July 30 2005, was a nasty day. My sister and I were packing to go up for my brother’s next and hopefully last brain surgery the next day when we got a phone call from his partner, Scott. Cam was dead. I was so in shock I don’t remember saying anything I just ran upstairs and handed the cell phone to Alison and cried and tried to figure out what had just happened.
Cam had begged my sister and me to be there for the surgery so we’re going to be there when it happened. He was having another gamma knife surgery up at Stanford and since the last 2 had been okay I really hadn’t thought anything was wrong. I didn’t know how bad it had really gotten although I knew he had trouble speaking and was using a cane. I didn’t know they had set up a hospital bed in the middle of the living room for him. I found that out when we got up there.
Scott wasn’t doing well at all and there was a steady stream of their friends coming to the condo to check on Scott. Over that day I found out what had happened. Cam had seized to death in the ER at Stanford. They didn’t give him any seizure meds or any pain killers because they thought he was going into surgery the next day. The first seizures were really bad and it got progressively worse until Cam finally signaled to just let him go and he seized and died. Seizing to death is a gruesome and painful way to die.
He had had his first seizure almost eighteen years before while a bank manager for Coast Federal. It came out of the blue and while he was helping a teller at the front desk. Cam’s first words to me when I got hold of him were that Grandma had been right. He hadn’t done his laundry that day and hadn’t worn underwear. We both laughed over that but they didn’t know what was wrong. This was the height of the AIDS epidemic when no one knew the cause of AIDS and one stupid neurologist walked in found out Cam was gay and walked out again never to return. He was sure Cam had AIDS and there was no reason to even treat him.
It turned out he had an astrocytoma glioma , not they call them multiform glioma blastomas and are what killed Senator Kennedy. Cam was lucky enough to get in a clinical trial and underwent chemo and radiation therapy. I was one of his drivers as were several of Cam’s friends who did have AIDS and ended up dying before Cam was well. And my dad who had to sneak out of the house to do it.
The night Cam had that first seizure they called my mom for permission to treat Cam as the next of kin. My mom said no, and to go ask his partner. Not because his partner should be the next of kin but because it was one in the morning and she couldn’t be bothered to get up and got down to Orange County. I don’t think my dad even knew she had been asked. My brother never forgave her for that. Then when he was going through treatment she forbade Dad to go because she might need Dad more. So Dad, being my dad, snuck out of the house and did it anyway.
Cam went into remission and for 15 years had a good life. He got his college degree in Music – Vocal Performance. He had a BM, always good for a tease. He found Scott and fell in love and they moved up to the Bay Area. Cam got a job at Sun Microsystems. Took up Gay Square dancing, to my amusement since he never would even folk dance at choir family weekends at Carlsbad. Joined the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus and went to GALA several times. And then he had another seizure and it started all over again 15 years later. This time the gamma knife was invented and there were more advanced treatments. The first time they couldn’t do surgery because they weren’t capable of doing it in the 80’s. He got better for a while and then he didn’t. They didn’t really know how to treat him because the doctors had never had anyone survive that long and one lucky break was that because he had been in a clinical trial they did have access to his medical records.
You see the problem with astrocytomas or multiform glioma-blastomas is that they send out fingers to spread. So you can get most of the tumour but there are always those little aggressive fingers left. Pretty soon all that is left his the aggressive parts. That is why that cancer almost always kills. It may take awhile but it will come back. It took 15 years to grow big enough to come back but when it did, it was voracious.
Cam insisted we come up to visit for a weekend the April before he died and I’m so glad we did. We couldn’t really afford it but he paid for most of it and I will treasure that weekend the rest of my life. I just wish I had had a camera then. It’s why I got back into photography. I’m never ever going to miss those important moments with friends and loved ones again. Even if you don’t like having your picture taken when you’re gone that is what people who love you will have to hold on to along with the memories of when those pictures were taken.
Never ever assume you are going to be here the next day. You might not be. Tell people you love them and tell them they matter to you. It’s all we have that’s really ours.