I watched my sister die, so I understand what Rush Limbaugh is going through

It appears that Rush Limbaugh is dying. He announced on his radio show Monday that his lung cancer had gotten worse and is “going in the wrong direction.”

I have never cared for Limbaugh’s kind of politics. I’ve always felt like the right-wing talk radio host’s sole purpose was to further polarize America and push conservatives further away from a middle ground.

In spite of that, I am saddened that his cancer is terminal. I would like to see his condition turn around, but he doesn’t seem to think that it will.

“It’s tough to realize that the days where I do not think I’m under a death sentence are over,” the 69-year-old host said.

“We all know that we’re going to die at some point,” he added. “But when you have a terminal disease diagnosis that has a time frame to it, then that puts a different psychological and even physical awareness to it.”

He described his life the past eight months as a roller coaster, with lots of ups and downs.

“Many people have experienced this,” he said. “If it isn’t lung cancer, it’s some kind of cancer. If it isn’t you, it is someone really close to you.”

My father died of lung cancer in 2006 at the age of 91. But it is my sister’s death in 1995 from myeloid metaplasia, a rare form of bone marrow cancer, that haunts me still. Patricia was only 54.

It is difficult to imagine what it must be like to learn that you are dying. For some, I suppose, such a diagnosis could be met with relief. After months of agonizing pain, there is respite in knowing that it will be over soon.

With such advance notice, there also is a rare opportunity to try to right what you have done wrong. To say to loved ones words that needed to be said. And to ask for forgiveness for the things you cannot change.

But for most, such news likely would cause overwhelming grief. Most of us, regardless of our age, feel as though we have much to live for and many more things to do. Taking that opportunity away seems unfair.

Like Limbaugh, Patricia understood that her illness was considered terminal. Still, she believed that she would somehow defy the odds and live past the maximum 10-year survival period of people with her form of cancer.

She thought that she could beat the monstrous illness if she fought hard enough. The idea that she wielded such control got her through the painful days and nights. She fought with every bit of strength she had — until she couldn’t.

She had grown thin and frail. Food wouldn’t stay down, but she kept trying to eat. She used to enjoy the broccoli casserole from Piccadilly cafeteria, and when she asked for some, I rushed out to get it. But even the aroma of it made her nauseous.

With her spleen filled with blood — one of the effects of the disease — doctors suggested that she undergo surgery. They warned that it would be risky, and that the surgical wound might not heal. She took the chance.

The incision did not heal. Infection set in. And days later, she died.

Shortly before her death, I asked my older sister if she regretted the life choices she had made. She looked me in the eye and said, “No.”

She was smarter than anyone I knew. She made the dean’s list every semester in college. After graduating with a degree in French, she was invited to pursue a master’s in Paris, but she turned it down.

She didn’t want to venture that far away from home. And she was afraid to fly.

She taught high school French for a while, and decided to leave the profession for a better paying job at the telephone company. She lived for her two children and the grandchildren who arrived shortly before she became ill. She found God, and in her faith, experienced a comfort she wanted to share with everyone.

Throughout her illness, Patricia believed that God would heal her. And on the morning she died, something odd occurred.

I was asleep on a cot in her hospital room when I heard commotion in the room. I remember trying to wake up, but I couldn’t. It seemed like a dream, and likely it was.

The next thing I remember is a nurse tapping me on the shoulder and whispering, “It’s time.”

I got up and walked over to my sister’s bed. She looked more peaceful than she had been in months. Her eyes were closed as she let out a soft exhale.

She did not recover as she thought she would. But in the end, she seemed to have come to terms with her death.

My wish is that Limbaugh also believe in something greater than himself as vehemently as my sister did. So that if — or when — death comes, he will be at peace with it too.



Dahleen Glanton is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.


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