“There is no cancer in your body.”
Those were the words my father’s doctor spoke at his follow up last week.
There are no cells left.
I hadn’t seen my parents for quite some time—I’ll admit, it was way too long. I recently moved closer to them; it wasn’t necessarily out of concern, but it was important to me to be closer than a five hour flight.
My father has gotten in to the habit of scaring us—us being his family. He had three visits to the emergency room this year. The first time he was complaining of stomach problems; it turned out his appendix was about to rupture. They kept him for surgery.
The second time was in Paris. He fell, hit his head and need stitches. (I should interject that my parents are adorable. My mom told my dad at age 74 she had never seen Paris. He took her. They still go on dates and he still buys her flowers after 54 years of marriage. I love what they have.)
His next trip to the ER, he was complaining of headaches. It turns out that they never did an MRI in Paris. He had a subdural hematoma from the fall and once more, he ended up in emergency surgery. His complaint while healing in ICU was that he looked like Herman Munster.
My dad has always had a dry sense of humor. My brother and I grew up on Monty Python and Masterpiece Theatre. Truth be told, I never made it all the way though an episode of MasterpieceTheatre back then. I was eight. I inherited the same humor. My father and I can banter for days…and no matter what he goes through I will never stop trying to get a laugh out of him.
It was at this point I said to him, Hey Dad…you’re allowed three scares a year. Knock it off. You’ve met your quota.
Last month I went up to visit them for a family event. One of my favorite things to listen to is my dad telling stories about his childhood, more specifically my grandfather. I love my father’s stories. I love history. I soak it up like a sponge…I digress.
I went back home with my parents after the second party. The three of us reminisced for a while before my mom went to bed. And then my father sat me down at the kitchen table. In my family, when someone your senior asks you to sit down, it is typically not good news. It was always one of three things: I was grounded, I was about to hear something that could potentially traumatize me, or someone had died. Since I hadn’t skipped school in over 20 years, my heart lodged itself in my throat.
This time was no different. My father told me that when they had taken part of his appendix out, they found cancer cells in the part that was removed. I do not know all the technical terms, nor do I care.
The moment I heard the word cancer, memories with my father flooded my head.
I recalled my father teaching me how to ride a bike and the sound of my own laughter when I peeked behind me and realized I was half way down the street..the vacations spent in Pennsylvania in our cabin. His signing me up for the summer camp program that his company offered. It was for children with special needs.
Sure, there was an indoor and outdoor pool, there were also peers that needed me. I promise you that I learned much more from them than I could have possibly given. My father, in his infinite wisdom, taught me that summer that everyone is special. He taught me that anyone can learn from another human being. I thought of our family Thanksgivings which were always held at my house. There were never less than 25 family members and as my mom calls them, the strays (aka my friends who always stopped by.) They were always welcome.
I sat at that table, scared. I was angry that they had known for three months and didn’t say anything. I stared at my father, my eyes as big as saucers and lined with tears. He sat to my right with his head lowered as he spoke. I didn’t want to tell you over the phone. They knew I would have spent every dime I had just to get on a plane the moment they told me.
He continued:When they removed the appendix, the doctors found what they call carcinoid cells. The surgery is on Thursday. They are removing the rest of the appendix, and part of the colon as a prevention. While I’m under they are doing a procedure called a chemo wash. It’s not like chemotherapy. I started to cry.
At that moment, my dad looked up at me and had tears in his eyes. We wiped them away with a handkerchief. He has kept one in his pocket as long as I can remember. He said, Don’t make me cry. You know, Ronna, I’ve only cried twice; when I married your mother and when my brother died. I said, I know, Dad.
Seeing my dad with tears on his face hurt my heart. Seeing him scared broke it in 1,000 pieces. My father died from colon cancer. His next words ripped my heart completely out of my chest. I’m not ready to go. I want to watch my grandchildren grow up.
It was the most honest and loving moment my dad and I have ever had. It doesn’t get more real than that. Dad you’re not going anywhere. You’re going to be ok. I know you are, and you know that I haven’t been wrong yet.
I hugged my dad so hard that night and I didn’t want to let him go.
No family is perfect and I’m not claiming that mine is, but I’ll tell you something…nothing in this entire world is more important.
There is no greater love.
I got to end my night tonight with one call. Hi Daddy…I just wanted to tell you how much I love you.