Sunday, August 25, 2013

Kevin's Story

The Maine countryside--where we laughed, cried and played together. 
Growing up, my cousins and I were quintessential 90s kids. We would play hide and seek in my aunt’s basement, make up crazy stories, and each Christmas we performed skits with too many fart jokes that were only funny to us.

Ricky, Dan, Matt, Angel, Danielle, me, and Kevin. 

Ricky, the oldest, would write the skits and teach us to head bang properly to Kurt Cobain. Matt, the troublemaker, drew on my dolls and put my stuffed animals in the microwave. Dan, the levelheaded one, was quiet and easygoing. Angel was the glamour girl, and I looked up to the four years of life experience she had on me. Danielle, my sister, was the one who talked me into hiding under the bathroom sink during hide and seek (with the lights off), a decision I immediately regretted. And I, the slightly odd one, would tag along to be cool, cried a lot and always played “the crazy lady” during our skits.

And then there is Kevin. Kevin is eighteen months younger than me, and when we were kids, we were both scrawny. I enjoyed being older than someone, which meant (to Kevin’s dismay) that Angel, Danielle and I would dress him up in dresses and do his makeup. Kevin is a pretty easygoing guy, so it didn’t bother him too much. He had a great sense of humor, even at such a young age, and would always make us laugh.

Our childhood playground.
This group of cousins has been through a lot, just like any family. My sister and I were moved across the globe at the ages of seven and nine, so we didn’t see the others for nearly four years. During that time, in October of 2000, we lost Ricky to a long battle with depression that eventually culminated in his suicide. This loss was devastating to the whole family, but I think Kevin took it especially hard. Kevin and Ricky looked a lot alike, and since Kevin’s father was absent, Ricky took on the role of “this is what I might be someday.”

Kevin was also close with our grandmother. His mother is the youngest of three, and with Kevin’s father absent, my grandparents helped my aunt in any way they could. My grandmother was a primary caregiver during Kevin’s formative years, and their bond was one I sometimes wished for. Later, our grandmother struggled for some time with her memory, eventually admitting (after years of encouragement from the family) that she needed help. She was diagnosed with advanced Alzheimer’s and declined quickly, becoming too much for my grandfather to handle on his own. She was put in a nursing home, but ended up in the hospital shortly after. She passed in October of 2010, another devastating blow. Our grandfather was in the hospital the following fall, and passed in November of 2011.

Throughout the years, everyone grew up, some got married, some had kids, some went to college. Kevin became a butcher and started a simple life in the Maine countryside. I saw him this summer, after three years, and he seemed his normal self. He was cavalier and sarcastic, chatted with family and told jokes. But recently, that’s begun to change. His face is a purple rash, he is weak, and his liver and kidneys began to malfunction. He’s twenty-one years old.

Because he doesn’t have health insurance, he was bounced around from clinic to clinic, receiving diagnoses such as “It’s a virus, just rest,” or “I can’t do anything for you, I suggest you just take it easy.” As an hourly worker in this tenuous economy, he wasn’t able to take this advice—until he had to. He became worse. Three nights ago, he was taken into the ER to have an emergency splenectomy. The doctors finally performed the necessary (but more expensive) tests, only to reveal that Kevin has Hepatosplenic T-cell Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a very rare form of cancer. This form usually requires bone marrow transplants, but has a low rate of remission. Those diagnosed with Hepatosplenic T-cell Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma usually don’t live beyond eight months.

I don’t know about you, but knowing that my God has a plan for each person isn’t comforting when hit with news like this. I feel useless. I feel stuck. I feel small. This boy is part of my family and he hasn’t even really started living yet. There are so many things he wants and deserves to do. So, I want to rally friends, family and strangers (using the power of the Internet) because what better way to be like Jesus than to meet a need? Kevin needs to be treated in Boston, and while the hospital social worker is trying to help with a state-sponsored health relief fund, it won’t solve everything. As my mother said this afternoon, “Unfortunately, money is a big deal, especially when it comes to cancer.”

So, I propose this. Let’s come together. Let’s pray for healing. Let’s give our spare change. Let’s run a 5K to raise funds for his treatment. And if not in the name of Jesus, let’s do it because we’re human beings, and a 21-year-old boy shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not he makes enough money to deserve decent health care.

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