on a bed- there still wasn’t a room available. He was eating butterscotch pudding, and he just looked up at me and said “hey.” I turned away from him and just cried. I cried because his “hey” was so normal, and the fact that only HE would be eating pudding in emerge. Dane came over and hugged me and he just said “he looks fine, everything is fine.” I guess from the time I had called my mom to the time I showed up his vitals had come back to normal and they had stabilized him. But before that, things were sketchy. He got a room that night, and my dad stayed with him the entire 5 days he stayed at the hospital. We found out he had severe crohn’s and that his bacteria level was stupid high. Like if a normal persons levels are at a 10, he was at 140. If that makes any sense. they didn’t know how long he would be there for, and to be honest, I don’t remember much else about that week. Just that he had a lot of IV’s and pain meds, and other meds, and prednisone, and no fibre. I remember his doctor came in on day 4 and said “you’re out of the woods now.” I guess I didn’t fully understand that he had actually “been in the woods.” He was discharged with a nice cocktail of meds and strict dietary instructions. He came home Christmas day.

A few months passed, he was still getting bad pains, but it was kinda all part of the package. We knew until they found the drug that put his crohn’s into remission, he would be having flare ups. It was April, and my parents went to Ontario to visit my grandma, and of course thats when he gets another flare up. So I take him to the grey nuns again, we’re there for hours, he gets a CT scan and gets sent home with T-3’s. They tell him they think his crohn’s is acting up and to make an appointment with his GI doctor. So he does. And I go with him. I remember his GI doctor going over the CT scan results and he says they found this mass. Like a ball of something. He thinks it’s this thing (I don’t remember the term), but its basically poop accumulated into a ball, that if it ruptures your stomach lining, its very dangerous. So that freaks me out, and my knees start to shake. The doctor smiles and just says to my brother “I can see your sister is starting to freak out.” Ha! Gee, thanks dude. He sends us home and says he’s going to send the results to another doctor just to make sure everything is OK. He’ll follow up. We call my parents in the way home cuz my mom is anxious to know the results too. I tell her everything is fine, just that this mass can potentially become dangerous, but right now he’s ok, and we wait. Fast forward to June. I was making pies with my friend and we were being complete idiots that day. Having pie making competitions to see who’s was nicer, dancing around the kitchen, and just being total knobs. I knew he had the results of the other doctor given to him that day, so I texted him to ask. He said “nothing, just a mass that they’re not really sure, its not bad though. It’s just there.” I remember even asking and saying these exact words “but its not cancer right?” “No, nothing like that.” They just referred him to ANOTHER doctor to see if it needed to be removed or not. OK. I can breathe again and go back to my really awesome dance skills and pie making.

It was July. I was home all by myself. It was a sunny day. It was a normal day. I think I was even watching a movie because I didn’t hear my phone ring. I finally checked it and saw I had a missed call from my mom and a voicemail. Have you ever gotten a voicemail and you JUST KNOW? Like you know something is wrong. My mom’s voice was off and the way she said “Claudia, please call me as soon as you get this” makes my skin go cold even as I type this. I called back. I call the house number and my brother answers. His voice is heavy, and I wanna puke again. I ask to talk to mom, she comes on the line. “Have you talked to Gabriel?” “No, what’s going on?” I hear her walk upstairs and shut the door. “Umm… maybe you should come over.” “Mom, tell me what they said, tell me now.” And here it is guys….. the words that changed our lives. “Well…. you know how they said it wasn’t cancer?” Her voice cracks, and I know what she’s about to say next. “Well, it is. It’s cancer.” In movies, this is the part the where they make the room go blurry and the actor’s eyes roll back or something dramatic. Or in a book, the chapter ends and the reader gasps. In real life, you just stay on the phone not saying anything. I distinctively remember saying “OK” after a few seconds though. That’a all I could really say at that point. I hang up and run to the bathroom, and I throw up. I’m so effing mad, I’m terrified, I’m confused, I’m sad, I’m physically sick. Your friends uncle that she doesn’t really see or talk to has cancer. Or the lady that works with your mom, her sister has cancer. Or some person that some other person you kinda know has cancer. But not your little brother. Not your twenty-two year old  brother, no. Not him, No. No. NO. I drive from my house to my parents. It’s the longest 23 minute drive of my life. I call Dane about 26 times and he doesn’t answer. I call his friend that’s helping him out for the summer, hoping he’s near Dane so I can talk to him. No answer. I’m mad at Dane now. I’m mad at the highway, I’m mad at the fricking sun that is warm and making people think it’s a “beautiful” day out. Screw them, screw the sun, screw Dane for not answering my phone. He calls me back right as I’m entering sherwood park. “My brother has cancer” I blurt out. And I cry. I fricking cry you guys. Dane says he’ll come home in a bit. I’m angry at him, for no reason. I get to my parents house and I wanna run away. I don’t wanna open the door, I don’t wanna talk about it, I don’t wanna see my brother’s big brown eyes with lashes longer than mine. I don’t wanna be here. He’s sitting at the kitchen island, of all things, eating. He eats a lot. He doesn’t look up at me, he doesn’t say hi, it’s like if I didn’t just walk in. My dad smiles at me gently. My mom is in their room, probably laying down because she’s exhausted and drained. Now what? What the hell do I say? I don’t remember the rest of that day. And that’s the truth. I don’t remember if we talked about it, I don’t remember how late I stayed, I don’t remember if my brother even said anything. Looking back now, I really, truly believe I somehow forced my brain to block everything out. Because even as I type this, I am trying to remember that day, and I’m coming up empty. Which is ironic, because that’s how I felt. I felt empty.

We find out in the following weeks that they want to remove it. But that will leave him with a life changing result to his body, based on the location of the tumour. We’re devastated. We all cry. He cries, I cry, my parents cry. They decide to put him on chemo, even though they don’t believe it will shrink it enough to remove safely without damaging surrounding tissue and organs. SO he goes on chemo. CHEMO. And he’s twenty-two. He’s on it for almost a year I think. He has oncologist appointments at the cross cancer institute. I go with him once, because he needs to get his blood taken every month. I sat in the waiting room, looking at all these older people, and I hate them. It’s not fair. He’s the youngest one in the room. They call his name, and I walk aimlessly through the halls and look at all these rainbow paintings that people have painted as a form of therapy. I think that they’re really ugly and my brother would have a done a way better job. I start to cry because I realize how angry I am. I cry in the hallway staring at some ugly rainbow picture. I texted Dane and I said “I refuse to give up on my brother. I will never give up on him.” That’s what I wrote. Something clicked I guess, staring at the rainbow at the cross cancer institute with mascara tears running down my ugly face. I decided we would get through this. He started to see a naturopath doctor later that year. Vitamin C infusions weekly. He was taking every kind of herbal medicine, basically grass clipping and unicorn farts. I 100% believe in naturopaths. I do. I’m just being silly because I don’t actually know the names of all the supplements he was taking. Life almost felt normal, until you remembered the “C” word. It was a heavy year.

2015- His oncologist tells us that the tumour has shrunk, the tiniest amount. Not enough to make a difference. He still needs the surgery that will change his life. Early September, I find out that they have made him the appointment to have it removed for October 1st, 2015. How dare they. I’m back to being angry again. I keep wondering when he’s gonna call to cancel it. Two weeks before October, I go into his room and beg him to cancel. He doesn’t say anything. He just goes quiet. I cry. He finally says something that will stay with me forever. He says “For the first time in two and half years, I’m making a decision. It’s finally a black and white answer. I have surgery, tumour is gone, I don’t have surgery and keep hoping vitamin c works, I still run the risk of it spreading and then what?” He’s mad, and I can tell. I say OK, leave his room with my tail between my legs.

October 1st, 2015. Its 6:30 a.m. He knocks on my door to say goodbye, he has to be at the grey nuns hospital at 7:00 a.m. I tell him I’m coming to the hospital too, I’ll be there at 8:00. He hugs me anyways. They all leave and I’m left alone at my parents house. I get ready, my friend Afton is taking me. I throw up. I don’t think I can drive. She picks me up and we both don’t say much. She cares about my brother too, and I know she’s terrified as well. He’s in a waiting room when we get there, with a hospital gown and blue slippers on. There’s a TV with the breakfast television channel on. I want to scream at the the hosts and say no one cares it’s almost halloween!!! Nobody cares it’s gonna be a “chilly”day. Afton and me are blabbing about something, pretending it’s just a normal morning. My mom is pretending to be interested in what we’re saying, my dad is quiet, my aunt and uncle are just siting there, unsure of what to say. And my brother? Not one single word. He’s the staring at out the window. We fake it for about an hour. Then the nurse comes in and calls his name. She says they’re ready for him. My mom and dad can go with him down to the surgical ward, but we have to stay up on this floor. He stands up and hugs my uncle, he hugs my aunt, he hugs Afton. Then it’s my turn. I get dizzy, he gives me the best hug he’s ever given me. It’s a real hug. He holds on to me and we both cry. I can’t stop sobbing and he’s the one that looks at me and says ‘it’s gonna be OK.” I kiss his forehead, both his cheeks and I keep saying “I love you. I love you” over and over. He has to go now. And there he goes, his back is turned to me now. My little brother, my hero, the old soul, the quite one everyone says “is the nicest guy ever,” the soccer player, the sarcastic little turd, the best brother in the world, there he goes with blue disposable slippers on his feet, hospital gown on, down to the surgical ward to have his tumour removed. When I can’t see him anymore I can’t breathe. I full on have a panic attack. I go to the window and all I can think of is jumping out. Not because I wanna die, but because I need air. I need air. I need air now. I can’t breathe, Afton is freaking out. A nurse has to come in and ask if I need medical attention. I must of looked like a loony bin. I leave the room and walk down to the elevators. Afton and me stand there waiting for my parents to come back up. I have his sweater with me and I keep sniffing it. It smells like him. They’re gone for a good 45 minutes. They finally come up and say they’re prepping him. Prepping him? All I can think of is how terrified he must be. How do you prep someone for this kind of surgery? Is he cold? Is he scared? What’s he thinking?

It’s supposed to be a 4 hour surgery. At 4 hours, 30 minutes I get anxious. At 5 hours, I get even more anxious. at 5 hours, 30 minutes I’m silently freaking out in my head. My mom goes to see if she can find anything out. They say he’s still in surgery. At 6 hours, his two surgeons come into the waiting room we’ve been in for the entire 6 hours. They literally just finished. One of surgeons still had his face mask on with his little cap. They’re both in their scrubs. I swear they take forever to say the patient is still alive for kicks, cuz that was the longest pause of my life. Afton even grabbed my hand and squeezed it because she even felt it took too long for them to say anything. “The surgery went good. Took longer than expected, but we’re fairly confident we got all of the tumour.” I don’t know if I can explain what I felt, but I felt like I could breathe for the first time in 6 hours. Or like 3 years. They obviously said a lot more, went into detail, my parents had questions, blah blah blah. I just wanted to see my baby brother. He took another hour and half to wake up from his anesthesia. Go figure. He’s not a morning person. Every hospital bed that got wheeled by, we would all jump up to see if it was him. It wasn’t. Finally, I hear my mom say “That’s him.” We all run to the hall and he’s barely awake, he’s hooked up to oxygen with IV’s and tubes and whatever else. He sees us, lifts his hand up and waves. And he make a silly face at us. (Excuse me, I’m bawling right now as I write this). The transporter tells us he has requested to just see my parents first, and then the rest of us can slowly come in.

The rest is kind of a blur. He’s in A LOT of pain the next few days. Walking is excruciating. On October 5th, day 5 of being in the hospital, we’ve left at 9:00 p.m when visiting hours end. We get home. We’re in out PJ’s now, it’s 10:30 p.m, we’re ready for bed cuz we’re going back to the hospital at 9:00 a.m the next morning, we get a call from him. My dad answers. “You need to come to the hospital right now.” Click. We know something is wrong. We jump back in the car and my dad finally speeds! We have to go through a different way because it’s after hours. The hallways are dark, everyone is sleeping, it’s an eery feeling. We get to his room. His lights are off, the only light is the moon shining through his window. He has a damp cloth over his eyes, and a nurse is holding his hand. His head is going back an forth, side to side, with these moans coming from him that I wish I could forget the sound of. He sees us, and this is what he says. All in Spanish, for whatever reason, I felt that was an important detail. Mostly because we barley ever speak in Spanish unless it’s to our grandma. “I’m sorry you guys, I love you guys, but I wanna die. Im gonna die. I need to die.” My mom can’t understand him and she asks me what he’s saying. I tell her. His nurse grabs his hand again and says “HEY! We talked about this. You need to be strong.” The moon hits his face and he’s a baby all over again. He has tears rolling down the sides of his face, his cheeks look chubby to me, and he’s the baby brother I wanted so badly for so long. “I can’t take this pain anymore, I want to die. I’m sorry, you’re the best parents I could have asked for, I love you Claudia, but I need to go now.” I don’t hate many people. Not even Donald Trump, and I’m basically Mexican. But even if I hated someone, never, ever, do I wish for them to hear those words coming from someone they love. Apparently, he had gas trapped all throughout his intestines. Which makes sense, he had just had major bowel surgery. Turns out, gas pain is the worst kind of pain to experience, and there is literally nothing doctors can do for it. They tell you to walk. He couldn’t even sit up on his own, let alone walk. That night, was the longest night of my life. We stayed the whole night, doing leg exercises, putting a cold cloth on his head, moving him side to side in hopes to get movement in his bowels. He finally felt some relief after a few hours of us being there, but we stayed the whole night. I fell asleep around 4:00 a.m in a chair, sitting upright. I would wake up every 20 minutes to see if he was still doing OK.

I could tell you guys so much more, but I doubt that most of you will get through this whole post anyways. Like I said, it’s kinda more for me to remember and somewhat therapeutic for me. He was there from October 1st to October 11th. The day he was discharged was the day I told my parents I was pregnant. It was a pretty good day. It’s been a looooooongggg recovery. He’s still in recovery, as he is still not completely healed. But i’ll end this novel in a good note. SO here it is:

April 9th of this year, my brother turned 24. On April 8th, he had his follow up with his oncologist, who had done and MRI on him the week before to check if the cancer was gone, if there was any tumour left, all the scary stuff. That whole week, so really, not too long ago, was again a stressful week for us. None of talked about the appointment. We just planned for his birthday the next day. I got to my parents and finally said “How did it go?” The MRI showed that his insides had healed perfectly, and while this whole time they thought he would have to go back on chemo for at least a year following his surgery, the MRI showed that that cancer was such a low grade for it reproducing or coming back, that they didn’t feel it was necessary. So they put him a “watch” program. where he goes every 6 months for an MRI for two years, and then once a year for 3 years. After 5 years, he can OFFICIALLY say he is cancer free. But as of right now, he has no cancer, only battle scars and a story that I know has shaped his life in a way we never thought possible.

Gabriel Exavi Campos. That’s my brother’s name. That’s the name of the person who has become someone I admire, someone who I have the upmost respect for, the person who has taught me strength, bravery and courage. He’s the most calm, cool and collected person I’ve ever met. He very rarely gets angry, he has a quiet strength about him. I am not lying to any of you, or writing this just to make him look better…. but my brother, since this has all started 3 years ago, not ONCE, I promise each of you, not ONCE has ever complained or asked for pity, or even sympathy. I’m privileged and honoured to be his sister. And I love him, more than I actually knew.

If you read all of this… WOW. Thank you. I just high fived you. Now I have to go blow my nose and redo my mascara, cuz this took a lot out of me. Tears and snot and all that fun stuff. I look gorgeous by the way.

Fuerza Exavi, forca My dad had shirts made while he was still in the hospital, and they all played game in my brothers name. His reaction to this picture will forever be in my memory. Strength Exavi, strength.

Fuerza Exavi, forca
My dad had shirts made while he was still in the hospital, and they all played game in my brothers name. His reaction to this picture will forever be in my memory. Strength Exavi, strength.

Some of the pictures he’s drawn. No big deal. This post is for my brother. These words are for him. Fuerza little brother, força.

 

“If you saw the size of the blessing coming, you would understand the magnitude of the battle you are fighting.”

8 Comments on The “C” word

  1. Janell says:

    What a powerful story. Thanks for sharing (and I did read the whole post! Twice! Even though it’s hard to remember all these tough days, it does feel healing to journal them. Wishing Exavi food days ahead and love and hugs to al of your family. It’s been a tough road.

  2. Janell says:

    OOPs…good days ahead, although you said he does like to eat!!

  3. Heather says:

    How wonderfully written! & I’m sure Exavi believes he has the best sister, Mom & Dad & family! Thanks for sharing. Hugs!

  4. Katja says:

    I’m so glad I found your blog, Claudia. This post made me cry. I remember when I found out about the “C” word. Pat called me, I was visiting my dad in Winnipeg. He told me about Ex and I was in shock at first. When my dad asked what was wrong (apparently it was written on my face) I just burst out crying. Thank you for sharing your side of the story. Not that it was easy for you to share, or easy to read. It is just so powerful to hear it from your side. Your brother is one of the strongest and bravest people I know. And he has an amazingly supportive family that helped him through the crazy storm. <3

  5. Cheryl Ann says:

    I loved your story. My sister died from an aneurysm right after surgery so I really understood your grief…and I’m proud of you, your brother and your family. Hang in there, sweetie!

    • Claudia says:

      I am so sorry to hear that. I remember not really fully being able to understand others hardships when they would tell me something upsetting like that. Having gone through a hardship has helped me understand a little better. Thanks so much for reading my post, and for the comment! Hugs:)

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