Fifteen months ago my family received a devastating blow when we learned that my father had stage 2B pancreatic cancer. He was 74 at the time, in seemingly good health, and had been working on losing weight by living a healthier life style for about six months prior to his diagnosis (adding insult to injury).
Being an avid journaler you’d think I’d have written volumes on my feelings, thoughts, concerns, etc. but the fact is I haven’t written anything. I haven’t been able to separate myself enough to put pen to page in anything more than an angry outburst or two. For a year I watched as my father went through surgery, chemo, radiation, and physical therapy and slowly saw my once vibrant, robust dad become a weak, frail, empty shell of who he used to be. Heart-wrenching doesn’t begin to convey the emotional toll it took on the family.
In January of 2017 my father weighed 230 pounds. In April when he was diagnosed he was around 200. Today he is barely 160 and continues to lose weight. He is 5’10” and was never thin. Even as a boy he was considered chubby, but never really fat. He carried his weight well. I can’t say that now. In fact to see him from the back or the neck down, I doubt anyone who knows him would even recognize him.
We knew with the diagnosis that the prognosis was not good. Five years tops was what we were told. Of course, who believes that. Hope takes over and no matter what your head tells you, your heart won’t believe that “my father is going to die from this.” No matter how weak he’s become, no matter how much weight he’s lost, I still kept telling myself, “This can’t be happening. Not to my family.”
This afternoon around 2 p.m. my mother knocked on my front door. I knew immediately this was not going to be good. As I walked to the door, I took a deep breath, telling myself to calm down and be strong. My mother couldn’t look at me but just said, “I wanted to make sure you were home. I’ll get your dad.”
She walked to the car and helped my father out of the car. He nearly fell when he stood up, his legs not strong enough to hold him up. My mother grabbed him, steadied him, and led him to the door. I helped him up the stairs, gave him a hug, and out of habit asked, “How ya doing Dad?”
“Pretty terrible.” he said without looking at me and went into the house.
My mother followed him, without looking at me and told him to sit in the chair in the great room. She sat on one couch, and I sat on the other.
Once we were all seated my mother looked at me for the first time and said, “We don’t have good news.”
I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes, but told myself I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t break down and make this harder on them. I had to be strong. I did everything I could to push the tears deep inside me.
“We had the appointment with the oncologist this morning, as you know, and the news isn’t good. Your father has seven large tumors consuming his liver. He has three options, but no matter what he decides to do, the doctor said he doesn’t have more than 6 months.”
At this point I went numb. My mother continued talking about the scans that were done, the test results they received, the options of heavy-duty chemo that wouldn’t buy him more time but would make him sicker while hopefully stopping the cancer from spreading or clinical trials or doing nothing. I sat there, I think asking questions at appropriate times, I don’t really remember. All I remember is glancing at my father in the chair and watching as he stared bravely straight ahead, emotionless.
When my mother was done going over everything the doctors had done and said, I turned to my father and asked, “So what do you think you want to do Dad?”
He cleared his throat and said, “I’m not sure but I don’t think I want to be sick for the remainder of what time I have left.”
I then asked more specific questions about the chemo and what it would do to him and about the clinical trials. My mother explained how the chemo would make him lose his hair, lose more weight, make him even more tired than he already was, and make him sick. It wouldn’t buy any time. As for the clinical trials, well those needed to be checked into to see if he qualified for the type of cancer he had but were only an option if he did the chemo. Again, the trials probably would not buy him any time.
I didn’t know what to say. My mother picked up on my silence and offered that my father was very concerned about all of us. That he wasn’t upset with the prognosis for himself, but rather for how those he was leaving behind would be affected. At that my father said, “I haven’t been that great a father, but I know this is going to be difficult.”
At that the tears could no longer be contained. I told him that he was a great father and there were so many wonderful years that we had together that not having him around … well would be unbearable.
All the while this was taking place, all I kept thinking was: I’m not the first person who’s been told that their father is dying. I won’t be the first daughter to lose her father. My mother won’t be the first woman to lost her husband. My children won’t be the first grandchildren to lose their grandfather. My father isn’t the first man to be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. This has all been done before. So why does it feel so utterly horrible? Why can’t I come to terms with this? Why do I feel like I’m the first person to go through this? That my pain is so much worse than anyone elses? That this is far too much pain for anyone to bear?
Hubby wasn’t home when my parents were over, he came home about 30 minutes after they had left. There was nothing he could say. What could he say to make me feel better? Nothing. I sat on the couch the rest of the day, staring out the window. Hubby checked on me periodically, trying to find words, but there were none. The one thing that he said was he didn’t know which was worse–losing someone quick and unexpected or watching someone die over a period of time. Of course I think watching someone dwindle away is worse, but that’s probably because that’s what we are going to have to do for the next several months now.
I have always found it interesting that everyone always feels that what they are experiencing is either better or worse than what everyone else has experienced. The pain and suffering one endures from injury or sickness, is worse than any anyone has ever faced. But in reality, is it?
I know what I’m going through is not unique. Thousands of people die every year from cancer. Thousands of families go through the pain and anguish of losing someone they love. Thousands of lives are changed forever more, never to be the same again with the death of someone close to them. Honestly though, this is no consolation. This pain is unlike anything I’ve ever felt. Losing my grandparents was very hard, losing pets seemed almost unbearable, losing friends was sad and painful, but my father…I have loved him for 50 years and I can’t imagine going into my 51st without him.
At the moment I am finding it hard to find anything to be “Simply Grateful” for, but one thing I will be FOREVER GRATEFUL for is my father and all the years we have had together, good and bad. I hope I can find the strength to make the most of the time we have left.