Day: January 14, 2009

Aunt Judy

For the past couple of days I’ve been working on this site for the paper. It’s the sort of “home” for the year-long (and a bit) series of cancer stories written by people in our community. It’s been a beautiful series, and photographer Scott Kingsley and columnist George Ayoub put a lot of work into it.

And then they gave me their “babies” to make them look nice online. Not a problem. Except in the process of building the site, I discovered I was going to have to actually read the stories. It’s probably horrible of me to admit I never read the stories when they appeared in print, and horrible to admit I hoped I could just cut and paste the stories up without having to delve into them. There’s a reason for that though. I knew that I’d have a difficult time getting through them.

Two things I’m afraid of: death and cancer. And because I’m one of ‘those’ women who cries at sad things, I just end up avoiding stuff like these stories. I admire and whoop for joy at anyone who beats cancer. I’ve walked in Relay for Life. I donate to breast cancer awareness organizations. But I get weepy. Which is exactly what happened when I found I had to format the stories online which required me to actually read them. So for the past two days I’ve added about 27 stories – all of them great – most of which made me cry.

And this is a very long way of saying that cancer scares me because I watched my brave and beloved Aunt battle it for over 15 years. Man she was awesome. The coolest Aunt a kid could have and I’m not just saying that. In the pic below, that’s Judy on the left with my mom when they traveled to England together.

Judy was the one who took me on my dream trip to NYC when I was 16. We roadtripped together from Grand Island to Niagara Falls to New York City, and then along the coast and into Boston and New England in general. It was awesome.

At Niagara, I convinced her to do the helicopter trip over the falls in a chopper. She was terrified, but she did it, though the pilot probably still has her fingernail marks around his knee, hehe. She took me to my first aquarium in Boston. She rode the subway in NYC. The best story from the trip though has to be the cab ride she and I took.

I don’t recall where we were headed, but the driver was of Eastern descent. Indian perhaps? Anyway, it’s the middle of summer, very hot, we’d been walking all over the place, and he kept asking my Aunt, “You have rash?” over and over again, and she kept getting more and more offended. It turns out he was saying, ‘You have RUSH’. meaning he was asking if we were in a hurry because he needed to stop for gas. I about fell over laughing so hard.

But Judy was full of awesome. She was there when I graduated from high school. And it was around this time that she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She battled and did the chemo thing, but it never quite went away. A few years after I graduated, my family left California and moved back here to Nebraska to help her out.

When I left my husband, which is not a story I really want to go into publicly except to say it was a horrible weekend, but Judy and my Grampa drove over 7 hours from Grand Island to Castle Rock, CO to come and rescue us. She didn’t hesitate to jump in the car and come help us. And she was there for me and my daughter while I went through divorce.

When the cancer started getting aggressive, she made monthly trips to a big cancer center in Oklahoma for treatment, but it was spreading into her bones. She lost her hair, and went through all that wretched stuff cancer and the treatments required for it do to you. But she never lost her spirit.

She made Christmases extra awesome, especially for the kids. She’d hire a Santa to come and pass out gifts on Christmas eve, host all the family dinners and cook like crazy. We have a family cookbook full of recipes from well, family, but friends as well, and Judy’s stuff was always a hit.

She spoiled my daughter rotten 🙂 Shannon spent a lot of time with Aunt Judy as she grew up and I’m so glad they were close.

She was the one who broke the news to me about my dad the night he died. And she was there for us all the morning my mother died. One echoing statement I clearly remember from that blurry day was her whispering, “It should have been me.” She was feeling guilty that she was suffering from cancer and yet my healthy mom died before her. I remember that so vividly, and it kills me to remember that.

The following year after mom died, Judy’s cancer seemed to speed up and consume her. She passed away on October 9th, 2002, just shy of her 58th birthday.

I don’t want to talk about what she was like at the end. I don’t want to remember her that way. I prefer to remember her as she was in that photo up there – laughing, happy, and having a great time because that’s what she was always like. She rocked, bigtime 🙂