NATIONAL CANCER SURVIVORS DAY

It was 1992, I was 32, my Dad was 57, my youngest sister had recently graduated from high school and moved to California to be a nanny. Mom and Dad were looking forward to retirement and traveling with my Aunt and Uncle. It was just after Christmas, Dad was eating peanuts and choked on one. He was choking so bad, I was told, his false teeth were suspended from his mouth and air was not moving. After a Laurel and Hardy attempt to call 9-1-1 (hilarious story here) the peanut came shooting out of his mouth. When calling 9-1-1, my sister and my Mom were calling from 2 different phones on the same landline (one calling 9-1-1 and one calling me) and somehow called a Mr. Schroeder, who called them back to see if they needed an ambulance.

Dad was okay, winded but okay. He went to the doctor and they saw a spot on his lung. Probably just a little part of the peanut that was lodged in his left lung. The doctor thought they should maybe do a biopsy just to make sure since he was an asthmatic and a smoker. I was confident that it was no big deal and that it was just a funny ending to a funny peanut story.

NOPE – it was cancer.

Cancer research and treatment was not near as advanced then as it is now. The first course of action was to remove the lower third of his left lung. My Dad – my rock – my strength – always the voice of logic in an illogical world – the embodiment of what every Dad to 4 daughters should be – a good Christian man was weakened beyond what I thought would or could be possible by this surgery. Looking at him in the hospital bed – broken, defeated, in pain was devastating. The doctors said they got the whole nasty thing out of him.

After 20+ years there is some fuzziness here as to whether or not he received chemo after the surgery. But, at any rate, he was going to survive. His 6-month check-up was clear, his 12-month check-up was clear. He only needed yearly check-ups with his oncologist! We all had a reason to celebrate!

Then, he started doing things that were odd. He backed into a pole with his work vehicle, he tried cutting a steak but it was the table that had the pressure of the knife, he walked out of the house with one arm in the sleeve of his overcoat and the arm in the sleeve of his suit coat. At first, we laughed these off as him “getting old” but it soon became apparent that SOMETHING was not right!

Back to the doctor! The cancer is back – this time in his brain. He had two tumors on his brain and would need radiation to remove this nastiness from him. It was suggested that he shave his head so that the hair loss would not be as noticeable – my husband (who was home healing from a near-fatal car accident) shaved his head in solidarity. While Mom and I worked Dad and Dennis walked to the local ice cream shop and enjoyed their daily ice cream and male bonding. They went all over our tiny town together, both men healing.

Radiation worked! The tumors were gone. Six months – clear! Twelve months – clear! Eighteen months – here it is rearing it’s ugly head again back in his lung! This stupid thing just won’t leave him alone! In the two years since his initial diagnosis much had been learned and progress on treatments had been made. Chemotherapy was prescribed. The chemo made him sick, and weak but it was not enough to remove that cancerous ugliness inside him. There was experimental, super-strong chemotherapy that they thought would work. It might have. It may have removed that nasty, mean, cancerous growth but in November 1994, when administering the chemo, his vein was infiltrated and he developed sepsis.

My Dad lost his fight with sepsis on December 26, 1994, in a hospital 687 miles from home. Mom and Dad were visiting the Aunt and Uncle they planned on traveling with and he slipped into a coma December 21, 1994, and fought his last battle to stay alive until all of us could be there – his 2 daughters from California, 2 daughters and a granddaughter from Nebraska.

Dad was a cancer survivor – but not a survivor of human error. With all the advances that have been made since the 1990s, I feel confident that he would not have had to fall subject to human error because now they use a shunt for chemo right from the start and the medicines that are available now are much more effective. Stay Strong! Live your life to the fullest! You are an inspiration to everyone!

 

 

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