Thursday, September 27, 2012

A Virtual Stone



September is National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.  I honestly hadn't planned to write a piece about cancer.  It’s been in me for a long time, but I never even considered letting it out until now.  Still hopelessly torn, I ultimately took the easy way out and put it in my Step-Mother’s hands.  I told her that I was thinking of writing a piece and if she agreed, would send it to her for approval before publishing.  If Joyce said that I could write it, I would.  If Joyce didn’t want me to, I would not.

I heard back from Joyce the same day:  “I think that is lovely.  I do not need to proofread it . . . I am sure it will be a wonderful tribute to him.”

A Virtual Stone | www.BakingInATornado.com |  #Cancer


When Jews go to the grave of a loved one, we leave a stone on their gravestone.  It’s our way of saying “I was here, you are not forgotten”.  I’m 1500 miles away from home so in this month dedicated to awareness of childhood cancers, this post will have to serve as a virtual stone on my (step)brother Peter’s gravestone.

Peter’s Mom married my Dad later in life, so I’m not going to tell you that he and I grew up together.  There was an age difference between us as well.  I was close to my Dad and Joyce, but got to know Peter best during his fight with cancer.

Peter grew up an only child.  I remember him as a fun, happy, athletic kid.  Ice Hockey was his game and he played it as often as he could.  It was an unusually large swollen area from a hit with a hockey puck that resulted in Peter’s diagnosis.  To this day I’m not really sure what kind of cancer he had, one of his Oncologists said it was most similar to a childhood cancer someone his age (17) wouldn’t have.  By the time it was found it had taken over his kidney and adrenal gland and was the size of a grapefruit.  He had surgery, but it had gone into his lymph nodes so it may have metastasized.  It was decided that the Oncologist at Dana Farber would remain in charge of his case, but the chemo would be administered at a local hospital so he could be near home.

I know that Peter’s Mom was with him before the first chemo, but was not capable of being there when they started the treatment.  I decided to go.  It was all I could do to fight the visceral need to rip that bag of poison out of his arm as they hooked it up.  I watched the line of fluid stream from the bag down, down, down into his arm.  I felt sick at the thought of poison, hopeful at the thought of treatment, and sick that poison was making me hopeful.

Chemo is a very good thing, and a very bad thing.  It is debilitating. There are profound side-effects that don’t go away.  Peter had to be literally knocked unconscious for days following each chemo session because it made him so sick.  He lost some of his hearing, he lost tons of weight, he lost the feeling in the bottoms of his feet.  And Peter went into remission.

At one year post-chemo, Peter, Joyce and I went into Dana Farber for a checkup.  The Oncologist told us that there was a mass where his adrenal gland used to be and other nodes as well.  She talked about treatment.  I remember going into the ladies’ room afterwards and talking to Joyce about what we’d found out. How surreal it was that Joyce and I had heard two completely different things.  What she heard was positive, she heard treatment.  What I heard was negative, I heard that it was back.

Peter went through more hell, and then just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, there was a bone marrow transplant.  He was already beaten and bruised and battered and now they were going to eradicate his immune system.  Poison, and hope, and poison.

Once I was allowed in the room (suited up) where Peter was recovering from the transplant, I went in with a backgammon game.  I have to tell you, I’m not one who lets others win.  Ever.  Ask my poor little niece.   I remember that I was winning, and then suddenly every time it was my turn Peter would reach up, take out a little clump of his (loose) hair and put it on the game.  That little bugger was playing dirty.  And it worked.  He won.  Every game.

Peter went into remission again and went to college.  Cal State Chico.  He was pledging a fraternity when it became clear that he wasn’t well.  I remember that my husband (then boyfriend) and I had plans to host friends at his ski house when, the day before we were to head  up to New Hampshire, Joyce called and asked me to come home and fly with her up to California to take Peter out of school.  The whole 2 hour drive home was a blur.  Joyce, her niece and I flew up there. 

Peter ended up at Cedars Sinai on the same floor as Pierce Brosnan’s wife.  It would have been a cool story if it had ended well . . .  for either family.  But it did not.  For us, the end result was this: Peter could fight, beat the cancer back, wait for it to return, fight, beat, wait, fight, beat, wait.  It was up to him to decide when to stop.

I stood at Peter’s funeral 8 days before my wedding.  Peter had been 20 years old.  I remember my sister and I approaching together and holding hands as we threw a rose into his grave.  I don’t remember anything else.

Jews name babies (in many cases the child’s Hebrew name) after the dead.  It’s a way to remember them through the living.  My oldest son’s Hebrew name is Peter’s.  My son’s always known who he was named after and the general story. 

When my son was very little and we were back home, he wanted to go see Peter’s grave.  I wasn’t really sure what to do so I talked to Joyce.  I knew she’d come with us, but you never know what a small child will say.  I was really concerned that Older Son could very well inadvertently hurt Joyce.  We knew, though, that his simple request to see his namesake’s grave would be honored.

We went but didn’t stay there long. We saw his beautiful, simple gravestone.  Joyce talked a little about Peter, we said a prayer and one by one left him a stone.  In the car, as I was pulling out of the cemetery, I heard Older Son say “I wish Peter had never died”.  

There it was. 

I sort of held my breath as Peter’s Mom turned around, looked at my little boy, and simply said “me too”.

A Virtual Stone | www.BakingInATornado.com |  #cancer
 
Peter David Sferra is remembered.



Baking In A Tornado signature | www.BakingInATornado.com |  #MyGraphics


PS: I'm on the National Bone Marrow Registry. Are you?


48 comments:

  1. Such a beautiful tribute to him. Cancer is evil, chemo is poison, and it's all so terribly unfair. I hope that you know you have touched lives here today by sharing his story. xoxo

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  2. It is never easy to watch someone you care about go through the treatments. Thank you for sharing your story. I am sure Peter knows he is remembered.

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  3. Karen, this is a beautiful tribute to your step-brother and it made me cry. Thanks for sharing something so close to your heart and for reminding us what a terrible monster cancer was and still is. I love that your son gets to carry the name of someone so special.

    Our family leaves pennies at the graves of our loved ones. "Penny for your thoughts." I'm thinking of you and sending your family hugs today.

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  4. This is indeed a beautiful tribute to your step-brother, Peter. Thank you for sharing - I know this was painful to write. I hope it was also healing. May I leave a "virtual stone" for Patrick Chance? He lost his fight to choldhood cancer this year on his 9th birthday. His family continues his fight through http://www.pressonfund.org/ - Pressing On for the Cure to Childhood Cancer.

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  5. What a beautiful tribute. My grandfather also lost his battle with cancer. It's never easy to forget the awful details of their last days and struggle and agony. I try not to and instead to remember the good times before he was diagnosed, but it's not always easy to do that.

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    1. Loved your post so much, I decided to feature it! Check it out:
      http://momofbigalittlea.blogspot.com/2012/09/what-ive-been-reading-this-week-12.html

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  6. What a touching story. That was so wonderful of you to share it. My uncle died of cancer a few years ago. It was awful! But he wasn't so young, either. I think that is such a wonderful tribute to have your son be his namesake. Names are so important.

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  7. I'm in tears. The simplicity of a child's heart. Saying exactly the right thing. This is a beautiful tribute to your brother. Thank you for sharing it with me.

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  8. What a sad story. Chemo has worked and wounded in my family as well.

    Thank you for sharing your story.

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  9. What a lovely post. He would be so proud of you. Take care of yourself.

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  10. A witty comment you left of The Family Pants blog brought me here, and within moments the laughs turned to tears. But isn't that the case in life- especially when Cancer is the diagnosis. Wishing your family only blessed memories of Peter.

    BB2U

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  11. What a touching tribute. I truly hope this post and those like them will make people more of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

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  12. What a touching story! Thank you so much for sharing it.

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  13. Beautiful tribute and virtual stone.

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  14. That is a very touching tribute for your step-brother! Thank you for sharing, it brought tears to my eyes as I have lost someone dear to me because of this evil disease.

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  15. This is such a beautiful tribute to Peter. Thank you so much for sharing. Hugs. <3

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  16. As always you have made me thankful and grateful while making me teary! Beautiful post. Oh and can you give me the links to those posts you recommended? I would love to read them.

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  17. Wow this is beautiful! ((Hugs))

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  18. Such a beautiful story. I was surprised at how much it affected me. I'm not sure if it was finding out he attended college in my hometown of chico, or the shocking resemblance to my own son... Maybe just me putting myself in your shoes for a moment and feeling what your words. Whatever it may be, I finished reading with tearss streaming down my face, and now I'm signing off to go give my boys another goodnight kiss- or ten.

    Thank you for sharing

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  19. This is a hauntingly moving and poignant tribute to your step-brother. I wondered throughout your post whether Peter kept a diary of any sort during his chemotherapy, as it would be interesting to hear his personal perspective as well. As the mother of twins with cystic fibrosis, which is still considered a terminal disease, I can truly empathize, Karen.

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  20. Thank you for sharing. I'm sure it was extremely difficult but therapeutic for you to write this and your entire family to read it. Sorry for your loss. I hope you continue to heal.

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  21. Awww I'm so sorry to hear about this, Karen. Peter was so young--I cannot even begin to fathom this loss. But it is clear he lives on in your heart and that of your whole family--what a beautiful tribute you have written here for him! XOXO

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  22. Such a lovely memorial for your dear step brother. I've got tears running down my cheeks for the precious young that never get to grow old. I'm sure he would be very proud of it and you. <3 and hugs!

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  23. There is nothing worse than the death of a child. I am tearing up just reading this. And cancer is the most hideous disease. I lost my mother to it 11 years ago and I don't think I'll ever be over it.

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  24. I honestly can't read your post. It's too raw for me right now. But I will say that childhood cancer is tragic. Their life has just begun. My heart bleeds for every single one who suffers.

    I lost my beloved uncle last year quickly to Pancreatic Cancer. My dad is battling lymphoma. A young friend's wife just received a terminal cancer sentence. A friend's young son is battling it.

    Where will it end? Where is the research? What is the cure?

    Today, on Yom Kippur, I atone for my sins, and pray for an end to the suffering caused by cancer.

    Thank you for writing this post, and for listening.

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  25. So sorry for your loss. What a beautiful memorial to a fine young man whose life was cut too short by an evil disease.

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  26. Karen, What a sad but beautiful tribute to Peter.

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  27. A beautiful tribute to a beautiful Son of God. Thank you for sharing!

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  28. This was a lovely tribute to Peter and a wonderful way to remember (with the stone) those who have passed before us. thank you for sharing your story.

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  29. This is lovely tribute to your brother.

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  30. I am sobbing trying to read every word of your beautiful post. What an amazing tribute to your sweet brother. My wonderful loving brother in law is going through the same treatment, he is just incredible with his upbeat behavior saying he has been given extra time. My heart aches for him. We are having a fund raiser for him in Sun Valley this summer with an art show. He is an acting teacher and his community has formed a support group to pay for his hospital bills, it is truly a beautiful thing to watch. Thank you for sharing such a personal part of your life. Nettie

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  31. "I'm sure it will be a wonderful tribute..." and it was, Karen. Cancer is a terrible disease. I think everyone has been impacted in one way or another. For me, it was my grandmother and brother-in-law. I'm so glad Peter is remembered.

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  32. This is such a beautiful and honest post, thank you for sharing it with us. Brought me to tears. xo

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  33. At beautiful tribute, Karen. Brought me to tears. xoxo

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  34. Melissa @ Home on DerangedApril 10, 2015 at 9:25 AM

    Beautiful, of course. You managed to capture the numbness that comes with a terminal diagnosis without being maudlin. It's like a dream state and yet painfully real. Thanks for sharing.

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  35. As long as he is remembered he will not be forgotten. Peter David Sferra, you will not be forgotten. What a story Karen. I just wish it had a happy ending. Thank you for reminding us that life is so precious.

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  36. Cancer sucks! It has touched far too many lives. We have a family at church who lost their son two years ago around this time. My family and church prayed for him and his family right through the end. His mother and her faith have been an amazing witness to me. He is buried in the cemetery where we frequently take walks. The kids often want to visit Sam. I always say a prayer for his mom when we pass his grave. Even now I tear up thinking of all that they went through, and continue to deal with to this day!

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  37. What a beautiful tribute. Childhood cancer or any type of cancer is heart breaking. God bless your family during this month of remembrance.

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  38. I have tears, my beautiful friend. My heart goes out to you and your family. A loss, no matter how long ago, still burns in the heart.

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  39. I was completely wrong about which post I thought this was going to be, but I really glad that I didn't miss this one. What a lovely tribute to such a young, innocent boy. Beautiful words Karen.

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  40. What a wonderful tribute to Peter and thank you for sharing Joyce's part - very touching. It's always difficult to watch but even worse when it is a young person,

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  41. Oh man, cancer stinks, especially when kids are concerned.
    I'm glad you were able to spend some time with Peter, he sounds like an awesome young man, brave fighter, hockey guy and all.

    Speaking of brave, I'm reading this at the office. Throuout the whole post I managed to keep my compsure. Then your son's simple statement spoiled my poker face. Crying at the desk. Well, it's the least I can do.

    I'm very sorry for your family's loss. May Peter live on in your hearts!

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  42. Your virtual stone is a gemstone of the utmost value because it is clearly made of love. My sympathies to you and your family - and every family that must endure the loss of someone so young. I totally agree with the comment made by your little boy.

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  43. I saw your post about this on FB. I knew I had to read and I knew I would be crying as if this happened today, which in an odd way, is accurate. What a blessing that Peter's name and memories live on through your oldest baby boy. Thank you for sharing your story each year. <3

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  44. I don't ever think that I'll forget this post. Such a beautiful annual tribute.

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