Conquer Cancer Foundation: 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 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 the Conquer Cancer Foundation. And Dave is a member of the staff as well as a donor.
Dave Wiemer: 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 and 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."
Matt Wiemer: 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, a physician, literally throw her head into her hands on her lap and then start crying, kind of made me realize this was not something that was going to go well.
Dave Wiemer: Do you think you resented me going through all this because I didn't have to be there to live it every day?
Matt Wiemer: 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–
Dave Wiemer: To get over that?
Matt Wiemer: Yes.
Dave Wiemer: Well, I'm sorry.
Matt Wiemer: No.
Dave Wiemer: Do you think you could see how it was difficult to not be there, to not be able to help?
Matt Wiemer: 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."
Dave Wiemer: And Mom did say, "Get on a plane," and I came in that weekend–
Matt Wiemer: The weekend before.
Dave Wiemer: –right before he died.
Matt Wiemer: We were kind of shocked.
Dave Wiemer: It did feel sudden.
Matt Wiemer: It wasn't even a year. He collapsed May 13th with the stroke. He died May 1st, 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 "Well, then why are we here?" 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.
Dave Wiemer: I think we're both trying to make the world a better place.
Matt Wiemer: 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's 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.
Dave Wiemer: I tend to come back to his love of golf and how we'd 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 a still part of your life.
Matt Wiemer: You try to look for something in all that time to remember him. And Dad hated the rugs that Mom had [laughter] 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. And we just kind of had to laugh and say, "Wow. How fitting is that?"
Dave Wiemer: I love you, buddy.
Matt Wiemer: Love you, too. [music]
Conquer Cancer Foundation: 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.