Today my dad would have been 69 years old; unfortunately he lost his battle with cancer on August 3rd, 2012, after fighting it bravely for 1,105 days. On June 25th, 2009 he heard the words that no one wants their doctor to speak. He was diagnosed with Renal Cell Carcinoma, which is kidney cancer. He had been feeling extremely fatigued for quite some time, losing weight and had skin discoloration. After a series of doctor visits, tests and a hospital stay, the diagnosis was back, and the original prognosis was very grim, they only gave him a few months to live at best.
Thankfully, after much research he sought treatment at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida where they gave him a much better prognosis and had a huge hand in him having the quality of life that he did for the majority of his diagnosis. He was able to make various trips that were important to him and my step-mom. They enjoyed traveling and that was something he had always looked forward to in his retirement years.
Cancer is a disgusting enemy! Until his last few months, he wasn’t in too much pain from the cancer itself. Much of his discomfort he experienced was from the side effects of various treatments. Cancer is a quiet enemy; it crept along in his body taking over one organ at a time. Every few months he would have a scan and would be cautiously optimistic that MAYBE this time the current treatment would halt the progress, but most times the opposite discovery would be made, it was growing, spreading, taking over another part of this man I call dad.
The miles between Michigan and Florida were too far for us to visit frequently, I was fortunate enough to see him last year on his 68th birthday. They had traveled to Michigan to visit with family, celebrate his birthday and meet my daughter Leightyn who had just been born. That visit he was noticeably frailer, but his spirit was still there, you could still enjoy a conversation with him and get a gentle smile. My dad was a man of few words, he was quiet, but a very good listener. I’m admittedly terrible at saying goodbyes, the end of that trip was rough. In my heart I didn’t think he’d be coming back to visit again, his health probably wouldn’t allow for that.
Spring of 2012 rolled around and dad was feeling decent, although heavily medicated for pain. He booked a cruise as a 16th Anniversary celebration for himself and my step-mom. Surprisingly, they also started planning a trip to Michigan in June for a visit. He was feeling good, up until departing for the cruise. Shortly before leaving he began having a lot more pain, the cancer was not only attacking his organs but his bones,even the extremely high doses of pain meds weren’t giving relief at this point. The cruise was rough on him, but he was able to enjoy seeing the ocean and spending time on the open water.
When they arrived in June, this was a different man than I saw on his birthday 8 months before. He had trouble following conversations, was easily confused and agitated, he looked older and worn. I was fairly sure without a doctor’s confirmation that the cancer had spread to his brain, it was inevitable, at the rate the cancer had been attacking his other body parts it had most certainly attacked his brain also. The trip came to a close and I knew saying goodbye was going to be downright painful, so I avoided saying those words. I hugged him and told him I’d see him soon, and that I loved him.
Ten short days later, on July 4th, he had declined to the point where Hospice had been called in. From that point things escalated quickly. He didn’t understand that his legs wouldn’t bear his weight any longer; he would try to get up and fall down. My step-mom couldn’t get him back up; she was risking her own health trying to take care of him on her own. Just 34 days after I told him I’d see him soon, I got on a plane with my 10 month old and my sister and we made the journey to Florida. We were there to help, Hospice briefed us, told us what to expect and how the final transitions would generally be made.
When we arrived he was conscious, he knew who we were, he was able to hold brief conversations, and he saw his baby granddaughter again. There was time spent just holding his hand, looking at the face I’d known for 41 years, but the days were numbered, he was leaving us and leaving quickly. Being by his side during his final days was the most blessed time of my life and the hardest time of my life. No one could have prepared me for what I experienced during those final days and hours, seeing someone you love transition into death and leave pain and suffering behind is so bittersweet. You are so happy that they are done suffering, battling, fighting, but you lose them because their battle is finally over. The finality is so difficult, one moment they are with you and then, their body shuts down and is at peace.
Three days before his death, he had a surge of energy, in my eyes it was his final reckoning. He was witty, and said some truly funny things that I’ll never forget. At one point he was laying quietly, he raised his hand and uttered “everything is under control”. He knew his family would be alright, he knew he had fought hard, he knew it was time to surrender on the battlefield. He knew he was surrounded by love.
Dad, I miss you every single day. I hate that you won’t see your grandchildren graduate, go to college, get married, and have their own babies. I hate that I can’t pick up the phone and hear your voice. But most of all I hate cancer and the 1,105 days you had to suffer knowing it was taking your life away. My heart will always have an empty spot, and yes life does go on, and I will always love you! Please rest assured dad that “everything is under control” and we will never forget you!