A Tribute to My Dad
We got the dreaded and totally unexpected news that my 48-year-old dad had stage IV lung cancer after he underwent a routine physical exam. He’d been having some pain in his knee, but we (and all of the doctors he saw) attributed it to some sort of strain that he got from driving from Texas to Washington, DC and back again in a relatively short period of time. Otherwise, he had no symptoms of any disease, much less lung cancer.
A complete shock
What a shock. He was too young. He wasn’t sick. He didn’t smoke cigarettes and hadn’t for many years. And now, a doctor was telling us that he was going to live for maybe six months?? How do you process that?
Unlike his daughter, my dad was very quiet and very private. Even if asked a pointed question about how he felt physically or emotionally, he usually wouldn’t answer. His lack of response frustrated me because I felt like he needed to talk about what he was going through. Not only that, I wanted to understand how he felt, what it felt like to be staring death in the face.
A frustrating lack of communication
Because my dad refused to communicate with us about how he felt or what was going on with his disease, I began calling his doctor. It was before the days of HIPPA so the oncologist was able to discuss my dad’s health with me.
I will never forget being told, right before Thanksgiving, that it was possible he wouldn’t make it to Christmas. I couldn’t believe it. My mom had just told me that she thought maybe he had been misdiagnosed since he was eating and gaining weight and seemed to be doing so well.
A refusal to stop fighting
When the doctor told me how critical my dad was, I asked him why in the world he was still giving him chemotherapy treatments. Dad, like his daughter, did not handle chemo well. It made the man I had only seen sick once in my life very ill. The doctor’s response defined who my dad was. He said, “Your dad refuses to stop. He will not stop fighting.”
Boy, truer words have never been spoken. I think back on my dad’s cancer journey and am awed. I am especially amazed now since I know first hand a bit about the journey.
Dad’s knee caused him a great deal of pain. He had to have been terribly fatigued from his chemotherapy and radiation treatments, not to mention from the disease itself. But, it didn’t stop him. He continued to go to the office until just three weeks before he died.
His care for his family was evident until the very end
It wasn’t until the day he died that my dad told my mom how frustrated he was with his situation. He told her, “I can’t live, but I can’t die either.”
The truth is, he wouldn’t let himself die until he felt like he had finished everything he needed to do. He had revised his will to take better care of my mom. The revision didn’t arrive for his signature until the day before he died. Watching him sign it was difficult. He was so weak, he could barely hold the pen, much less write his name. But, he got it done.
And then, he could finally let go.
Years later, walking a similar journey
Fast forward 35 years. My husband and I heard the same shocking words, “You have stage IV lung cancer.” My story is still being written, but I learned so much from watching my dad face this foe. And, my dad’s oncologist’s words reverberate in my mind, “He will never give up” and I make them my own.