On March 7th, right before I called my parents, I thought, "This is the last moment of normal." Then I dialled their number and prepared myself for the worst, hoping that I could be wrong. Now as I look back, I know how grossly understated my gut feeling was.
In February, Dad began experiencing tremendous pain throughout his body. A few times that I spoke with him on the phone, he sounded on the verge of tears. Finally, he went to the VA hospital and got blood work done. I asked him for what, but he didn't know. All he knew was that whatever the test was, the levels were off the charts. More blood work, one ultrasound, and a few days later, that's when Dad told me that he was having a biopsy on his liver done. I felt that panic, helplessness, sorrow, and fear with which I've become all too familiar in the last few years.
The day I left Vancouver to go to Mifflintown was the day Dad had his biopsy. Seeing the condition he was in when he walked through the door of the hospital, the doctors decided to admit him. I took a red-eye flight, was picked up by my niece in Washington Dulles, driven to Mifflintown, and then my mom and I set off for the VA Medical Center in Lebanon.
Hours later, we were told there's cancer in his liver, lungs, bones, and lymph nodes. Terminal cancer. My dad. I looked at my sister and mother, and I knew that the news hadn't sunk in with them. Dad nodded in acceptance. We would wait a few more days for the biopsy results to come back, telling us whether or not the originating cancer was either small-cell or large-cell lung cancer. Small-cell responds much better to chemo. Large-cell, not so much. After a few days of waiting, we found out that Dad has large-cell lung cancer. And now, we do not take time for granted.
After I helped put Dad to bed tonight, after I rubbed his swollen, harden legs with edema, elevated them on pillows, made sure he was comfortable, positioned his oxygen tubes, and said goodnight, I walked around the house I grew up in, suddenly in tears. I felt my heart breaking into pieces, scattering across each room. I cried all over the stuff that I've had in my life for decades--that hutch where we keep the good china, the closet door I wrote the names of my crushes on, the basement, the garage, the porch swing--all of it was crumbling down already, burying the little girl I was. Then I snapped out of it because I had to.
There's no time to cry when you're busy making sure your father's potentially final days are comfortable, full of love, and hopefully laughter. There's no time to cry when your mother is scared and has so much of her own pain that it's become difficult to take care of the man she's taken care of for forty-plus years. There's no time to cry when you're doing all the paperwork that needs to be done, calling doctors, holding together a family in one place, while you have your own children and husband in a different country preparing to move into a new home and start another chapter of your lives.
There are many times during the day when I'm grateful for the fact that I've had cancer. It's easy for me to understand what the doctors are saying. I already learned this language. I can translate it to my dad, and even to my mom. I can remain calm for them. I can be their rock. I can tell them to cry all they want. I can tell them what reality is. And I can tell them that there always is hope, if that's what they want to believe.
So now I've been on both sides, neither of which are good. I wish I could say what tomorrow will be like, but I won't really know until we all wake up. Time to sleep.