9:00 in the morning is too darn early for your father to tell you he has cancer.
Dad had been sick for six weeks. His doctor thought he had a bacterial infection, but when treatment didn’t help and additional blood tests were negative for suspected infections, she admitted she was stumped. One appointment with a specialist, and he had the diagnosis within 24 hours — colon cancer.
I knew he had an 8:00 am appointment on December 23rd with his doctor, who had asked him to come in to review the results. That’s just never a good thing — “come in to review the results.” I barely slept the night before with worry.
Around 9:00, I risked calling Mom’s cell phone, her new iPhone, it turned out, which she didn’t know how to work. She thought she rejected the call. Instead, she answered it. I said “hello,” a few times, but all I could hear was my Dad talking to someone, and he sounded upset. He said something about “beating this…”
That’s when I lost it, yelling into the phone, “What the hell is going on?!” Mom answered, said, “Stace? Hold on.” And then Dad said it, “It looks like I have colon cancer that’s spread to my liver.” My first, unadulterated response? “Well, holy shit, Dad. That’s not good!” Dad, doing his Daddy best, assured me everything would be OK. It felt like empty comfort, but I agreed.
He asked me not to tell my sister because he would. I immediately got off of the phone, called Tim, and told him. It still wasn’t real. I didn’t cry until I turned to face my coworkers and told them. The first hug started the tears, and I don’t think they stopped for 48 hours.
In between telling my coworkers and heading home, I went online to read more about colon cancer. I won’t quote facts, figures, mortality rates or 5-year recovery rates. I will say that Dad had a colonoscopy 5 years ago, and he was given a clean bill of health. He now not only had a 5 cm tumor on his colon, but the cancer cells had spread to his lymph nodes and his liver. By that very definition, Dad was diagnosed with what looked like (and was later proven to be) “stage iv metastatic colon cancer.”
I drove home from work, and I spent the rest of the day crying, trying to decide if I should go see them, and watching my husband watch me. I had a vacation scheduled for the week between Christmas and New Year’s, so I headed to Roanoke. Christmas morning I got up, washed my face, put on a smile, and kept it plastered to my face for the the next week as I spent each day with the parents.
We didn’t do much. We were quiet. I planned to keep things upbeat, and I did the best I could. Tim worked Christmas but visited for a few hours on the 26th. I only cried once in front of Dad, when he wouldn’t let me buy his medicine. We visited his surgeon, talked with his oncologist, and made decisions for his care.
He’s lucky. He works for a phenomenal company–NorfolkSouthern has been by his side and his coworkers and superiors have visited and supported in every way imaginable. His church has visited and sent cards. His best friend from his home town drove up to visit for the day.
It’s been two months since his diagnosis. He started an aggressive therapy as early as possible. He just finished his fourth treatment in seven weeks. He feels better, looks better, and (his bloodwork indicates) is better. A CT scan in the next week will find out how the cancer has actually responded to the chemotherapy. Surgery is on the horizon, as is a long surgical recovery, more chemotherapy, and perhaps radiation.
I have spent more time in Roanoke in the last eight weeks than in the 17 years since I graduated college. I’m trying to work a full schedule and just take a few vacation days here and there to visit, to help when needed, go to doctor’s appointments when I can, and get Mom away from the house for a bit. Dad is venturing back out into the world again, going to church, visiting work, and going to restaurants. Lisa, my sister, comes home once a month from her new life in Colorado, and when she’s here, things almost feel back to normal.
But the 800-pound gorilla is always sitting in the corner of the room, and I think I’ve read everything I possibly can about colon cancer. My brain hurts a little bit.
I can’t imagine a world without my Daddy. I believe he will heal…I truly do.*** This personal blog is comprised solely of the opinions, views, projects, and travels of its author, Stacey Morgan Smith. She is lucky enough to have loving family and friends whom she drags along with her on her adventures and whom she puts to work on her little farm. She uses this blog to help promote living in the mountains of the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, from Roanoke to the Potomac River.**