My brother had been in hospital for two weeks complaining of stomach problems. The doctors didn't know what it was, and he had various tests. He had an enlarged liver and there was talk of some kind of possible blockage.
It was clear he was quite ill but we just assumed that the docs would get to the bottom of it, treat it and he'd be out of there. But he was also losing weight really quickly and didn't look like himself anymore.
Finally, Monday evening we got a diagnosis - liver cancer. They had previously ruled out cancer. 32 hours later he was dead.
The speed of it seems insane. His deterioration within just the few days prior was drastic and on that final day he was unrecognisable as the strong man he'd always been.
The morning after the diagnosis I had to break the news to my Mum. The rest of the family already knew it was cancer and we'd been told he had weeks to live. Our mother is 88, lives alone and had to be told face to face.
Telling her that her son was going to die was the hardest thing I'd ever had to do. She's always been somewhat stoic but of course she just broke down. We went to the hospital to see him a couple of hours later and he looked like a withered green (caused by jaundice) alien. We both broke down as did the rest of the family.
She asked to home after a couple of hours as she couldn't bear it but I went back to the hospital to be with him. It was clear to me that he didn't have weeks, and it was more like days. It turned out to be just hours.
Those last few hours he had most of his family around him. We were all holding his hands, talking to him etc and we just watched his pain, and waited for him to die. I'm traumatised by his skeletal face, by his dead eyes that refused to close at the end, the grimaces due to the pain he was in, the way he was fighting for every breath, the way his hands started to feel cold.
I'm glad I was there until the end but it's hard to get those images out of my head. I tell myself that it wasn't him - it's the disease.
At 3am, my other brother (his twin) and I, had to go back to Mums and break the even more devastating news that he'd actually died. Within just 14 hours she had to take in the fact that he had cancer, that he had 'weeks' to live, and then that he'd died that same day. It's too much for a mother, for anyone.
Seeing her in so much pain was as bad as actually watching him die. We told her a white lie that he'd been in no pain and that he'd just gone to sleep peacefully and stopped breathing. That's given her some tiny measure of comfort but I have to keep this kind of secret in a way - his pain.
I have a friend who's mother has been suffering with cancer for about a year. I feel awkward around her, never knowing what to say other than a rather limp "how's your mum?" and now here I am, sister of a cancer sufferer. It doesn't seem real. At least my brother's pain was over quickly.
I am sorry for the long post, I just need to get it out somehow.