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Saturday, March 17, 2018

Graduation, Europe and Loss in 2017

I realize I have not posted anything new here since July of last year.  For me, 2017 was a year of joy, sorrow, adventure and pain.  Last year at this time, all of my focus was on graduating from college with my bachelor's degree.  School literally was my first priority above everything else. I figured if I could successfully graduate from college at my age (51 at the time), I would be ready for anything.  Last May, not only did I graduate from the University of Arkansas, I did so with honors.  It was a very proud moment for me.

Earlier in the year, as a graduation gift to myself, I booked a 3 week fall trip to Europe, specifically, to Germany, France and Italy.  I was thrilled not only to visit my favorite place in the world (Italy), I also planned on visiting the small town in Germany where my family hailed from, along with France for good measure. 

My happiness was short-lived, however.  My youngest brother, Jason, had been experiencing pain in his shoulder, which numerous doctors attributed to a pinched nerve from weightlifting.  He had been having trouble performing basic tasks such as tying his shoelaces, and he had fallen a couple of times.  On July 5th, as he was leaving his most recent doctor appointment about his shoulder pain, Jason was involved in a minor car accident. His left side had gone numb while driving and he ran into the person in front of him.  He was taken to the hospital by ambulance where tests were conducted.  That night, I got the news that he had a brain tumor.  Doctors had to conduct brain surgery to remove the tumor, but also, to see what kind of tumor they were dealing with.  The following week, the doctors gave my family the dreaded diagnosis.  Jason was diagnosed with the deadliest and most aggressive form of brain cancer - grade 4 glioblastoma multiforme (the same cancer Senator John McCain has; he was diagnosed one week after my brother received his diagnosis.)  Jason was given 14 months to live.  I was told he cried when he got the news.  After he got over the initial shock, he announced that he was going to fight this beast with everything he had.

Jason Christopher Tillwach
Jason before his cancer diagnosis.
 Jason and I talked on the phone and texted several times shortly after he received his diagnosis.  He lived in the Phoenix area, along with my parents and another brother.  I live in Arkansas.  During one such phone call I received from Jason, I was seated in the lobby of my doctor's office undergoing tests for my own cancer scare, while Jason was preparing to undergo his second brain surgery later that morning.  My parents kept me posted on Jason's progress as he went through chemo, radiation and physical therapy.  The chemo and radiation proved difficult for my brother.  Once a healthy, intelligent and muscular guy who worked out at the gym several days a week, he lost the ability to walk.  The treatments resulted in his heart being damaged, blood clots in his leg and a significant loss of muscle mass.   It seems like the treatment for the disease was just as bad as - if not worse than - the glioblastoma itself.

In September, I departed for my trip to Europe, which shifted from a vacation to more of a pilgrimage on behalf of my brother.  I visited numerous churches and resting areas of incorrupt saints who are known for their powerful intercessions and miraculous healings.  I prayed hard and asked God to heal my brother. I even bargained for him to take me in my brother's place.  I remember sitting in the pew of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Strasbourg, France, tears running down my face, begging for my brother to be saved, asking for a miracle.

It was not meant to be.  While in Rome in early October, I received the dreaded phone call from my mother informing me that Jason's condition had significantly worsened.  I cut my trip short, cancelled my remaining hotel reservations in Italy, and flew to Phoenix to spend time with my brother, who was now staying at a hospice facility.  Although I was fully aware that my brother might be unrecognizable due to his significant weight loss, I was not prepared for the other ravages caused by the cancer.  Jason - who was a radio personality in the Phoenix area for over two decades - could no longer hold a conversation.  Any attempts he made to communicate were limited to just one or two words, and those were spoken in forced whispers.  The cancer had spread to his spine and testicles; he was in immense pain, so he was on morphine.  Also gone was the mischievous light in his eyes.  Ever the jokester, Jason's eyes used to reflect his fun-loving personality.  His eyes were now dull and emotionless and resembled those of a mannequin.   Before flying home to Arkansas, I said my goodbyes to my beloved brother; I had a horrible feeling I would not see him alive again.

Jason - at his son's first birthday party.
Jason - ever the jokester...
 A few days later, my mother called me with the awful news that Jason passed away.  She was crying; I could hear my dad sobbing in the background.  I had just returned home from my daughter's baby shower.   I don't remember a lot about that weekend; I think I was in shock.  I couldn't cry.  I just remember sitting in my dark living room for the rest of the weekend, shades drawn, mourning my loss.  My brother had been given 14 months to live, but we lost him just 3 months and 2 days after his cancer diagnosis.  He never stood a chance against the beast that ravaged his body, mind and personality.

It has been five months now since I lost my baby brother.  I think of him everyday.  They say that time heals all wounds, but I don't necessarily believe that to be true. I have my good days and bad days. Some days, it is all I can do not to slip into a deep depression.   Fortunately, I am cognizant of what happens when I start to feel depressed so I force myself to get up and get moving; it's all I can do some days to physically get up and do something to ward off my melancholy.

I fully intend to start blogging again on a regular basis.  I have so many things I want to share with my readers, including new DIY projects and recipes.  For those of you who continue to follow me - even during my prolonged absence from blog-land - I want to thank you for coming back time and again.  It is most appreciated.  ♥








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