No one tells you that cancer is a rollercoaster ride …
The ups and downs of cancer have caught me off guard. My dad has AML Leukemia, and the highs and lows of this disease are enough to cause emotional whiplash. As soon as one celebration comes, bad news seems to follow.
I’ve known many people who have had cancer, but I’ve not traveled the cancer path as closely with anyone prior to this. There is so much I just didn’t know.
I’ve not shied away from updates on social media as I find it easier to update there, along with CaringBridge, rather than follow up with friends and family individually. This openness to share most of this journey has caught me off guard (emphasis on most, not all). Sharing his story makes for extra prayers and good vibes, and he needs all that he can get so I’m game to update his status to the world of Facebook. He needs prayers. We need prayers. My mom needs prayers. Selfishly, I also want people to back away from their expectations of me right now and give me space. This is hard. My dad may die, and that realization has been agonizing to accept. Little things like hearing “it’s in God’s hands” can at once bring peace and also unease as, while I’m a believer, I also find it hard to imagine God consciously making a choice if my dad should live or die. Ultimately, I’m okay with not understanding. These are philosophical rabbit holes I don’t enjoy going down, and right now I certainly don’t have the mental energy. But, I’ll take the sentiment, and I surely feel the prayers sustaining me and my family, so I’ll embrace that.
My dad was diagnosed with AML Leukemia in October. Since then, he has had his chemo treatment not work (terrible), another treatment work (yay!), been so sick he almost died (what?), he’s had a mild heart attack (no!), my mom had her own cardiac issues and was hospitalized for a week (LIFE IS NOT FAIR), then he got stronger. My mom and dad celebrated their 50th anniversary (big yay!). He got strong enough to get a bone marrow donation (terrific!), my middle daughter matched as his donor (OH SWEET GIRL!), he got strong enough to receive it (praise be!), we went through that process (family bonding like this is hard to beat), then he deteriorated over a few weeks (no!), then he got “better” for a couple weeks (yes!), and yet we still didn’t have any answers on the success of the transplant (WHAT IS GOING ON??). Then, he got really bad (no!). He was fighting two bad viruses and an infection (very scary). But, then the results came back that the transplant worked — HUGE HOORAY! But, then his organs were failing and he needed to start dialysis (HOW IS THIS HAPPENING?). He started hallucinating. Then, he was a little better, he ate a little, and then he was almost completely comatose. He stopped recognizing who my mom was, my brother, his family. But, some days he does recognize them. MRIs, spinal taps, dialysis and more tests. Always more tests. But, if more tests bring us the hope of answers and viable treatments, then more tests it is.
How can we celebrate the biggest news yet, that the bone marrow transplant worked, and follow up the next day with failing organs? I have flown home three times wondering if this was the last time I would see my dad, and I’ve flown home many other times just to visit. I’ve seen him super healthy and also so weak that he could not carry on a conversation. I see my mom worry and I see how it is wearing on her. I see my brother and his family trying to be present as regularly as they can and the responsibility they have embraced to send me and others regular updates. To keep things going. To be both a source of entertainment and a source of stability. Everyone is scared and yet everyone has accepted that we are on a ride with no certain destination or duration.
Cancer … I’m not sure when we’ll be able to celebrate. Or if we’ll have that ultimate celebration. I do know that we are celebrating every small win and carrying all the setbacks heavily on our bodies and in our souls.
Now I know. When you have a friend dealing with cancer with a family member, just give them lots of grace. The emotional swings are extreme, and one good day does not mean a good next day. But, each day is one to embrace and be grateful for.
Dad, I hope you win this battle. I hope you get to fulfill your dream of visiting the Grand Canyon with Mom. I hope you get to see your grandkids graduate from high school and college. Maybe even see a couple of them get married. I know you won’t live forever, but I sure hope we have you for a while longer. I hope this is not our last Father’s Day together.
I love you more than I could possibly express,
Your daughter, Liza
Note: I wasn’t going to publish this Southern Voices article as I wrote it more for my mom and my brother. But, my mom encouraged me to as she said it helped her as it expressed this journey we’re going through so well. If you, too, are going through a similar journey, I’m so sorry. Cancer sucks. (Sorry, Mom, I know you don’t like “sucks” but for cancer, I’m using it.) I’m sending you positive vibes and praying for you as well and hopefully, together, we’ll make it through. For all those who have been through this, I get it now. Damn, I wish I didn’t.
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