I know…I know… this post is so long over due– but I can explain!! Every year, during the last week of December… I like to reflect on the past year. I think about the year as a whole… the good, the bad, the ugly. I do a mental cleaning, purge all negativity, and emotionally, take the lessons I’ve learned into the New Year– and START fresh. This time, I did none of that.
I started 2014 –Hopeful. Yes, I was so very hopeful… but just like New Year Resolutions… the hope ended right around the time the gym started to clear. I can pinpoint the day I was crushed… it was the same day as my friend’s 30th birthday party… it was the day I received my dad’s pathology. I thought my dad was going to beat stomach cancer… but after getting the report, I wasn’t so sure. The doctor SAID my dad had an 80% – 90% chance of surviving this awful, terrible cancer back in December 2013— now in February 2014 his chances dropped to 4% – 14%. How could everything change so much in 6 weeks? It did, and I had to be strong for my dad. There were a lot of tears those first few months. Around my dad, I would be superwoman– the nurturing caregiver… his advocate. However, in my free time, I was a walking mess. I didn’t know it was humanly possible to cry SO much!
This might sound funny; but at first, I had this team of supporters. Then as time went on, people dropped off like flies. Nobody really understood what I was going through… and I didn’t care to explain it. It got harder when my dad started his chemo and then radiation. I was watching a man deteriorate. All of it was SO hard! Accompanying my dad to the infusion center… sitting there for 8 hours at a time… hearing the Chamberlain talk to different patients… seeing familiar faces…. not seeing familiar faces anymore…. the side effects of chemotherapy…. the side effects of radiation… insurance trying to control my dad’s treatment plan. I thought my dad was going to die from “cancer-related” aggressive treatment– and maybe not even from the cancer. From April to September I had shut down. I couldn’t write. I couldn’t listen to music. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t plan a future. I couldn’t do anything… really.
Because… all I wanted was my dad to live.. badly. But I didn’t just want him to be alive… I wanted my old dad back… the one that enjoyed life. And he clearly wasn’t. He was struggling horribly. The treatment was brutal, and for what? Some days, I found myself fighting me. I didn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. We were in this tunnel and it was… dark…lonely. My dad spend most of his time in bed, and the rest of it in doctor’s offices… or waiting rooms… and a few hours a month in an infusion chair. He was 97 lbs… just a frail old man now…. and I had my moments where I had felt like it was me… and me alone who had done this to my dad. Am I really this unbelievably selfish?
It was a strange time because everything that used to be important –just wasn’t anymore… Money, status, friendship, power … meant nothing to me. I realized the only thing that was important was LOVE… and a huge part of LOVE… was letting go of anger. I was angry at this ruthless cancer! I was angry at my dad’s health care plan! I was angry at friends who said they understood, but their actions said otherwise. As hard as it was— accepting— was the greatest gift. Accepting the LOVE of my husband, of my parents, of our friends… and just letting go… of the anger.
And just like that– I saw my dad in a light I had never ever seen before. A man fighting to kick stomach cancer’s ass! My dad has always been a calm, gentle… almost passive man… The kind that would turn the other cheek if you were to hit him. And here he was kicking ass… His strength, courage, bravery was astonishing. Fight or flight… and my dad picked FIGHT. He was getting knocked down, and every time, he would get right up! Maybe, just maybe, there was light at the end of this tunnel after all.
I think it was around September/ October where I finally felt normal again— at the very least semi-normal. I could listen to music. I could write. I could actually enjoy things better. I had made some online friends through my blogging — Emily Wilson (who was going through colon cancer herself)– and I felt ready to really open myself and my dad’s story to others. I was ready to meet others with Stomach Cancer… and that was a huge step since survivors of stomach cancer are so few in the United States… However, I was actively seeking. I was on Google..and the statistics weren’t as scary as they used to be. I had already accepted that stomach cancer was deadly… but I knew there were people like my dad beating the odds and I was going to find them. Around November, I found them on Facebook. At that time, there were less than 1500 members—a mix of patients, survivors, family members or caregivers. It was amazing… to be around people who understood. I could ask for advice and vent… offer help & some guidance… in this secret little, closed world. As I participated in this group daily, a new emotion that I haven’t experienced yet started to emerge its ugly head: GUILT. As time passed, and many, many, many people in the Facebook group passed as well, the guilt became more intense. By then, my online friend, Emily, decided she was done with treatment and going to hospice. Her decision freed up her time, and she shared an article about young adults diagnosed with cancer– feeling socially alone. The article featured a 29- year old, Nicolas Isley, who had stomach cancer but was working on a website to help young adults connect and understand their prognosis…so they wouldn’t feel alone like he had. And as I tried to find more information on Nicolas, I learned that he lived very close to me (and that we crossed paths many times). In that same search, I also realized that he had passed two weeks prior.
So, by then… it was December… and I had reverted back to many old ways. I was plagued with guilt and grieving for people I didn’t know. It was hard to get out of bed and move around. My dad was still struggling with his weight (and weight loss can be a sign of recurrence)– and I was feeling hopeless. Emily was getting worse and worse everyday. Nick’s apartment was empty now… but someone had left a light on so that it looked like a star among the water. I tried to be present, but I felt so far away. December was painful… I did such a bad job planning my husband’s birthday… and I felt so ridiculously bad over it. And when I thought it couldn’t get any worse– Emily Wilson was exposed for being a fake. She was actually a healthy individual pretending to have cancer… pretending to die… and in that moment, I knew I needed to CHANGE.
I said goodbye to 2014— the Year of the Many Tears– and I promised myself that 2015 would be different. There would be CHANGE. I changed my dad’s health insurance, and that was a good start. I am now in the 2nd quarter of 2015… and CHANGE is moving slower than I had hoped… but it is moving in the right direction. More posts to follow soon…. I pinky promise!!