Monday, November 4, 2013

Our Patron Saint of Head & Neck Cancer

It's November already. The holidays will soon be upon us. I'll think about the holidays later. This first week of November is for remembering those who have died. It begins with Halloween each October 31st, which precedes November 1st and All Saints Day. In the moments when Halloween gives way to All Saints Day, the veil is supposedly lifted between those still in body and those who have left their bodies behind. November 2nd is All Souls Day. I've read explanations of the meaning of this day, but as far as I'm concerned All Saints Day and All Souls Day are interchangeable or, perhaps, we've been given two days to honor those who have "fought the good fight... finished the race... kept the faith." They have earned "a crown for being right with God." After all a saint is a saint - whether still residing on this earth or now in some other realm and whether canonized or not. (One of our favorite persons, Father Al Bischoff, always greets someone, "Hello, Saint!" I love that and I may just have to begin paying that wonderful greeting forward.)

If any puny humans attain sainthood while still on earth and heaven at the moment of death, it is someone who has lived with the fears of a disease such as cancer, coped with the side effects of surgical, chemotherapeutic and radiotherapy treatments before hearing, "There is nothing more we can do," and lived, truly lived, it all with humor, hope and faith. Brandon didn't live through head and neck cancer; Brandon lived life to the fullest with head and neck cancer. He never complained. He never lost his wonderful Brandon sense of humor. We never heard him say, "Why me?" or bemoan his fate. He loved his wife, he focused on family, he celebrated the birth of his daughter and delighted in helping care for her, he enjoyed his friends, he kept giving his all to his job. He know how to have fun and he didn't let cancer get in the way of dancing, tail-gating and getting every party started! He lived and never stopped truly living, even when that meant pushing his body, mind and soul. 

Because he learned his lessons in the school of suffering, because he showed us it could be done in an ordinary little way, because the student became the teacher in that so many of us learned from his example, I'd like to propose Brandon C. Gromada as the patron saint of those dealing with head and neck cancer. I think he earned it. 

I'm not sure if I've mentioned it before, but his father and I started the Brandon C. Gromada Head and Neck Cancer Foundation the day after Brandon's death. Its purpose is to raise money for innovative research that finds an end to head and neck cancers, such as the "poorly differentiated squamous cell" variety that invaded his body and took him from us. The Foundation's logo depicts a profile encased in a mask - a radiation mask - and there's a reason for this. 

As this week of November and saints ends, we will be attending an event that raises funds for about 150 local charities. Brandon's Foundation is one of the beneficiaries. We've sold event tickets, raffle tickets and submitted auction items for which the Foundation receives a portion of the proceeds. One of the raffles is for a displayed gift and attendees drop tickets in an adjacent container if interested in winning it. The Foundation's raffle is an attention grabber thanks to Brandon's wife Christina. She took a mannequin head and drew criss-crossing lines over the face to portray a radiation mask. This is the paragraph I wrote to accompany the raffle item:

"The RADIATION MASK is a treatment item that, with few exceptions, those affected by head and neck cancer have in common. Although their surgeries and chemo cocktails may differ, almost all know the MASK. Every weekday for 5 to 8 weeks, or for 25 to 40 radiation treatments, the head and neck cancer patient submits to having his/her head completely immobilized within a RADIATION MASK, which was molded to the individual’s head to shoulders, for the duration of each treatment. Many cancer centers commemorate the end of the radiation treatment cycle with some type of 'graduation' ritual, and those completing radiation treatment take the MASK home to savor, scorn or scorch." Accompanying the explanatory information are the following photos.

Brandon receiving a daily radiation treatment - September-October 2010 
Brandon  with his MASK for radiation treatment "graduation"
Brandon smiling through the discomfort of radiation burns

Radiation MASK savored and scorned (not Brandon or his mask)

Look for some means of going to heaven by a little way which is very short and very straight. St. Therese de Lisieux

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