Hope You’re Listening, Dad

October 16, 2010

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Last week I made my triumphant return as the weekly entertainment contributor after many months off. I know this will make all of my regular readers sad, but I’m going to contribute from a different angle this week.

Let me say beforehand, I’m not trying to prove anything, and I’m definitely not trying to preach to anybody, so please don’t take it that way. I’m simply going to write from the heart, and am only doing so as a way to help myself – whether that be to grieve or to mourn I do not know. You’ll understand more once you’re finished reading.

I’ll start off by saying my dad wasn’t the healthiest guy in the world, having suffered from several heart attacks, a quadruple bypass open heart surgery, and a leg amputation in the last 10 years or so. Since his heart failure and leg amputation in 2006, he’s had monthly checkups, just to make sure everything is still running ok.

Fast forward to the day before Thanksgiving, 2009. After going to a local VA clinic for his blood work, they noticed that his blood was nearly 5 times thinner than it should have been, and they also noticed that his skin had a yellow “tint” to it. His doctor urged him to go across the street to the ER to get checked out because something was clearly not right.

After a few tests and some medicines, the doctors concluded that he had either gall stones, which are very painful, or he had a tumor, which was blocking some liquids in the gall bladder / pancreas / liver area. He had absolutely no pain, so the diagnosis was a tumor. Since it was the holiday, they wouldn’t be able to go in and do a biopsy until the following Monday, but that would give them a very clear picture of what was going on.

After taking the biopsy, the doctor informed me that it was obviously cancerous and had spread to the lymph nodes. We need to meet with an Oncologist to discuss our options.

So, we met with a surgeon at the VA hospital in Indianapolis (my dad received all of his medical care from the VA). The tumor was surrounding the blood vessels of the pancreas, making surgery to remove the tumor impossible. The only other option was Chemotherapy. He would get started on Chemo ASAP, as pancreatic cancer is one of, if not the most aggressive form of cancer. His Chemo option was to do 1 treatment per week through an IV, along with taking a pill form twice a day. We’d do that for 6 weeks, do another CT scan, and see if it was eliminating any of the cancer, stopping it from spreading, or doing nothing at all.

Those first few treatments were extremely rough. He got very sick, just like most Chemo patients do. But, through it all, he stayed as strong as ever. When we went back for the 6 week scan, the doctor explained that they cancer had spread to his liver, and the Chemo treatments were doing nothing at all.

Now it was time for plan B. Another Chemo. This time it would be in the form of pills only – 4 in the morning and 4 at night. Do this for 6 weeks and then do CT scan #2, with a 3 week checkup in between. The first 3 weeks went just fine. Dad did lose some weight, but that’s normal. At his 3 week checkup, the doctors decided that he was still healthy enough to do another 3 weeks of Chemo treatments, so he did. That’s when everything started to change. He just started getting “weird”. Kinda like he was just not really there.

The bottom dropped out on Sunday, July 11th. In my daily trip down to his house, I found him lying in bed, like a zombie. He had no idea what was going on or even where he was. I eventually called 911, and the EMT’s talked him into going to the hospital to get checked out. Once there, the nurses said his blood pressure was extremely low, something like 50/20. He hadn’t eaten in a few days. Wasn’t really going to bathroom. Deep down, I knew that none of this was a good sign.

They eventually moved him to a room in the ICU. The plan was going to be to run some tests, then possibly put him on kidney dialysis to try to regain some function. When my wife and I left Sunday night, he seemed ok. He was still responding to everybody. We left around midnight and would come back up the next morning.

When we got there Monday morning he seemed a little worse than the night before. He was still responding, but not as often and he seemed extremely irritated. After sticking around for a little while, the docs were going to run some more tests so we left and were going to come back later in the afternoon. Around 5 that night, I got a call from the nurse that we needed to get to the hospital ASAP. Dad was no longer responding and was not doing well at all. After seeing him when we got there, I knew he was in bad shape. The nurse explained to me that they could still do the kidney dialysis, but at this point that would be a form of life support. She also explained the kidney doctor didn’t think that was the best option for him.

Now came the hardest, yet easiest decision I’ve ever had to make. Knowing how the last week had been, how much pain he had been in and how miserable his life was becoming, why drag it out for no reason, when he would have no good quality of life. I made the decision to not do dialysis, and to take him off the medicines that he was on for his heart, liver, etc. She informed Shana and I that it wouldn’t be long without those medicines, and it wasn’t. I’d say no more than 30 minutes.

I couldn’t have been more thankful that the nurse called us, because I got to be there with him during his last few moments, and that’s something I’ll never forget. It was July 12, and it’s been more than 3 months, but I still remember it like it was yesterday.

I lost not only my dad, but my best friend. He chose to raise me from the time I was born as he and my mother got divorced soon after I was born. To this day, I have no relationship with her. But I couldn’t be more thankful that he was willing to raise me as a single dad without blinking an eye. He was always the coach on whatever sports team I played on and he was my sports watching buddy. We saw each other nearly every day, whether it be just going to each others’ house to hang out or going to Menards to walk around mindlessly and look at stuff. When he wanted to do that, it drove me crazy. I’d just think how can you keep coming to the same place and keep looking at the same stuff for hours. Yet, I want nothing more than to do that now.

I don’t know that I have a “goal” from this article, but I do know that the cheesy saying “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone” could not be more true. Finding out that my dad had pancreatic cancer, I knew that the odds were against him. And you try to prepare yourself for something like this, but as I found out, there is absolutely no way to prepare. When you lose somebody who is not only a parent but a best friend, it hits you like a ton of bricks.

I think about him every minute of every day. Growing up, I was always too embarrassed to give him a hug, or to tell him that I love him. I’m thankful that in the last few years, I got over that. Every time I saw him, I made sure to give him a hug and to tell him that I love him. Who cares what people think! We had a lot of talks during our trips to Indianapolis for Chemo treatments, but to this day I still feel like I never had closure with him. I always avoided sitting down and actually having that GOOD talk with him. When I say I’d do anything just to talk to him one more time, I really would. I’d just want to thank him for everything he did for me. For raising me like a lot of fathers would not have done. For instilling in me the qualities that I have today and am proud of. Without him, I don’t know that I’d have any of those qualities and have no idea where I’d be in today’s world.

I don’t know that I’ve ever gone through the grieving process before his death. I’ve lost other people that were extremely close to me, like my Grandmother and an Aunt. But ironically, my dad was the person I went to for support. To listen to me or to spend time with me to take my mind off of it. In this situation, he’s the person I would’ve gone to, but he’s not there. So I guess I just have that feeling of being lost. Don’t get me wrong, I have a wonderful wife who has been there for me for the past 3 months and has been wonderful with listening and helping me with everything. But that doesn’t take away the pain from his passing.

I’ve tried different ways to “deal” with it, or to grieve, and I’ve been unsuccessful so far. I guess I’m hoping that this article will help, if only in a small way. I’ve been told that getting feelings down on paper will help, so we’ll see.

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading! Next week we’ll get back to the fun and exciting entertainment article!

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