Lightning

Some say lightning never strikes the same place twice. I know better. I know better because the words ‘brain’ and ‘cancer’ have entered my family’s life twice. The first time with my uncle, and then again on May 19, 2011 with my dad. About 1 in every 50,000 will hear those words together, but our family has endured it twice.

I knew my life had changed when I got a call from my mother while I was at work. She told me that she had brought my dad to the hospital after he rolled over to kiss her good morning and felt like he was flying out of an airplane. She told me they were hoping he had had a small stroke. Hoping it was a stroke. Hoping it was a stroke? What hell must we be about to face if the optimistic point on the differential diagnostic is a stroke?

First they did an CT Scan. My mom and dad both called me to report that the CT Scan was clear, and they were both relieved to know there was no ugly mass growing in his brain. They were still primarily looking for the source of the stroke. Then a few hours passed, and I got a call from my dad. I answered the phone, and heard my dad on the other end. “Bonnie, we got the results of the MRI, and I have, I have a brain. tumor.” My dad choked on the words and I searched for oxygen that wasn’t there. I’ll never be able to forget the way my dad’s voice sounded in that moment.

Of course, he had known that this was likely going to happen. Patients usually liked my dad as a doctor because he cared for them, but doctors he worked with knew he was an eerily brilliant diagnostician. He understood that medicine is mostly an art that had to be supported with science to pacify insurance companies. He had diagnosed his own brain tumor a week before any of the scans. His nurses reassured him that this was exceedingly unlikely, and he went on diagnosing and treating colds, allergies and the occasional bizarre diagnoses that walked into his clinic. He had even told me he thought he might have a brain tumor while I sat in a traffic jam on the way home from a week prior. I had passed it off because he was too healthy, too young, too happy, too special to me for such a diagnosis. But, he had intuitively known what even a CT Scan was unable to diagnose.  My dad is a great man; a great man with a brain tumor.

The year that has passed since the diagnosis has not been made up of the fairy tale ‘we shall overcome’ poetics that the cancer culture glorifies.  True, there have been moments of strength, kindness, hope…  But, cancer can be strangely normal.  People will find their way back to an equilibrium, a normal.  The differences from cancer come in abrupt moments, punctuated by intense periods of grief, anger, disbelief, and then it returns to its balance.

I don’t know what the future holds.  I try to envision the moment when the doctor tells us my dad is cancer free.  I also have moments of weakness when I cry helplessly because I can’t imagine walking down the aisle without my father on my arm or holding my first child, knowing that this precious baby will never know the one person who most influenced me.  For now my spark, my glow has faded a bit, but still smolders.

A year into this journey, I’m tired and scared.  I face each day with courage plastered on my face, and fear wading just below a thinning surface.  All I can do is continue to run the marathon, and hope beyond all hope that ‘cancer free’ arrives before my thinning surface is dissolved by the solvent of fear.

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12 thoughts on “Lightning

    • Hi Jason!
      My dad is pretty awesome and has kept a great attitude throughout the whole thing. I know things will work out and I’ll land on my feet.
      Thanks for being the first to post on my blog! I’ll have to come check yours out too!

      • You already did, You liked one of my posts, and so I wanted to see what yours was all about as well. I will definitely read more and be checking in on what you have to say on your blog. Keep writing.

  1. Ah, I see. I was confused because if you click on your name, you get an error message that says “atryinglife.wordpress.com is no longer available.” I hear great things about UNCW writing program though. Hope you love it. Thx, B

    • Hi thisismyeverest! Thank you for your best wishes. The support and encouragement we’ve gotten from others really is what has carried me through the last year. Hope you have a great day, and thanks again for your kind words.

    • Thank you allinthedayofme. It truly has been the most challenging time in my life. I’m always thrilled to hear about cancer survivors! I so hope my dad gets to join in the survivor category with your husband!

  2. Somehow your intensely honest speaking of your experience with your father and yourself walking through cancer is many times more inspiring than ‘we shall overcome’ chants. In dealing with illness of those I loved, it was the small everyday steps that were the greatest miracle for me to overcome. The choice to go to work, clean things up, help Mom try to eat, encourage Dad out the door to get home before his oxygen supply ran out. I never thought about overcoming the disease. I thought about the moment of being with them. I was astounded by their spirit and grace. But it’s harder than anything to remember them really sick. My Dad had pulmonary fibrosis, not cancer. He never complained. Not once. It inspired me to no end and crushed me with grief all the more because I admired him so much–all at the same time. Depth of feeling is one of the joys of facing the tough things. Feeling the fear of pain and loss is very wearing, but the richness of feeling the connection with life and what really matters in the way that only that fight and understanding can bring, is worth it in a horribly bittersweet way. Illness in our parents brings a vulnerablility that it’s hard to witness, and it made my inner child quake, but I also came to know them in ways that I will cherish forever.
    All the best to you on your journey. Life is wonderous, and I have found it is worth it to keep walking.
    You’re an excellent writer, and I appreciate your sharing and your connection with those who stop by. And thanks for enjoying my posts too. 🙂

    • Thank you for sharing your experiences with your parents too. It is so helpful to remember that I am not alone in this, and that beautiful people do exist on the other side of all this turmoil. My dad, like your dad, has never complains about his illness, and I too admire him so deeply that words just fail me. I guess that’s how love is.
      I truly have enjoyed your blog, and will be back to get my fix frequently. I just started this blog a few weeks ago (though I added some old journal entries to jump start myself.) There have been a few people that I have come across I can’t help but smile and believe we would be friends if we were neighbors… Your writing makes me believe that. Hope you have a lovely day.

      • I just came across this comment, and I’m so sorry I missed it in the moment. But I believe there is a right time for everything. I’m sure we’d be friends too. I don’t make new ones often, but I connected with you in that cosmic way of ‘yeah, I get it, too.’ 🙂 Thanks for enjoying my blog, and keep in touch!

  3. I am very sorry to know that you are going through this intense period of loss, watching someone so close slip away. I am terrified of loss and I can understand how heartbreaking this is, to keep up your strength and take care of your dad. I really hope that things become better for you, soon. I feel very moved by the way you write.

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