Early last winter my 67-year-old father went to the emergency room looking for a diagnosis. He’d known that there was something wrong, but his primary care physician had been unable to detect what it was. Dad’s skin was tinged yellow and he’d lost twenty pounds without any effort — my siblings and I urged him forward.
By evening, I still hadn’t heard from my father. Arriving at our small town hospital, my husband and I were ushered into a private examination room where my father sat and my mother was crying. A mild-mannered doctor returned and gave us the shock of our lives — my dad had pancreatic cancer and less than a year to live.
I felt sick inside. My father is one of those tough guys who believes that he’ll make it through anything. Several years prior, he’d survived a motorcycle accident, but had lost his left leg. Though he walks with a prosthesis, he is in pain every day. I’ve never seen my dad cry, but he shed tears that night.
My journey into and through the medical maze of a taboo subject I’d subconsciously avoided brought me to the realization that I was shockingly unprepared. I knew little of the medical establishment, or of the dreaded disease, cancer. I hated that word.
We as a family quickly acted, searching for an oncologist Dad liked, weighing options, talking with specialists, researchers, and survivors. I even found myself phoning an old friend — now a well known liver transplant specialist — hoping against hope that a miracle existed.
Doing the usual “daughter deal,” I set up a notebook for Mom and Dad, encouraged them to eat well, exercise, and travel when able. Exploring alternatives, they learned how to squeeze juice, stir up a protein shake, and differentiate between organic or not while in the grocery store.
Have I gotten beyond the shock of the diagnosis? No. I probably never will. Dad ordered me to stop crying all the time. I’ve done my best, but it’s hard at times. Uncomfortably, our family’s had to discuss many urgent matters relating to my father’s illness.
On the bright side, my dad is still with us. I can ride my bike to his home daily, and sit and visit with him. Dad, Mom, and my daughter will sit and play rummy together. Recently, my parents returned from a cruise to Alaska with old high school friends. We still have time to spend with each other.
I’ve discovered that cancer is never fair, but little in life is. Everyone I’ve spoken with either has had the disease, or knows someone else who has. Like the generations before us who developed vaccines and sent men to the moon, I believe we as Americans need to be the next great generation, and begin to find the answers to the cancer problem which affects almost every family. Personally, I’ve chosen to support Lance Armstrong’s Live Strong Foundation.