I am going to commemorate my brother Ron on the occasion of his birthday - January 9th, 1963. Today he would have been 50. He died when he was 21. He had Hodgkins Lymphoma and battled the cancer since he was 9 years old. He also battled society's negative perceptions of sick children and young adults. He didn't get extra concessions to complete school work that he missed because he was hospitalized or sick from treatment - instead, he was called upon to explain his extended absences and why he should be given a passing grade when he missed so much of the curriculum. He was beyond happy when he could do typical teenage things like getting a part time job to earn the money for his future car. He worked at MacDonalds, when the chain was still a relatively new phenomenon in our northern hometown of Thunder Bay, Ontario. Interestingly, it was shortly thereafter that he stopped eating there - officially, he told me it was because he ate the Big Mac on his breaks and simply got sick of them. Maybe it was too much of an eye opener seeing how they were actually "produced". The MacDonalds story isn't about the food however, it is about his value as an employee. For that, he won a portable radio in the shape of a large French Fry, and a wall clock that looked like a big pocket watch with Ronald MacDonalds sitting on an invisible bench waving - a replica of his form found outside many restaurants. Then the cancer came back and he needed time off to get treatment/surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. And MacDonalds fired him. It was different times and I have no doubt that similar treatment would not occur today. But it did happen to him and it changed him.
Recurrences of cancer were common for him. I don't know all the details but despite periods of remission, he was never deemed cured. After MacDonalds actions, you saw a change in Ron. School became less important. He didn't see a future for himself. If MacDonalds could fire him from a part-time job, who would hire him for a full-time career or job - the likelihood of the cancer returning was greater than a free and clear diagnosis. It was the beginning of the end. And it was a terrible waste because he was an intelligent young man who could have had so much to offer. That was the only job I remember him ever having.
Ron did graduate from Hammarskjold High School in Thunder Bay and went on to attend Lakehead University. Marks aside, Ron was admitted to the university and into residence because it was inadvisable for him to attend school to far away from his medical team. Graduation was not the goal as much as living the life. I think he was taking some business courses but I don't recall what, he didn't graduate and didn't have the opportunity to embark on a career. But he did have the time of his life during University. The party life style and student culture. He was adamant that no one knew his cancer story because he did not want special treatment. He just wanted to fit in and try to have a normal life like everyone else. He was really happy during that time. He met a lot of really great people.
Living life was a priority. He jumped in with both feet knowing that his time was limited. He traveled to Hawaii and stayed in penthouse suites. He bought cars he didn't need and while my grandmother stood in the corner clutching her heart, he got a motorcycle license and then a motorcycle. But eventually the wind was sucked out of his sails and he became resigned to his fate. My life was in transition at the time and I was ending a relationship. Ron spent his last months worried about my fate and sanity once he was gone. For with his passing I would officially be all alone in the world with every part of my family having gone on. I told him I would be okay and I couldn't let him down. It wasn't my choice but there wasn't a lot of choices. I had to learn how to live my life suddenly alone and feeling abandoned. I think I did okay when I look back over the years. But more than a quarter of a century later the thought of him hurts so bad and I miss him so much that the tears flow like the water of Kakabecca Falls.
It was supposed to get easier god-damn it!
Pictures are the sole property of me - Liz Gigi Sdraulig
Kizoa.com assisted with the creation of the collages