I have put off composing this post for 365 days now because I could not bare the thought of writing it down as if it made our reality that much more real.
Exactly one year ago, today I woke up at home on the island of Maui with plans of going to the other side of the island with my parents for a doctor’s appointment, then have breakfast at one of our favorite spots, and go to Costco before heading back.
Back-story: My Dad had been intermittently feeling crummy the last two years and felt as if something was just not right. My parents finally had medical insurance again, so he had been going to the doctor’s a lot to make sure everything was okay. He had several tests performed by different doctors with the same results: “you’re healthy – keep doing what you’re doing!”
His discomfort was narrowed down to his abdomen area, so he was referred to a gastrologist who asked him when his last colonoscopy was. My Dad had never had one before, so he was scheduled; however due to some tenderness in his abdomen prior to the exam the doctor thought my Dad may have had diverticulosis and sent him home with antibiotics. He scheduled a CT-scan, and one year ago today we were en route to the doctors office to learn the results.
Truth be told I did not think anything was wrong with my Dad and was not going to the doctors to show my support, but more so as an excuse to eat at this favorite restaurant of ours. When we got to the doctors office we waited for a long time. We ended up sitting with an acquaintance and chatted a bit even in the awkward environment and wished her well when it was time to head to the back.
We sat in the room, waiting for the doctor again and it felt like hours because I had to pee so badly. I was trying to hold it thinking this would be a quick visit and when I thought I was going to burst I asked if it would be inappropriate if I snuck out to quickly find a bathroom. I couldn’t have been gone for more than five minutes, but when I went back into the room it was eerily quiet, and serious.
My Dad was sitting on the typical paper wrapped patient seat, the doctor was sitting on a smaller chair, and my Mom and I were sitting on a couch. When I quietly returned to my seat and observed for a moment longer prior to asking a simple phrase that forever changed my life: “What’d I miss?”
The doctor sympathetically responded that per the CT scan and radiologist report it appears my Dad might have Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer. He continued to say that he simply does not have the team or technology to provide an official diagnosis and recommends “getting our affairs in order” and seeking the very best possible team for this type of cancer, where ever that may be.
My ears instantly became 100-degrees, my heart dropped to the floor, my stomach flew up to space, and I became in a state of shock. I always prayed I would never ever be in this scenario and here I was. This was happening. This was our reality. It felt like we had just started a marathon and it was an uphill battle.
Apparently when I’m in shock I become insanely efficient and I began asking all sorts of questions, starting with “Where’s the CT scan? I want to see it” I still find it odd a doctor would come in, give a patient this kind of news, and not provide a visual. I continued, and asked, “Are you diagnosing my Dad with Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer?” and he kept saying, “No, I cannot provide an official diagnosis as I simply don’t have the proper equipment etc. etc.” We went over details as to “what now” and he said he would be of help in any way that he could, and was in all honesty speaking as if my Dad would keel over any minute.
This infuriated me for several reasons, but just to highlight a couple:
1) They told my Dad after his CT-Scan, if anything alarming showed up they would contact him immediately. They never did. In fact, my Dad had to contact them to schedule this appointment, so my question remains: where was the urgency?
2) Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer is a helluva unofficial diagnosis. If you feel you are not equipped for an official diagnosis I absolutely respect that. However, leisurely letting the patient know is unacceptable. How many Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer patients does that gastrologist see in a day? Probably not a lot. How about prioritizing better? And while you’re at it — BRING THE CT-SCAN IMAGING AND RADIOLOGIST REPORT WITH YOU!
My Dad didn’t even look or act sick – he couldn’t have Cancer, let alone Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer?! This had to be a mistake. We left the doctors office in a haze and robotically went to the restaurant for breakfast. We mentally digested everything we were just told and ordered our usual’s. When the food came I was sick to my stomach. My Mom and I pushed our food around, and I vaguely remember my Dad inhaling his. That man always has an appetite! I don’t remember going to Costco and think we headed back to the Westside.
On the drive home my Dad started making phone calls. I couldn’t speak and just listened while focusing on driving. My Mom was quiet in the back. When we got back to the house it felt like this giant empty shell to me. My Dad sat at the kitchen counter and continued with phone calls to family and friends, reaching out and getting direction on what to do and how to do it next. I immediately got on the computer and that is when my researching started (and it hasn’t stopped).
My Dad connected with a well-known Cancer Care facility affiliate with John Hopkin’s (who was actually my Dad’s Dad’s oncologist) in Seattle, and I remember being proud of my Dad for being so productive in a time of such disarray. We were sailing in uncharted water, and it felt like we were in a tiny boat in the middle of the perfect storm.
Later, the news was broke to my Brother, who had literally just moved to the Big Island for a job opportunity, and in utter disbelief he instinctively booked a flight back to Maui for that night. As the day turned to night and we sat in the living room, the plan had transpired for him to fly to Seattle with my Dad the following night, and I would stay back with my Mom. My Mom’s motivation became to continue to work for insurance, and my motivation was researching and coordinating everything.
As soon as we had a plan it was as if my tense and exhausted body relaxed for a split second and I could feel a hot wave of tears developing behind my eyes. I knew I was about to lose it. I excused myself and said I was going to take a shower. I balled my eyes out until there were no more tears left. I literally begged the Lord to put a hedge of protection over my Dad from head to toe, and pleaded to not take him from us. I selfishly thought how I am nowhere close to getting married and how I want my Daddy to walk me down the aisle if that day every comes. How I’m scared to death to ever be pregnant and have kids, but if that day ever comes, I want their Grandpa to be there, too.
There is so much more to this story, but I’m going to stop right here for now.
Fast forward 365 days, to the present: I’m driving home from work last night and I absolutely lost it when this song came on the radio:
It was as if my body was releasing more tears I didn’t even know I had been holding in for so long.
One Year Ago, Today: November 1st, 2011