My father has always been a very hard worker who would not stop until his projects were finished. As long as I can remember he has worked long hours, often overtime on Saturdays, and although Sunday was his day off, he would still be busy doing some kind of repair or home improvement around the house. It was not as if he was keeping himself busy to avoid his family, he was doing all this hard work for us. In his mind, Dad is a provider; a provider for his wife and children and he could not rest until he felt accomplished.
Even when Dad would feel sick he would refuse to miss work or even stop to go to the doctors. I remember back when he was diagnosed the first time with cancer, it took him a while to finally listen to Mom’s suggestion to go to the doctor to get the odd looking mole on his leg checked out. Same with this time around, he was not feeling well for weeks, or possibly even months since he never complained of any ailment.
It took him until he could hardly sleep at night because of his difficulty with breathing and the heaviness in his chest before he would go to the doctor. It was about a week before he went that I remember having a conversation with him about how work was going and what their yard looked like after Hurricane Sandy hit. He mentioned he was feeling like he had a chest cold that he could not kick.
He rarely would ever show weakness or even mention if he was not feeling 100 percent. He had told me that he already tried an antibiotic to get rid of his nagging ‘chest cold,’ but there was no improvement after completing his prescription. I told him maybe he needed to go back to the doctor to be tested for pneumonia or some other lung issue. He finally did, I don’t know if he took Mom’s and my advice, or if he was tired of feeling short of breath, but he finally went.
Our family doctor then admitted him to the hospital to have his lungs drained of the fluid found. At the time, I didn’t think much of his admission to the hospital, and I was denying the fact that this was anything serious. They ended up keeping him in the hospital for a few days after draining the fluid to await the biopsy results of the lung tissue and fluid. My mother had asked my brother, Adam, and me to come home. So that weekend Adam drove home from Penn State, and I drove home from Philadelphia, to see Dad with the rest of the family.
When I saw him, I could see how sick he really looked. That’s when I realized that something was up, I wasn’t sure what, but it definitely was not a chest cold. The doctor met with us that night while we were all there and explained that the biopsies showed cancer cells, but he was not sure what type of cancer. He assumed it to be melanoma that had reappeared after all these years as stage IV in the lungs. There was still more testing to be done, and samples had to be sent out for further investigation, because he wanted to rule out all other cancers.
We were devastated. We were confused. We were scared. Everything you can imagine that goes through a family members’ minds when they get this kind of news, hit us. We sat in the waiting room together: Mom, Andrew, Adam and me. We cried. We hugged. We sat in silence. We said that we would not show Dad that we were upset or weak. We had to be strong for him and what was to come.
We calmed ourselves down and went back into the hospital room that night and sat with him, making small talk and being cheerful despite the news. I remember I had some students’ papers that I had been grading while sitting there that Sunday with my family, watching football on the small hospital television screen before the doctor had come in. I got them back out and started sharing some of the funny things my students had written. It’s true what they say, “Kids say the darndest things.”
I got a little chuckle out of my parents to ease the mood and left that night to go back to Philadelphia feeling very upset, but also satisfied with that evening that we all spent together. I used to take time with my family for granted, sure that my parents would never get older or get sick. Now, I’ve realized that I should be cherishing every moment that we are all together.
The next day my father was sent home to rest for a few days before heading back to work. Later that week my parents received the phone call from the doctor with the results from the biopsies. It was NOT Stage IV melanoma. It was a cancer that we have never heard of before -it was Mesothelioma.
Check in next week for the continuation of my blog: “Where do we go from here?”