My father has always been a strong man. Not one to cry, even when in immense pain, he would just bear down and take it. I wouldn’t call him a very emotional guy either, at least not on the sad end of the spectrum. He was definitely one to be proud of his children’s accomplishments, typically one of the loudest parents on the sideline at soccer games or volleyball matches.
That’s why it KILLED me when I sat down in my dad’s office at work and asked him what he wanted for Father’s Day and he got all choked up and started to cry. It was late May and I wanted to get him something special, more specifically, something that he really wanted but I didn’t know what it was. I just sat there, not knowing what to say or do while he gathered himself. He took his red handkerchief from his back pocket and wiped his eyes and nose.
In between gasps for breath he said “Save your money. I don’t want anything for Father’s Day.” When I asked him why all he could do was tear up again and lightly say, “I don’t want anything for Father’s Day because I don’t know if I’ll be around that long.”
He was diagnosed with Stage 3 Small Cell Lung Cancer on January 24, 2005. He had been a cigarette smoker for most of his adult life, having quit some 5 years prior after he had a fairly severe heart attack. He had changed his diet, started to exercise more, basically doing all the things his cardiologist had told him to do to get healthy and now he was delivered this. The whole family was there for the news and it was decided that the best course of action was to get in right way for chemotherapy and radiation since the tumor in his lung was inoperable. He had less that a 20% chance of surviving the first year and less than a 5% chance of being cancer free.
In the face of such adversity I’ve never known him to be so strong. I realize that someone going through Chemo typically isn’t viewed as being heroic, but to me he was. He knew the nurses were pumping him full of poison, but he also knew that poison was his only chance to extend his life for his family. Truly one of the most selfless acts anyone can do. Purposefully poisoning themselves for the family, I really commend him for that. Keeping food down was difficult; he started losing weight like crazy. The pain would get so bad that the big, burly man that used to be my father was now a brittle, shell of a man that would yelp in pain if you hugged him too tight.
Kate and I were married on June 23rd, the day before Father’s Day. He was there to celebrate with us as best he could. Dressed to impress, he even made it out on to the dance floor for a few spins with Kate. By now we knew the first type of Chemo wasn’t working and other options needed to be explored or change gears and focus on pain management. My father being my father felt the need to try another form of Chemo, regardless of what it meant he had to go through.
After the first few weeks of this new type of drug therapy it was discovered that the cancer had spread throughout his entire skeleton and another tumor had formed on the base of his brain. No amount of Chemo or radiation was going to make this go away and it was decided that the doctors would do their best to make him as comfortable as they could.
My father celebrated his 49th birthday on August 9th, 2005. His whole family was there, numerous boating friends from over the years, and even a few old friends from high school managed to make it for the party. By this time he wasn’t able to walk much anymore and could only get around on a motorized scooter. His speech was starting to slur due to the pressure on his brain, but his mental fortitude waged on and even though he was hard to understand at times, the one liners’ rolled off his tongue as smoothly as they had only a few months prior.
He died in his home 5 days later with his family around him. Kate and I were able to say our goodbyes before she took me to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy… but that’s a whole different post for a different time. I believe he is in heaven, no longer has cancer and is able to enjoy all that heaven has to offer.
I take comfort in that when the anniversary of his “going home” as we like to call it, comes around. We take a trip out to Lake Michigan, where we spread his ashes, for a little visit. I usually have a brief one sided “conversation” updating him as to what is going on and what he should keep an eye on. This year Ed will know that he is at the beach, I look forward to telling him all about his Grandpa Steve and explain why we had to the lake every year around the same time each August.
This post is part of the Cancer Sucks Blog Hop… Please check out the other posts HERE.