I was looking forward to living life beyond my maladies. To comprehend life outside of surgeries, losses, and waiting rooms. To embrace an IF-less life.
On Monday I became the daughter of a dying parent. I fill this role for a second time. My world is spinning and staying still at the same time. Can you be called an orphan at 31?
Glioblastoma multiforme. Stage IV brain cancer.
My dad was picking the wrong words the weekend of September 6. The eggs became gravy; the gasoline a motor. I diagnosed alcoholism-induced dementia, but made his sister promise a prompt visit with the GP. The GP that apparently retired a decade ago. My dad’s never had use for a doctor. Fit as a fiddle aside from that drinking thing. 73 and healthy. Hair just getting a silver sheen in these past few years, still mowing the lawn, fixing everyone else’s discarded lawn equipment, growing tomatoes from seed, drumming and marching as he did in the Air Force. Ten days later when a new practice had time for him he saw a doctor. At this point my phone conversations from 6.5 hours away were one sided. “Dad, how are you feeling?” Him: “Well, you know… you know… the tugboat.”
His sister called that night to say the doctor was very concerned and she’d taken his car keys. That’s when I got scared. My dad would never let his van keys be taken away. Ever.
Two days later and time for the precautionary CT scan. 2.5 inch mass pressing out all the free space on the right half of his brain. The scan and later MRIs look like a bad science fiction movie. I’m certain you don’t need years of education in radiology to interpret that…
The night of the CT scan, my dad’s first night in the big city hospital, I tossed and turned in bed until little N woke for his 4am feeding. We were in the car and on the road home – just two hearty travelers – by 5am. I spent 8 hours with my dad, 10 hours away from my son, that day. Two sentences made sense.
After months of crying over my inability to exclusively breastfeed, I cursed my body on the day of dad’s surgery. I sat and wept in the hospital lactation room as I pumped for relief as my dad lay on the table. 17 hours away from N that day. 17 hours feeling like there was no way to succeed at motherhood and daughterhood at the same time. 17 hours waiting to hear that they got *most* of the mass, but not all. That the mass was “suckable” but bad. That it definitely looked like cancer.
Monday the pathology confirmed it. With chemotherapy and radiation prognosis is 14 to 15 months. He could have up to 2 years. At least, I thought, one of those measurements comes in years. My mom survived 14 months. Will dad do better or worse? Will I find myself hoping it passes quickly, or that we can milk each moment.
N won’t know his grandfather, just like he won’t know his grandma C. How can N know me without knowing them?
I remember sitting in the backseat of my mom’s car, riding along with a little friend to dance lessons, or mini golf, or something. She was talking about how her grandma did something, or cooked something, or smelled like something. It’s vague. I told her with the pride of a child, “I don’t have any grandparents!” I remember my mom sniffling from the drivers’ seat. Will I do the same when N innocently says, “Well, I only have Grammy and Pop Pop D.”
Most of the time I feel like an event planner or a fledgling bride. Instead of calling caterers and venues, I’m dialing social workers and radiation oncologists. Dad wants to be home, freed from rehab, able to tinker with cars and lawnmowers, able to cook. I want that for him, but know he’s not who he was a month ago. I need to hire a home aid. I need to find transportation to radiation. I need to get him cleared to leave rehab. I need to do so much. And in doing so much I never feel. Feelings are for later. If I remember how. I’m not sure I do.