It’s been almost six months since my last post (my original goal being to post once a week, minimum). I even thought about scrapping this entire project. Luckily, it only took one comment from a stranger earlier this week to remind me why this collection of my thoughts and experiences is important to me. So, I’m back. Why was I knocked off course, you might wonder? MY DAD WAS DIAGNOSED WITH CANCER.
It all started first of the year. Dad woke up early one morning with horrible chest pains, so much so he thought it might be a heart attack. However, the other symptoms didn’t add up, so once it seemed to pass, he went back to bed. (My initial response being, “Wait – you didn’t immediately go to the hospital?!?”) Later that morning, he called his doctor for an appointment. There was talk of gallstones. Tests were scheduled.
Even for middle class Americans, sometimes the health system is an excruciatingly slow process. The more money you can throw at a problem, the faster you’ll get results. So, we waited. End of January, we finally got dad’s test results back: it was gallbladder disease. Not a great diagnosis, but not the worst, either. More alarming, though, was that the scan also showed a huge mass in/on one of his kidneys. For us, that meant a new doctor, more tests, and more waiting.
Mid-February, his primary care physician called and asked to meet with him in the morning, before his office opened, to discuss the test results. What that said to me was: IT’S CANCER! That mass on his kidney? CANCER!!! Waiting to hear from him that day, the seconds dragged by, mocking the urgency of the situation. I work nights, but sleep was not an option. Late in the afternoon, I finally got the call. It was worse than I had imagined: Dad did have cancer – kidney AND liver cancer.
The scan for the mass on his kidney had also shown tumors on his liver. The kidney cancer was Renal Cell Carcinoma. Next to discover was whether the liver cancer had metastasized from his kidney, or somewhere else, or if it had originated in his liver. Was there cancer lurking in any other of his organs? For us, even more tests, even more doctors, and even more waiting. I knew people were diagnosed, treated, and recovered from cancer all the time, but it was hard not to be fatalistic. My sister and I cried over the phone at the very real fear that we could lose our dad, this year – that this could be it.
The next few weeks were a roller-coaster of constantly changing diagnoses. The liver biopsy went really well, and his tech left us feeling hopeful: he had two massive tumors on his liver that they might be able to remove with laser ablation. That became our primary concern; the kidney cancer absent from the conversation. Depending on how bad the liver cancer was, him having kidney cancer just didn’t matter any more.
First week of March, we got the biopsy results back, and they were awesome! The liver cancer hadn’t metastasized from his kidney (that was really good). Other scans showed no sign of cancer in his brain, lungs, or other locations. More great news! He was scheduled to meet with the same surgeon who had operated on Steve Jobs – phenomenal! Best of all, surgery looked like the answer: they could blast away the liver tumors, and remove the left kidney at the same time. Recovery would take weeks, but he WOULD recover. SUCCESS!
Everything changed the next day. He met with the surgeon, who informed him that upon closer analysis SURGERY WAS NOT AN OPTION. One tumor was covering the vena cava, and if both were removed, there wouldn’t be enough liver left to regenerate, for him to recover. Dad’s wife told me all of this over the phone, with him sitting right there, too upset to talk to me. His silence scared me worse than the diagnosis. Cue another week of waiting, and the best we could now hope for was him being a viable candidate for chemotherapy.
To be continued…
This is us back in February, on dad’s 70th birthday, right in the middle of the knowing and not knowing. It was a ’50’s themed party, hence the glasses. We are, quite obviously, happy, terrified, and exhausted.