I have typed this post many times, and I think about sharing this story all the time, I just never have the strength to actually finish it and I move on. This is going to be the most emotional post I will most likely ever write, so I hope you stick around but I understand if you don’t. I feel like this is a time when I would most like my Uncle around, and since he isn’t maybe writing about him will help a little. So as the 15th month without him is over the weekend, I’m going to let it out now.
I have mentioned my Uncle John, aka Jughead, several times on this blog, but I have never been able to fully tell his story. Today, I want to do that. My uncle was one of my best friends, I have countless memories with him from the first 22 years of my life, and they are irreplaceable, but the lack of memories over the last 15 months is heartbreaking. You see, my uncle had Cancer, and the hospital didn’t figure it out until he had had it for 8 months while being treated for an infection, causing him to have an extremely rough final year. It is estimated that he lived with the cancer for 5 years prior to finding out, based of of the size and area it was located.
My Uncle John was one of the happiest people I will ever meet. He was always joking, laughing, smiling about something, and it was contagious. I am sure some people thought he was a little crazy with his skull with a top hat tattoo, or those crazy bandanas he wore to work, but to all of us he was the best. Him and my grandfather were the first people to take me crabbing, and I was addicted. He was also the first person to flip me off of the tube while pulling it behind the boat. And he was the first person I could talk to if I had gotten in trouble, he had his fair share of run-ins with the law while he was a teen, so he always understood. Since I was about 18, we always talked about how fun my 21st birthday was going to be, especially because his 50th was just days before. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to celebrate like planned, but I still enjoy looking back to us talking about what we would have got into.
Time and time again I would go to my uncle about something, and he would never judge. He always told me to go with my gut, even if it got me into a little trouble, but he was the most honest person around. Every Christmas morning me and my siblings would open our presents, go to his house next door and play with our cousins while he made us breakfast. I have memories like that to go on forever.
I remember when my uncle first got sick, the doctors kept saying it was an infection and sent him home with antibiotics. When that didn’t work, they would try a different medicine, meanwhile he was only getting more sick. Over and over his pains were ignored until one day the doctors finally decided to run a few extra tests. Cancer. It was all over his liver, and emergency surgery was done right away. We were all scared and helpless because we hadn’t even grasped the idea of Cancer before they had to take him in for a surgery he might have not made it through.
I remember sitting in the waiting room for hours, not knowing anything just pacing to find out what would happen next. The following months were full of Chemo, Radiation, other surgeries, nights in the hospital, holidays in the hospital, and many, many tears. While my uncle didn’t look the same, he acted the same whenever he could. He would crack a joke, make us all smile, and tell us it was going to be alright. How was he the strongest out of all of us while this was happening to him?
While I can’t put the blame on any one specific thing, I can put a good bit of the blame on Johns Hopkins Hospital for the lack of care he had received. My uncle had worked for Hopkins for over 15 years, yet received the worst care imaginable. They didn’t think to do any types of tests for Cancer for several months after he had started care, the nurses and doctors never communicated with each other, let alone communicate with my uncle or any of us, they never seemed to have the right equipment on hand when it was needed, and so many other things went wrong that you would think it would be malpractice. Week after week we would call, email and leave messages for his care team during the last year of my uncles life, and never did we receive a response. How can such a well known hospital be so irresponsible? I know they have plenty of patients, but I feel like since my Uncles case couldn’t be of any research to them, it wasn’t looked at with the same amount of importance. At least we all were in it together.
There were plenty of times he needed us, but in the end, it was us that needed him the most. We were all happy to surround our lives with being around him, it was all we ever wanted. There were trips back and forth to the hospital, hospice care, another hospital, another doctors office, and so on, but nobody ever complained about being by his side. We truly 100% needed him, and we still do. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about how things could have been different.
A few months before my uncles final day we moved him to a different hospital, where he was fully taken care of and he was always comfortable, it was the best decision we could have made at the time. If only we had made it sooner. One of my favorite memories of my uncle was in that hospital, my mom, Sister and I had just ran the Color Run and went to visit my uncle afterwards. We were all covered in colors and he was so happy to see us when we arrived, if I could relive that day over and over again I would love to. No matter how sick he got, he would always light up when we surprised him.
In the end the best thing for our family during that time was to stick together and make the best of the situation. The number one thing for us was to make memories outside of the Cancer. All 13 of us would go to the hospital to have family dinner on Wednesdays with my uncle, we would take walks to look at the birds, visit him and watch Nascar races, and just be around him wherever he was. When I look back on how everything went, I am sad yet happy to have known such an amazing man. I am extremely blessed to have had every moment with my Uncle that I did, and I will never take those memories for granted.
One of the last conversations I had with my uncle was about Dave, and how much he loved him. He said that I needed to hold onto him because he couldn’t have picked a more perfect guy for me. They would have been the best of friends, and I wish more than anything that my uncle was going to be here for our wedding. I know he will be watching, but nothing will compare to seeing him bust a move on the dance floor.
I will miss him forever, and my future children will probably be sick of hearing stories about him, but it is true, only the good die young. The very last thing he said to me was “Love ya, Mace” and I will hold onto those words in my heart forever.
I love you too, Jughead.
One day while I was visiting while Jughead was in Hospice, April 2013
My cousin, Jordan’s Senior Prom May 2010
My 21st Birthday, February 2012
My cousins graduation, May 2011
During the Super Bowl, February 2013