Dec 20, 2017
Matt and Dave Wiemer are identical twins, but the shared experience in losing their beloved father to brain cancer is starkly different. One brother became a caretaker. Miles away and unable to help, the other struggled with guilt. Five years after their father’s death, the brothers discuss the impact it had on their relationship. With humor and candor, they detail the resentment and frustration that cancer forces many families to face and share how they remain inspired by their dad. Matt and his family are passionate supporters of Conquer Cancer, and Dave is a member of the Conquer Cancer staff as well as a donor.
Matthew and Dave Wiemer are identical twins, but the shared experience in losing their beloved father to brain cancer is starkly different. One brother became a caretaker. Miles away and unable to help, the other struggled with guilt. Five years after their father's death, the brothers discussed the impact it had on their relationship. With humor and candor, they detail the resentment and frustration that cancer forces many families to face and share how they remain inspired by their dad.
Matt and his family are passionate supporters of the Conquer Cancer Foundation, and Dave is a member of the staff, as well as a donor.
I was working at a university, and I was meeting with a donor. The phone rang. I said, excuse me. I got to take this, and I stepped away. Then you told me, it's bad. I just remember you saying, it's very bad. It's brain cancer, and it's the worst kind.
It was a gorgeous, sunny day in May. And then the doctor came out and told us what the news was. And Mom and I were not sure what exactly that meant. And then to see my wife Sarah, the physician, literally throw her head into her hands on her lap and then start crying made me realize this was not something that was going to go well.
Do you think you resented me, going through all this, because I didn't have to be there to live it every day?
Well, not every day, and most of the time, no, but when he was in that ICU for Christmas break, I talked to you on the phone. And I said, you have to come help us. You have to get on a plane. We need you here. Your mother needs you here. And you didn't. And it took a long time--
To get over that?
Well, I'm sorry.
Do you think you could see how it was difficult to not be there, to not be able to help?
Yeah, 100%. It's physically and monetarily impossible for you to be there as much as I was there because I happened to live in the suburb next to them. At some point, he had stopped eating. And then a hospice person came and sat down with us and just said, we're looking at a week and a half.
And Mom did say, get on a plane, and I came in that weekend right before he died.
We were kind of shocked.
It did feel sudden.
It wasn't even a year. He collapsed May 13th with a stroke. He died May 1, 2012. After he died, I gave up all semblance of any kind of religious convictions. And so then, you have the great existential question of, then why are we here? And to look at someone like him, he was a teacher, and he taught 20 years. And to say, man, he had an impact on middle school kids. For me to look at that and say, that's why we're here, to try to have a positive impact on someone else's life, he did that.
I think we're both trying to make the world a better place.
I just finished my 13th year teaching high school, and I get way more sentimental at the end of the year. And part of it is just because it's the month of May. And so I always give my kids a speech the last day of school, and talk to them about who my dad is, and what he did, and why he would want them to do great things with their lives.
I tend to come back to his love of golf, and how we play golf together. We played, once he had passed away, the day of his memorial service. And that meant a lot to me. And every time I'm out there, I still feel a connection to Dad. I think that's finding those ways to feel like he's still part of your life.
You try to look for something in all of that time to remember him. And Dad hated the rugs that mom had by the front door, because he always slipped on them. And they had him in the gurney and were wheeling his body out the door, and it got caught on the rug.
Oh, my god.
And we just kind of had to laugh and say, wow, how fitting is that?
I love you, buddy.
I love you too.
The Conquer Cancer Foundation's mission is to conquer cancer worldwide by funding breakthrough research and sharing cutting-edge knowledge. To learn more about the participants in this session and others like it, please visit conquer.org/storycorps.