Things are happening fast.
I arrived in Korea two nights ago, and I went to my aunt’s house. Both my aunts were there with dinner waiting for me (fried fish, seaweed soup, rice of course). They asked me about the family and all about Europe, and they both seemed excited that I had seen Catherine Deneuve.
Of course, the thing most on my mind–and I’m sure theirs, too–was my aunt’s (I’ll call her Aunt #2 from now; my youngest aunt will be #3; Aunt #1–the oldest–passed away years ago; my mom is the oldest sister to all of them; I also have two uncles–the older one who died in the Korean War and one surviving one) cancer. I didn’t know how to bring it up, and I thought maybe it would remain the Elephant in the Room all of us would dance around until it grew larger and larger and we’d all go crazy.
Fortunately, Aunt #2 got a call from one of her friends, and they discussed the diagnosis, and after she hung up, we started talking about it as well. To make a long story short, she had had bleeding for months; she went to a neighborhood clinic who told her everything looked normal; the bleeding continued; she got examined at a larger hospital, and they told her that she had a clear cell carcinoma of the endometrium. Aunt #2 and #3 both seemed to be holding up okay, but Aunt #2 did admit she kept having nightmares of dying the last two nights.
My aunt had scheduled a visit with a hospital–an even bigger one–where the husband of a friend worked the next morning. So Aunt #2 and I took the bus there (by the way, Aunt #2 never married and has no children), making a point of showing up early since the appointment was scheduled for four o’clock, which made my aunt quite nervous since 4 is considered the number of death in Korea and China (apparently, the Chinese character for 4 and death are either identical or very similar). Fortunately, the doctor was backed up, and it turned out to be around 5:00 by the time our turn came–by then, Aunt #3 had come straight from work, and Uncle #2’s wife also came.
We all went into the consultation room together. The doctor seemed nice, but he also refused to sugarcoat anything, and he got down to the point. They had to run tests, and they had to perform surgery. Until then, they couldn’t say how advanced the cancer was. And my aunt had to be admitted into the hospital ASAP, as in that very day. We were all taken aback, but we had to do what we had to do.
Aunt #3 drove us back to Aunt #2’s house; they packed everything Aunt #2 would need at the hospital; Aunt #3’s dog was brought to Aunt #2’s house; I was given instructions on when to feed the dogs (Aunt #2’s dog is Pony; Aunt #3’s dog is Coco), watering the plants, throwing out the trash, etc. At a certain point, as Aunt #2 was putting things into her suitcase, she looked at me with a shy smile and said, “I have something serious; don’t I?” kind of like a semi-joke, and it just about broke my heart.
Then my aunts went back to the hospital while I stayed at Aunt #2’s house. Basically, Aunt #3, Uncle #2’s wife, and I are all going to take turns staying with Aunt #2 at the hospital so that she’s never alone at the hospital. So Aunt #3 stayed at the hospital overnight by Aunt #2’s side, and she’ll be there until tonight. This morning, I fed the dogs, threw away their poop, and washed the dishes. Around 5 pm, I’m going to give the dogs their dinner and then head straight to the hospital, where I’ll be spending the night. The following morning, Aunt #3 will give the dogs breakfast before going to work; Uncle #2’s wife will come to the hospital sometime in the morning, at which point I’ll be going back to Aunt #2’s house so I’ll be there to give the dogs dinner. I know it sounds ridiculously confusing, but I’ve got it written down, and for the next few days at least, I (hopefully) know what I’m doing.
We must be strong. And we will be, together. That’s what family does.