A few weeks ago, my dad turned yellow.
Like, goldenrod. His skin and the whites of his eyes.
Everyone thought it was a medication he was on that was causing the jaundice. The medicine was changed, time passed, and still he was yellow as a manila mango.
Next we heard it might be gallstones obstructing the bile duct causing the jaundice. We met with an endocrinologist. We wondered, would they remove just the troublesome stone, or the whole gall bladder? We sat in the busy waiting room swapping Dr. Google & WebMD notes, relieved to finally be making progress on fixing this jaundice problem.
As it turned out, we didn't even get to our questions.
When the doctor breezed into the exam room he said, I don't want to scare you, but your symptoms are not consistent with gallstones. I think it could be a tumor.
The blood roared in my ears. How could this be??
I looked at my dad perched on the edge of the exam table. He was suddenly a paler shade of yellow. Later, tears would come. Now, his voice a bit hoarse, he said tentatively, OK...? Then answered the string of questions: yes, he had been loosing weight, no he did not have debilitating pain, yes he did have a minor stomach ache, no he wasn't itchy.
We left the doctor's office stunned, stumbling out into the too-bright parking lot. People coming and going. Life proceeding. We stood there looking at our individual cars. How do we drive away? Where do we go from here?
The next day, while my dad was still unconscious from the endoscopic procedure to discover what was obstructing his bile duct and backing the bile up in his liver and causing the now ominous "painless jaundice," the doctor met me in the surgical waiting area.
I should have known it wasn't good when he tried to escort me into the "conference room" (it was locked).
I believe it is cancer, he said.
So... there is no gallstone?
There is no gallstone. The bile duct is being squeezed from the outside.
My heart pounded in my chest. Any questions I had simply dripped to the floor and evaporated.
Later, in a cramped, shared, yellow-painted recovery room, while machines, TVs, nurses, guests, and patients burbled and blared, my dad asked, Did you talk to the doctor?
I nodded, my heart beginning to gallop.
Was it a gallstone, he asked.
I shook my head. No, I whispered.
No. It is a tumor.
Post script: Many of you reading this know my dad, George. You are probably quite alarmed as he has not been broadcasting this story yet. But yes, I'm afraid it is true. Last week he was diagnosed with Stage 2 pancreatic adenocarcinoma. Treatment will begin soon. We are hopeful he's a candidate for the Whipple surgical procedure. I'll continue to write here about all of this, from the perspective of a daughter with a sick parent, about what it is like to go from being a cancer patient to a cancer caregiver (eerily, two years to the week since my own diagnosis), and also continuing to parent my own child through the geography of another Cancerland affecting our family.
George has given me his blessing to write about this journey and for that I'm so very grateful. Writing is the only way through crisis I know. But through we will go. After all, as Winston Churchill said, If you're going through hell, keep going.