By Heather Millar
My half-brother and I joke that we’re now at the age where all we do is sit around and talk about our ailments. I’ve had breast cancer. My brother, who’s 10 years older and had a wild and crazy time in the psychedelic 1960s, has Hepatitis C from sharing needles back in the day. Though my brother has been a clean, upstanding citizen for 25 years now, he had a few spots of cancer on his liver a couple of years ago. Last year, he was lucky enough to receive a liver transplant. Now, he is enduring yet another round of chemo to fight off recurrent hepatitis that is trying to harm his new liver. With “Hep C,” my brother likes to say, it’s not a question of “if” you’ll get liver cancer, but when.
We both get our treatment at University of California – San Francisco, but our experiences couldn’t be more different: I go to the cushy “Breast Care Center” in one of UC’s satellite hospitals, Mt. Zion. There, I enjoy free herbal tea and newly donated leather couches and skylights. They give me surveys after each visit to make sure that I didn’t have to wait too long, and if I ask, they’ll have a pre-med student come take notes during my appointment. They apologize if I have wait more than 10 minutes to schedule my next visit.
My brother goes to a clinic in the sprawling main UC campus and it seems that there, he has to fight for everything. Partly, that’s his bumptious personality. Partly, I think, it’s because he doesn’t have a media-genic affliction like breast cancer. Seen any liver cancer ribbons lately?
As I watch my brother swashbuckle his way through treatment, I’m amazed by how much more he has to fight to make sure things get done right. He calls to nag the receptionists that it’s time for him to get this or that scan. He calls to nag the clinical coordinator that he’s supposed to get a check-up. He calls to nag his oncologist for a referral. He calls to nag the transplant coordinator about this anti-rejection drug, or that anti-Hep C pill. He’ll show up hours early for appointments because they don’t always get the time right. He calls to get test results, and then he’ll call again. He’ll call and call until he gets an answer.
Though he doesn’t wear it on his sleeve, my brother has a heart of gold. He’s the kind of guy who’ll go fishing, come home, and give all the fish to neighbors. He spoils my daughter rotten, buying her treats, taking her to archery ranges and movies and amusement parks. He dotes on his dog. But he’s no Mr. Nice Guy when it comes to his treatment. I bet the receptionists duck for cover when they see him coming down the hall.
“Oh No! Here comes that Mr. Millar! He doesn’t let us get away with anything!” I bet they whisper to each other.
My brother is the squeaky wheel. When it comes to his health, he doesn’t take no for an answer. If I had to, I’d be just like him. What about you?