I fell to the floor, hysterical. In hindsight, it feels like an overreaction. You don’t really know how you are going to react, though, when you hear something so life changing. Cancer. Lymphoma. Stage Four. Fifty percent survival… at best.
My dad was on the other end of the phone. He had just spoken with the doctor who found the grapefruit-sized tumor in his abdomen and immediately called to tell us he’d be in surgery the following Monday.
My dad lived in Boise, a 2,000 mile plane ride with a layover in O’Hare between us. I was used to spending my summers there; I had been doing it since I was two. The summer after my freshman year of college was supposed to be one of the first where I stayed in one place, got to do what I had planned and wanted to. Instead, I would be on another plane, traveling across country again, hoping that this time wouldn’t be the last.
I’m kind of a take-charge, no bullshit, Type AAA person. Even though I was eighteen, I fell right into line, stepping in to coordinate my single dad’s treatment and care for the summer.
It was exhausting. My dad and I had a somewhat strained relationship as it was. Chemo and steroids and mortality looming did little to improve the underlying issues created when I was much, much younger.
The one thing I did have was hope. And humor. I researched my dad’s cancer to the point that doctors asked about my medical background. I questioned my dad’s oncologist when she seemed overly concerned about his lack of response to the treatment… I had read it could take several months (and as it turned out, I was right). When my dad’s hair started appearing around the house and I told him it was time to shave it, I bought hot pink and neon green hairspray and turned my OCD, attorney father into a punk. It might be one of the greatest memories he and I share.
There were many days still where I felt very alone. It is hard to understand the realities of being a caregiver until you are sitting in a hospital chair with a sleeping family member trying to figure out when you can go grocery shopping between chemo sessions, blood draws, and appointments with specialists.
On my birthday, one of the greatest moments of my 30 acts of kindness was taking flowers to the oncology floor and asking them to give them to someone having a particularly rough day. Today, I will take flowers not only for a patient but also a caregiver. Those are lonely days filled with fear. It is very easy to believe that no one understands. I hope that today there is at least one person who knows that someone does. And that they care.