I was in Burlington, MA celebrating the success of my father's surgery to remove 2/3 of his esophagus and 1/3 of his stomach. He was diagnosed with Esophageal Cancer on November 8, 2006.
We had lunch sometime in September of 2006, dad, me and Baby, who was truly a baby at the time. I wasn't working and was able to just drive out to Deerfield to meet him for lunch. Looking back it was such a gift not to be working during that time. I inherited my love of food from my dad, so it was unnerving when he stopped me from chattering on during lunch to share with me that he has had trouble swallowing, that I shouldn't worry, he has an appointment next week, "...it isn't cancer."
Funny thing is, when you are child of a physician you completely without question believe what they tell you, regarding matters of health. I didn't give it a second thought. I mean if anyone would have an inkling it would be him, right? When I look back over those first few days after learning of my dad's diagnosis, I examined every moment we had spent during that lunch. I thought of his appointments, I thought of the unusual course of action asked of me after his biopsy, I was instructed to call all siblings and his sisters and mom. (My parents are divorced and have been for sometime. Luckily for us, they are friends and if it weren't for that fact the events that I am describing would have been horrible for their children) I could have chosen to think that he had cancer. Instead for those five weeks or so between our lunch and his diagnosis, I went about my regular routine without thought of cancer. Cancer is a disease that, I am lucky to say, is not something I check off on familial health history.
One year ago today, March 12th, my dad had surgery to "cure" him of cancer. Prior to his surgery he underwent 6 weeks of radiation and 4 weeks of chemotherapy, concurrently. All the while he continued to work. Since he and his wife live quite a distance from us, as well as work, we couldn't offer any day to day support. Instead we rented him a cozy little apartment for him to use, or not, on the days he was in his office. He took nice hot baths and naps when needed.
My dad is a love. Father of the year, he is not. He has major intimacy issues and even now they are just as they were when he left our family all those years ago. Illness makes people even crazier, it sure did in our case. It was an emotional roller coaster for all of us. Through it all - we spoke the truth and we spoke of love. The night before my dad's surgery I called him and told him all of the things that he had taught me. The list was long. The surgery for this type of cancer is very, very invasive. The surgeon, a cardiothoracic surgeon, must make incisions in the front as well as the back. You just never know how the surgery will go. I wanted to make sure I said all the things I wanted to say.
We were asked by my dad's wife not to be at the hospital during the surgery. So my siblings and I gathered at a nearby hotel and waited for the word, we counted the hours. We were told 4.5 to 6 hours. We heard at hour 6.5. My dad's two sisters and brother in law came and waited with us. We had the most wonderful, joyful celebration when we heard he was out of surgery! I smoked more cigarettes in that 8 hour period than I have ever in my life. After the celebratory breaking of bread, dad had asked that each of the kids come to see him. THAT was hard. He had so many tubes going this way and that, he was in ICU, the staff took extra special care of him because of his physician status. They affectionately called him "Doc."
The siblings and I stayed the night at the hotel so we could see him in the morning. They had moved him from ICU to the floor. He was tired so we each gave him a quick hug and love. We then went to the Cheesecake Factory for another celebratory lunch. We all breathed collective sigh of relief and continued to say our prayers.
I returned to my life as wife and mother and went to the hospital as often as I could for the next week. Everyday there was progression, his surgeon was pleased. We walked around the floor holding hands and he proudly introduced me as his daughter. Then he went home. The 20 nodes they took from him were all negative. He has CT scans every 6 months.
He still loves to eat, but now he has to eat much slower and more often. He is much thinner than he has been in a long time. Mom says he looks like he did when they lived in the projects. We know we are blessed and that he is lucky. Especially when my brother's coworker's mom died yesterday from the same disease. She was diagnosed 90 days after our dad, had the same surgery in June of 2007. Lucky, indeed.
This is the first weekend in December 2006. A very special weekend. Before surgery and treatment. No spouses or kids, just mom and dad and their kids. Lucky, indeed.