Keith is my cousin. He’s about 40 years old, married, with a 10-year-old son who’s a doppleganger for Keith when he was that age.

Keith is in the University of Michigan hospital in renal failure brought on by liver cancer. The liver cancer is a mystery—nobody knows why he has it because he does not have liver disease—not hepatitis, not cirrhosis, none of the usual suspects for liver cancer. It has metastasized to his lungs. We suspect he was exposed to something in his lab—he is a medical researcher. It came on suddenly—he was diagnosed just last month.

He’s too young to have liver cancer. His son is too young to have to deal with his daddy getting so sick. I hadn’t seen Keith to talk to in more than 20 years until my parent’s golden wedding anniversary in 2004. I moved out of Michigan and then he moved out of Michigan to Colorado and California after he graduated from college. He’s funny, smart, and someone I want to get to know better. I babysat him for years and remember him being so smart he made me feel dumb—came up with the damnedest counter-arguments for going to bed.

I feel so distraught about Keith. For him, for my Aunt Joan and Uncle Ron and his sister Wendy and brother Michael. I’ve lost cousins, one to cystic fibrosis and one to an industrial accident at Ford Motor Company, but that was long ago, more than 20 years ago, and I think I was more resilient then, able to absorb it better. Keith is closer to my age and he is someone I grew up with and his illness triggers more fear, more deep-seated dread. My and my sisters’ and brother’s childhoods were intertwined with his and his sister and brother—we were a close-knit clan when I was growing up—the Dunn sisters and their kids.

I need more time to get to know him. I always think there’s going to be time enough to do all the things I want to do, to get to know all the people I want to know better. I’m hoping he goes into remission so I can visit him this summer when we make our trek to Michigan. I hope he’s not in pain. I wish there was something I could do.

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