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Sunday, June 21, 2015

A Little Bit of Cancer

Originally Written February 4, 2015

Today isn't the anniversary of my dads passing, but for some reason I always think it is before I correct myself. We lost him on the 6th. On the 4th, which was a Friday, I scheduled the day off from work and Audrey from school so we could have a long weekend with my dad. Because I always wake up at the crack of dawn, Audrey and I made it from Columbus to the hospital in Akron before everyone who lived up there. I was sitting in a chair by the window being quiet so I didn't wake him up when the doctor came in and shook my hand. I imagine there had to have been some type of other conversation first, but I only remember him saying, "Your father isn't going to wake up again." I really wanted to be mad at the doctor, but I didn't have the energy. I literally felt deflated.

Earlier that week my mom called and said he was making a remarkable recovery. He was talking and eating and she thought they might let him go home. I believed their sending him home meant he was getting better. No man has ever lived who was as tough as my dad. The last time I'd seen him, the weekend prior, he was in really rough shape and made no sense when he spoke. If anyone could have recovered from that state, it would be him. Sadly, what I didn't understand at the time was, my dad wanted to die at home. His pain was so overwhelming that they couldn't control it outside of hospice. My mom just told me my dad might be able to go home to die. I thought he was recovering. She never called back to tell me things had changed. She probably couldn't bear the thought of my reaction.

I have always kind of just accepted that the rest of my family kept a lot of things from me. I am very sensitive and don't deal with suffering very well, especially if it's a loved one. I'm not sure if they do it to make it easier on me or themselves, but I am glad to play along. My dad had had a cancer diagnosis three years prior and he called to tell me that they found "a little bit of cancer." Im sure that was meant to soften the blow. He never told me, however, that this "little bit of cancer" diagnosis also came with a prognosis of six months to live. He was very willful and no one doubted that he would perservere. I checked on his progress all of the time. He or my mom would update me and say he was doing radiation or he was doing chemotherapy and they were working. The doctors were taking good care of him. That is what I wanted them to tell me and they were good enough to oblige. I wasn't ever going to be prepared for anything more than this generic back and forth we had created. I was never going to be able to accept that we could lose him. My dad and I hadn't fixed everything yet. I hadn't come to the place in my life where he was proud of me yet. He was Audrey's only real father-figure and he couldn't leave her. She was getting ready to graduate. He was going to walk her down the aisle one day. I just wanted to live in a world where a little bit of cancer was really a thing.

I now know that my dads cancer progressively worsened and spread to other parts of his body over those three years. After various attempts in Ohio, my dad had flown to Texas for special treatment where they had come up with a new plan of attack and, as far as I knew, it was working. Not long before the end when he was admitted to the hospital, I was on the phone with my sister turning from Broad St. onto Waggoner Rd. when she said, "Yeah. And now it's in his brain." The conversation immediately went silent as I pulled into the Meijer parking lot to prepare my mind to process what she had said, while Dawn, it was clear, had just realized she wasn't supposed to tell me that. I was upset and accusatory. In that moment, it was an insult to me that my family had kept secrets. Apparently, they had even determined that Audrey was strong enough to know more than I did. Of course, my willingness to play along had brought me to this moment and it was just as much my fault as anyone else's. To be honest, I was probably more angry that she told me anything at all. I was pissed that I was going to have to now step out of my bubble and believe that the toughest man I would ever know was really suffering. And mortal.

One morning, after I learned that the cancer had spread, Audrey and I were in the car on the way to school and she said, " Mom, stop saying that." I have this thing where everything I think comes out of my mouth. I wasn't even aware that I was talking. I knew what I must've said, though, because it was the sentence on repeat in my head, "I hate you." Over and over I thought it and, apparently said it. I apologized to Audrey and told her,"I wasn't talking about you, baby. I hate cancer." She said, " I know." She knew. She is such a gift. I was telling cancer that I hated it. It's a pretty strange and irrational thing to have on repeat, but she knew and understood me in that moment. I was absolutely wrecked inside. I would sit at my desk at work and tears would silently stream down my face for days in a row.

The truth was too much to handle. My mind raced constantly. It's so unfair! He never smoked. Ever. He shouldn't get lung cancer, I should. He just has to get to retire and drag mom all around the country in an RV. That "ignorance is bliss" bit is true. It's so nice not knowing. But my dad was in a really bad place and I had to accept that he might not pull through. I had to start preparing myself in case it happened. But all I could think was, " I hate cancer."

When the time came, I wasn't ready. I never came to terms with any of it. Unfortunately, the only thing I learned, aside from the fact that I definitely hate cancer, was that I really like my bubble. It doesn't matter why I'm kept out of the loop on things. I could never have handled three years of watching him suffer and knowing he was going to die. I forgot to eat most of the time during the 3 weeks he was in hospice and lost over 10 pounds. I looked disgusting. I couldn't sleep. I would lie in bed and just worry about my dad.

Those last two days were unbearable. His pain was so bad that while I was talking to him and holding his hand his body shuddered. My aunt told me I was hurting him. I hurt him by holding his hand. That was it for me that day. I couldn't stop crying so I stayed in the hospice TV room. I didn't want to cry in front of him.

The day dad died I was numb. I had found the strength to say the words, "You have to let go now, dad," the day before without my voice betraying the face he couldn't see. I wasn't ready for him to go, of course, but he was in so much pain that even I had finally resigned myself that there was no way to come back from the state he was in. That morning, after he had gone and everyone had been informed, my family gathered around him and I felt calmed by knowing that he was no longer in pain. But I still hated cancer.

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