After A Cancer Diagnosis, Brothers Share As Much Time As Possible, Even On Dates

Nov 22, 2019
Originally published on November 22, 2019 7:57 am

Ever since they were kids growing up on Staten Island, N.Y., David Carles and his younger brother Mark Carles have been inseparable.

But in October last year, they were dealt a huge blow: Mark, now 25, was diagnosed with a rare form of liver cancer called fibrolamellar hepatocellular carcinoma.

The brothers, just a year apart in age, still don't know how much time they'll have together; they only know that they want to spend as much of it as they can side by side.

"When we first found out, the doctor said, 'He has two to three months left,' and 'I know you love your brother, but there's nothing we can do,' " 26-year-old David said on the brothers' visit to StoryCorps this month.

"I just remember, the whole room went black."

After being diagnosed with a life-threatening disease, Mark had a life-threatening surgery.

"Sixteen hours, 17 pints of blood," he said. "We didn't know I was going to live."

After the surgery, Mark had a breathing tube, so he communicated with David using sign language, which David had learned first and taught to Mark.

"The first thing that you signed was my name," David told Mark, "which was tough, but it meant everything to me."

Mark's diagnosis has reinforced how he wants to spend his time — with his best friend and brother — however long that might be.

"I write down now, all the time, 'If I was going to die tomorrow, what am I gonna do today?' And I'd want to spend as much time with you as possible," he said. "So that's the most important thing."

That means even going on David's dates sometimes.

"My brother is my sidekick and he will also come out on the dates as well," David said he included on his Tinder profile.

"You make the date 10 times better," he told Mark. "And you also pay sometimes, too."

"But they must think you're real strange," Mark said.

David sees it this way: If you want to get to know him, you have to be cool with his close relationship with Mark.

"Some understand and some don't," David said. "And, you know, the ones that don't — there is no second date."

As for Mark, it's been more difficult to date after the diagnosis because, he says, women are "attracted to, like, a future."

He also worries that his surgery scars are another turnoff. But David said he wants to get tattoos that match his brother's scars.

"Every day I wish, you know, we can reverse and switch roles," David said. "But there's absolutely nothing I can do and it eats at me every single day."

But Mark tells his brother that he's got his own crucial role to keep.

"I have to carry the cancer but you have to carry me," he said.

"We don't know how much time we have left together," David said. "But I'm very happy with the 20-plus years we've had of being brothers."

"We're in this together," Mark said.

"We are — no matter what," David said.

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Mia Warren and Lauren Smith.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It is Friday, which is when we hear StoryCorps. Earlier this month, 26-year-old David Carles joined his younger brother Mark for this conversation. They grew up on Staten Island and were inseparable. But their lives were upended when Mark was diagnosed with cancer.

DAVID CARLES: When we first found out, the doctor said, he has two or three months left. And I know you love your brother, but there's nothing we can do. And I just remember the whole room went black.

MARK CARLES: Since being diagnosed, I had a massive surgery - sixteen hours, 17 pints of blood. And we didn't know I was going to live.

D CARLES: But then you woke up. And the only way for you to communicate was through sign language.

M CARLES: Yeah.

D CARLES: The first thing that you signed was my name, which was tough, but it meant everything to me.

M CARLES: Thank goodness he taught it to me.

D CARLES: Yeah.

M CARLES: I write down now, all the time, if I was going to die tomorrow, what am I going to do today? And I'd want to spend as much time with you as possible. So that's the most important thing.

D CARLES: I'm trying to milk out every ounce of Mark that I can.

M CARLES: Stockpiling.

D CARLES: Yeah. You know, I've been on multiple dates in the last year. And in my Tinder profile it says, down for a good time. And my brother is my sidekick, and he will also come out on the dates as well. I say you make the date 10 times better. And you also pay sometimes, too, where, you know...

M CARLES: I'm a good date.

D CARLES: You are a very good date.

M CARLES: But they must think you're real strange.

D CARLES: I've got a few different messages that say, hey, is your brother in on it, too? Maybe they think that it's like a package deal.

M CARLES: Well, it is a package deal, but it's a different kind of package.

D CARLES: Right. Exactly, a different kind of package. Yeah. Some understand and some don't. And, you know, the ones that don't - there is no second date.

M CARLES: Before getting diagnosed, you know, I was dating girls. But it's tougher now because, you know, they're attracted to, like, a future. Plus, post-surgery, I woke up with all these scars.

D CARLES: You will find the right girl who will say, hey, that scar is...

M CARLES: Kind of hot.

D CARLES: ...Kind of hot and the sexiest thing I've ever seen in my life.

M CARLES: OK.

D CARLES: You will find that, you know, hopefully, within the next few weeks.

M CARLES: Yeah.

D CARLES: And I would like to get matching tattoo scars with you.

M CARLES: You want to get the cross on your stomach?

D CARLES: I want to get the cross on the stomach. I want to get the little slit on the neck. Every day I wish, you know, we can reverse and switch roles. But there's absolutely nothing I can do, and it eats at me every single day.

M CARLES: I have to carry the cancer, but you have to carry me. And I'm so envious of grandpa, who died at 102.

D CARLES: Yeah. We don't know how much time we have left together. But I'm very happy with the 20-plus years we've had of being brothers.

M CARLES: We're in this together.

D CARLES: We are - no matter what.

INSKEEP: Brothers Mark and David Carles at StoryCorps in New York City. This interview will be archived at the Library of Congress. To have a sibling conversation of your own just in time for Thanksgiving, StoryCorps and NPR remind you to record one. Find out how at thegreatlisten.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.