Friday, July 26, 2013

A Year Ago Today

My dad and I sitting by the water in Santa Barbara. 
Today – to the day – marks a year since hearing the news about my dad’s final diagnosis of his cancer.  Weeks upon days of suspense piled up, as I received updates and news across the county and being three hours ahead, of what doctors detected was cancer or not; then the final wait of the stage he was in, built up to one stormy night in July, this day last year, as I listened to my dad from across the country, filled with sorrow and tears.  The words: terminal, stage 4 lung cancer, four months to live without treatment, 12 months at best with treatment filled my ears.  A whirlwind of a summer had me consumed as I wrapped up my two years living in Philadelphia, attended a wedding in San Francisco, before coming back to Philly to finally pack my final bags and hop on a one way flight home to the west coast.  It all went by too fast as I dreaded leaving my friends on the east coast; and at the same time not fast enough as I anticipated seeing my dad and reconnecting with my friends I grew up with.  

Well, 12 months later to the day, and he’s still kicking!  Surely, it hasn't been easy.  If anything – emotionally – it’s been the roughest 12 months of my life.  Please don’t get me wrong, I am very fortunate and blessed to have this time to intentionally spend with my dad, and have whatever closure I feel I need; and let him know in my actions and words that I love him.  All the same I am weighed heavy again with recent news of where his cancer has spread.  

The cancer has spread to his brain; on both sides no less!  With one mass of cancer the size of a pea, and the other the size of a walnut, we are again thrown another emotional hit.  Consequently, now, the implications of it spreading to his brain could have side effects like I never thought.  We’re talking: memory loss, personality chances, loss of functionality; you know how you operate yourself – no biggie!  As he told me this most recent update, for the first time in this whole cancer battle, my dad showed a very human emotion: fear.  Up to this point, he had a very calm serenity about the whole thing – hardly ever showing distress over it.  He was at peace with his life and what he had accomplished, and was doing things to make peace with God and his family.  But now, I could see it one his face, and in his eyes – he was scared of losing himself before death takes him; and I think what scares him the most is his fear of what it will do to us.  In simpler words: he doesn't want us to suffer as we watch his functionality go before death.  In his own words: "it scares the hell out of me!" 

As the days and weeks have passed since this latest update in June I have seen these symptoms run my dad ragged.  Be it watching my father pass out and collapse with no warning; be it forgetting what he was talking about or having to repeat the same answer to a question he asked me 2 minutes prior; be it watching him lose his train of thought; emotionally it’s daunting and draining. 

Above all of that though, something very interesting has happened.  I've expressed before that I've tired over my dad’s emotionality.  He keeps his emotions very close to his chest, and it’s caused our relationship to be that at a distance.  By all means, I've come to a place of acceptance and understanding of why he’s behaved this way while I grew up; yet I see his walls coming down.  It was first evident, when my two sisters and I took my dad on a father/daughters day trip to Santa Barbara and Vandenberg Air force Base.  On the drive up, as we weaved in and out of LA traffic, talk of my dad and his time in the Air force during the Vietnam war became a major part of our conversation.  For a war he didn't have a lot of choice in fighting in or not (you either enlisted, or were drafted) he recalled a lot of the painful and traumatic memories – all of which he has suppressed since the war.  Memories of dodging bullets and bombs; memories of explosions; and memories of the ridicule and scorn he and other soldiers received after the very unpopular war.  In this moment as we were beach bound it was all coming to the surface, and for the first time – ever – I watched my dad get chocked up and shed some tears over his time in Vietnam.  Truly, he held a lot of painful memories; to hold all that in for decades, I certainly can’t imagine it. 

His personality change became evident again one morning. As I stammered and stumbled to the kitchen (I hadn't had my two cups of coffee yet), my dad had a sleepless night (another side effect once it’s in the brain), and was enthralled in a re-run of CSI.  As the episode and plot was coming to a close, I noticed my dad getting emotional over the ending of the episode.  Totally uncharacteristic of my dad!  In my life, I can count on one hand the number of time I've seen him cry or shed a tear – and those moments have been a far cry from a TV drama.  Coming totally out of left field, and not having my caffeine fix yet, I wasn't sure to either be stunned and taken aback, or amused and chuckle at the slight comedic scene; so I just patted and stroked my dad’s back in comfort, as I said, “it’s going to be okay dad.” 

What really threw me for a loop was one morning as my dad and I sat and chatted on the front porch, he began to express his concern and interest in my dating life.  What?!  Something to understand about my dad: there has never been a time – ever – that he has invested interest in my dating life or who I've dated.  So this little heart to heart pep talk about my love life came truly out of the blue.  Again, I wasn't sure if I should be stunned or amused; nevertheless though, it was nice to be able to talk to my dad about that aspect of my life that I've never shared with him.  In a later conversation with a friend of mine, he mentioned, “it could be the personality change due to cancer spreading to his brain, but it might have something to do with the fact that he’s looking at his own mortality.” Perhaps he is right; but I suppose I’ll never know; regardless I treasure the new vested interest.       

As all this has been happening over the past month or so, life has definitely gone on, and I've been wrapped up and preoccupied with many a things.  A new promotion, a wedding, a baby shower, social outings of summer of a twenty-something year old, committee meetings and tasks of a Gala, studying and taking the CBEST, helping my two sisters move (one in the area, and the other to North Hollywood), grandmother in and out of the ER, helping my brother navigate going back to school have all done well to keep me and my emotions distracted from the precedence of my dad’s recent update.

Truthfully, and admittingly, I was a little proud of myself.  Being someone who wears her emotions on her sleeve (something that is a double edged sword); I was impressed at how long I was able to evade the impact of the news.  It finally caught up to me one night as I sat around the table at the house of some girlfriends of mine (often called the girls house – original I know), and the topic of my dad came up (as they all are well aware of his illness).  I couldn't get two minutes into updating the ladies with the news till the efforts to hold tears back failed miserably.  It was all I could do to just weep – and I mean cry and mourn.  As the tears that I had held at bay for a month came running like rain, my weeps and mourns were intervaled with brief seconds of profound silence as the girls just listened to my words in between weeps.  Once the update was given, and my tears started to subside, one friend – Theresa – asked a difficult yet profound question: “when you pray, do you ask for God to end your dad’s suffering.”  To which, I answered, “I can’t pray that prayer!  I know it sound selfish, but I can’t; I just can’t fathom praying that.”  That night was the first of other times in a weeks’ time my tears would catch up to me.  One time they caught up to me during a women’s prayer night; and again during a visit to my grandparents.  And here I thought I was outrunning the emotions of the news!  It sounds awful, I know, to avoid the emotion of the news; but after a years’ worth of this roller-coaster, there comes a point where you just tire of being emotional.       

With this year anniversary of life – if you will – it comes with a lot of thoughts, questions and new treatments.  One: being my dad’s week-long outpatient radiation treatment in LA to just target the masses in his brain; another thing to struggle with emotionally. Two: twelve months ago today, doctors said my dad would have died; and against all odds he hasn't.  Not to say that we don’t think it’s coming – cuz it is – but more to say that, we really don’t know how much longer he has.  Part of me thinks his length of mortality has to do with his trip to Lourdes, France he took with my mom back in January.  Call it superstition; call it faith; call it what you want.  All I can say is there is a reason he’s still around; there is a reason God is extending his life longer than the twelve months given a year ago today, or even the three month prediction we were given in January.  Three: aside from the new found interest my dad has in me, and how he has opened up about traumas of his past; what more will I and other members of my family be surprised with?  What other kinds of closure will occur as his mortality weighs heavier on him, and he inches closer to death?  To that, I really don’t know; but you know, I’d rather not know, not even wonder, and just be surprised with that gift anyway.  In three words: let it be.   

On the way home from Santa Barbara and Vandenberg Air Force Base.  We stopped off at Anderson's Split Pea Soup - photo opp for my dad! 

No comments:

Post a Comment