We've gotten - my dad has gotten - a reprieve from what could have been a very long summer of recuperating from major surgery. No surgery for now, a re-check in six months and we'll go from there. That's good, relieving news because it means no new cancer or returned cancer evident. Much thankfulness for that. And then there's the other news he's gotten, news he would never have known if he hadn't been going through all these follow-ups from his original bout with cancer 5 years ago.
I know, now, that when he returned from southeast Asia in the early 1970s, along with many others, he came back carrying Hepatitis B. He got checked, etc, and it lay dormant for decades. But it's now reared its ugly head, as the specialist said today, and he's pretty sick. Sick, and also asymptomatic. Meaning, if he hadn't had all these tests trying to figure out whether cancer was present again, he still wouldn't know he was sick. He lives 45 minutes from one of the best specialists in the country, so much to be thankful for there as well. Sobering to think that something so significant could have gone undetected...
Dad was talking to my mom's brother about it, who also spent time in Vietnam. My uncle, he's a cancer survivor as well - survived serious stomach cancer that most people don't, a cancer directly related to his exposure to Agent Orange, a dangerous pesticide used to defoliate the jungle so they could have some kind of fighting chance in the guerrilla warfare they were thrown into. They're survivors, my dad and my uncle. And my uncle said to my dad recently - "We just can't ever get away from it, can we?"
My uncle, laughing with Abby her first Christmas
They are survivors. And they are casualties of war. War that will never leave them, just as it never leaves the thousands of other veterans who came back to United States soil. These are two men I know, and love, and who have managed to hold down steady jobs, own homes, care for others. And so they make me think of the many others I now know who also were in the jungles of southeast Asia or in Korea or the mountains of Afghanistan or the streets of Baghdad. These others I know now, these men and women, their whole lives seem to be a casualty of war. They sleep under overpasses, tents in the woods, abandoned buildings. Their wounds are so deep they physically shake with the weight they carry. Or they try and bury the pain with alcohol, or have been wounded in such a way that they can no longer carry on a coherent conversation.
These are the stories that need to be told when we speak of the costs of war, when we watch billions of dollars poured into creating more casualties like my dad, my uncle, the men and women who do not show up for a parade because they cannot tolerate the noise of the crowds and the gun salutes. All of these, they, too, gave up their lives in a way that too many of us cannot begin to understand. How many generations will do so before our guns are made into tractors, and our bombs into hoes and shovels to plant life, not take it away?