Lesson Learned: Bravery never ends for those who serve.

My brother died less than a year ago to lung cancer. The cancer was typical of vets exposed to Agent Orange or asbestos. He was in the Marines, stationed in Hawaii, when he traveled by ship (with asbestos in the walls) to bring back other Marines still over in Vietnam at the end of the war. He also remembered being near the orange containers on land.

Mike was diagnosed with cancer in November, 2010. For about a year (previous to that) he had complained about his shoulder hurting. He worked on boats and motors, thinking he injured himself due to work. My nephew, his son, finally convinced him to go see a doctor. After tests, we found out he had Stage IV lung cancer. At first we thought his cancer was from years of smoking; however, this cancer formed on the outside of his lungs, not inside his lungs. He had the same symptoms as other vets whose cancer was confirmed as an after effect of the war.

For Mike, the cancer was already in his bones, eating at his spine. Chemo and radiation worked to shrink the cancer but only enough to give him some relief. Not enough for hope as the cancer continued to grow. In June of 2011, he went into hospice care. Not long after, he was paralyzed from the waist down.

Every time we (family and friends) went to visit him, we’d have to take him out for a smoke, which turned into three or four cigarettes based on how long we could stay for a visit. There was no smoking in the building where he stayed, and the nurses couldn’t take their time bringing patients out for a smoke. But for Mike, going outside was a must. He loved hearing the leaves rustle in the wind, seeing the clouds roll by, and feeling the rain on his skin. He watched the rabbits play and hide in the bushes. I wished I had more time with him. That he could have spent one more time doing what he loved most – fishing.

Mike died August 11, 2011, at the age of 55. He wanted a party to celebrate his life and not mourn his death. I think he would’ve liked the bar chosen for his ‘party’, the food served, and the laughter of sharing Mike stories.

At his grave, the Vietnam Vets, Chapter 470 from Anoka, MN, provided a small service and a 3 rifle volley to pay final respect to one of their fellow vets. Their service will stay in my heart forever. A discarded shell from one of their volleys sits in my printer’s tray with a picture of my brother. That shell gives me honor to know he served our country. His efforts were braved years after his time in service.

Happy Memorial Day to all those who served and continue to serve our country.

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