dealing with cancer

Family Visit with My Brother at Curran’s in Minneapolis

currants restaurant

John Burgard, Elizabeth Weintraub and Margaret Burgard at Curran’s Restaurant

My sister-in-law’s godfather is one of the owner’s of Curran’s Restaurant, according to my brother, John, which is one of the reasons we stopped for lunch at the old spot on Nicollet at 42nd. This restaurant has been in Minneapolis since the 1940s, back when it began as a drive-in. There are not a lot of old places left anymore, like with any progressive city, the old goes away to make room for the new. We also stopped at Curran’s for lunch because I really craved liver and onions, but turned out that was not served until dinner. Well, grilled cheese sandwiches at Curran’s were fine in the cold, rainy weather of Minneapolis.

Especially since we intended to, pardon my pun, grill my brother about why he stopped talking to us all those years ago, all those years that were wasted, and why he waited until the doctors at the U of M gave him less than a year to live. Cancer waits for nobody. His response was to let it go. Even when I promised we would not make one comment nor further discuss the reasons if he would just tell us, and I begged. But he refused. Probably because he knows we would discuss it, analyze it, tear it apart into shreds, argue about it, apologize for it, just like any other dysfunctional family would do.

My sister said he would respond like this because she has asked him as well. We figured if we waited until after the chemo infusion which, by the way, is fueled in part by alcohol, and all of the pain medication was absorbed into his system, if we waited until he was a bit loopy, well, that was the time to pounce with our questions. Curran’s was as good a place as any. Sort of like truth serum.

My sister also said she has suggested that he write a letter to us, laying out the reasons, but I don’t want a letter. Especially if I receive the letter after he dies. Because then I can’t respond to it and it will haunt me to my death, that being what I could have done to be a better sister. The people in  a booth or so over must have thought we were nuts, given the topic of our conversation. But that’s the thing about family, you can pretty much say whatever you think and it is accepted.

Later, my sister confided that it’s entirely possibly my brother does not remember why he stopped communicating with us. It was so long ago. And that’s the premise I believe I will adopt.

I said my goodbyes. I am back home in Sacramento today and ready to finish out the week tackling Sacramento real estate. Will say I have developed a lot of compassion for my clients in these types of situations.

My Brother and the U of M Clinical Trial for Soft Tissue Sarcoma

Soft Tissue Sarcoma Cancer

Margie Burgard and John Burgard at Univ of MN Cancer Care infusion room.

I am sitting on the third floor of the Cancer Care Clinic at the University of Minnesota Hospital with my sister Margie and my brother John as we wait for John’s clinical trial drug to arrive. Medical treatment, with the number of lawsuits going on today, requires verification and authentication and review before any procedure can happen; not to mention this morning’s ECHO scan and EKG and multiple vials of bloodwork, in addition to a visit with his oncologist who did not want to directly answer the tough questions. My brother is diagnosed with soft tissue sarcoma cancer, which has reached his lungs, and these are his last-chance rounds of chemo.

Doc says the rounds of chemo will continue as long as the results show improvement. When pressed, he says the maximum rounds will probably be about 10.

We try to keep a sense of humor about the situation because what else is there to do? We can count the months and tick off the hours we have left on our fingers but none of it will change a thing. My brother is going to die soon, and we can’t save him. We can’t cure him. We can only try to keep him warm, comfortable, and lend a a bit of laughter to the few hours we will get to see him while trying to be outwardly sensible. His diagnosis for soft tissue sarcoma was last February, and the outlook is about a year.

Right now, the Burgard snores are pretty loud. My brother snores. So does my sister. They say I snore somewhat too, but not nearly as enthusiastically as they do. I’m sure I am much more subdued.  They are sleeping because we are an hour overdue for the infusion to begin, and my brother’s records had not been updated in some places since last September. The staff assigned to us says they “want to do it right,” and all I can hear is they don’t want to be sued. There is some discussion about weight loss.

To get here, we drove in my rented car in the pouring rain before the sun came up in pitch black darkness. Thankfully the hospital has valet parking. The patient restrooms don’t have automatic faucets, no automatic hand dryers and the lights don’t illuminate upon entry to the restroom.  For such a cosmopolitan city, Minneapolis is still in many ways a small town. Small town. Big disease, soft tissue sarcoma.

My sister just woke up because the staff came into the room to give us an update. Margie is wearing her hair wrapped in a scarf to be in “solidarity” with our cancer patient soft tissue sarcoma. She’s kind of a goof. But I tell you this, if I were in the hospital and dying, she is one person I would definitely want in my corner, figuratively and literally.

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