Thank you to everyone who read my last post and sent their well-wishes for my dad and our family. It means so much to have the support and love coming our way right now. I'm afraid that we received additional bad news this week. The same day I posted my last post, George & I met with his surgeon. George had decided that he wanted to go the traditional route of fighting early-stage pancreatic cancer, which is surgery first, followed by chemotherapy and radiation (he'd been given the choice of surgery first, or chemo first). Unfortunately, when the doctor came in to the exam room he began speaking with this phrase: "I have some bad news..." This post is about learning his cancer had metastasized, or spread beyond the pancreas.
For anyone keeping a tally, I've had my share of terrible things in my life. I remember when I was going through chemo, a well-meaning 60+ year-old fellow breast cancer patient squeezed my hand and said cheerfully, "Well, if this is the worst thing that ever happens to us, oh well!" Yeah... about that? I've already had some bad stuff, I wanted to say. Does that mean I can go home?
And it turns out, having cancer once doesn't get you off the hook for more bad stuff to come down the pike toward you either. You don't get to say, "No thank you. I've already had my fair share of crap."
This week I learned that lesson in a big way, sitting beside my dad in the surgeon's office. "I have some bad news," he said, drawing his chair close. "The cancer has spread to your liver and to a lymph node up in your collarbone area. You are no longer a candidate for surgery. It's Stage IV. I'm sorry."
Suddenly all the air in that little exam room seemed to be sucked out. My dad pushed is body back in his chair and put his hands over his face. I was awkwardly three feet away, not sure how to react. Hearing those words, I heard them both for myself (I'm going to lose my dad!), and I heard them for him (to be told you have limited time on this planet -- even more limited than we thought!).
I scooted my chair over and put my hand on his knee. Tears splashed on to the floor.
How can this be? George asked. How?!
As we left the doctor's office, the nurse looked at us with such sorrow. I'm so very sorry, she said. Just moments before she'd been chatting with me about my earrings while she took George's vital signs -- he'd lost some weight, but not too much. His pulse was normal. His blood pressure was good. No temperature.
Just terminal cancer.
Just like that.
Walk in thinking one thing, walk out and world is cracked and splitting apart -- again. Big ugly gaps in the skyline. The horizon, which used to be infinite, suddenly is looming right there. The world, no longer round and safe, has edges with ragged cliffs from which one can fall off... forever.
For the umpteenth time in two weeks, we stumbled out into a too-bright parking lot, dazed. Our eyes stinging. How do we drive on from here?
Next to the car, my dad suddenly reached over and pulled me close into a bear hug. Our roles reset back to the natural: not patient/caregiver, but father and child. Shield me from this! I clung to him as hard as I could, both for comfort and also fiercely rooting him to the Earth. Rooting myself to him. Rooting him to right here, right now. Not yet. You're not gone yet.
Now the fight begins.