It started as a normal day. I was making plans for my dad’s trip to California that upcoming weekend. We were making a plan to get the house clean. Drove to work and excited about an easy and fun Friday with my coworkers. Called dad to ask him if he rented a car yet. “Not yet, I’m on the way to the oral surgeon. He did a CT scan and told me to come in right away”. Well that doesn’t sound good.
I went to work and tried to pretend it was a normal day. In about an hour, in the middle of a meeting he called. I left the meeting to talk to him.
“Well, he wants me to see a specialist in Philadelphia”.
“What? Why? When?”
“Today. We are on our way now. I’ll call you later”
“No. No your not. You’re going to tell me what’s going on.”
“Well… he says I have cancer. I need to see this specialist today”.
My heart stopped. My breath left my body. I felt like I was falling even though I was standing perfectly still. My voice was calm and even, but my mind was racing and screaming. It felt like my world collapsed in a single moment. Cancer. Cancer. No one ever wants to hear that world. One moment I was excited for his upcoming visit. The next, my life was never going to be the same again.
We found out that day that there was a tumor that started in my dad’s gum and grew into the sinus cavity and was now under the eye and near the optical nerve. It was hard to believe my father, who never smoked or chewed tobacco in his life, had oral cancer. The surgeon he saw in Philadelphia immediately determined it was too big and too close to the eye to operate. He was advised to start chemo and get his affairs in order. I was scared. I had lost my best friend to cancer five years ago. Suddenly, I had to face the prospect I might lose my dad.
The next few days were a whirlwind. My dad’s trip was canceled. Instead, I booked tickets to New Jersey. I spent several days going over my father’s estate, updating beneficiaries, making plans, and setting up a new will and living will. Then, there were the days in Philadelphia. The MRIs, PET Scans, Oncologist and Radiation Consultant appointments. I saw the CT and MRI of the tumor. It was big. It was scary. It clearly is already into the eye socket. There was a chance he could lose his eye. It was the most terrified I have ever been in my life.
But there was good news too. Based on his symptoms, they believe it’s only been growing about 6 months or so. There was a belief this cancer responds well to chemo. There was the news that his scans showed no spread to any other part of the body. The chemo will be less often then initially thought. The surgeon may be able to save the eye if the tumor shrinks. Radiation will be needed, but likely not until after surgery.
That week was one of the most physically and mentally exhausting of my entire life. I’ve had to face the idea that I could lose my father. I had to come up with a plan of care for my grandmother. I had to tell family and friends what was going on. I had to tell my children in as calm and loving way possible. I had to tell my grandmother, who was sick with worry and be there for her when she couldn’t handle it. I had to be strong for everyone. Because that’s the role I play in my family. I was able to do that. But when it was quiet and I was alone, I broke down too. Because this is hard. And honestly, I can’t help but be scared too.
This cancer is highly treatable, and since it hasn’t spread, is highly curable. So now we fight. And it won’t be an easy fight. As the doctor said, we are in for a marathon, not a sprint. But we have to fight. Because my dad has a lot to live for. He has a wife he loves, grandchildren to see, and trips to take. When we were in Philadelphia, we went to see the Liberty Bell and eat a authentic Philly cheesesteak . I made him promise he’d take my kids to do the same when he was better. I need him around for a long long time.
In this blog I’ve always promised to write the good and bad about travel and my journeys. Now my journey includes this. It includes traveling to take care of my father as well as traveling for fun. These trips won’t be easy trips and they won’t be pretty. But they will be full of love and care. Thank you for your support. I have always appreciated it, and I will continue to appreciate it in the months and years to come.