The last two weeks of my life have been utter hell. I’ve experienced many ups and downs over the past 41 years yet being face to face with the prospect of losing someone I love insanely much basically tore me apart. At times I felt like I was hardly breathing and that I was practically numb to the world around me. Instead of seeing all the beauty surrounding me in my life, I saw only darkness, fear and despair. I was a shell with a broken smile across my normally happy face who looked composed on the outside but was bleeding profusely inside. Yet, the worst part of the entire process of finding out my dad had cancer was the gut wrenching wait.
Everything started almost three months ago with one of those unexpected conversations with my mother that made my stomach drop. My parents had just arrived at our house for a week’s visit from Arizona, and I was looking forward to spending the week enjoying their company. I noticed immediately that my always upbeat dad seemed a little off. It was an hour after they arrived at our house that my mom confessed the problem. Two days prior to their visit, my dad came out of the bathroom as pale as a ghost and informed my mother in horror that his urine was the color of deep red root beer.
My mother’s words felt like a punch in the gut. It was so unexpected and sudden that I was in shock. Yet I knew instantly that it could not be good. I tried to not worry but found it impossible. Of course I did the big no-no and entered the words “Blood in urine” into google. The results were as I suspected. It could be a urinary tract infection or it could be cancer. I wanted so hard to believe it was just a simple fix and that there was no way my amazing, healthy 70-year-old dad could possibly have cancer. Yet deep inside the back of my mind, I felt like somehow I knew it was true.
His doctor took the first step of treating him for a urinary tract infection and prescribed my dad a ten-day supply of antibiotics. I was hopeful this would solve the problem and it seemed like it did. Two weeks after the antibiotics were finished, my dad did a urine sample and everything looked fine. Yet I still knew from my research on the internet that urinary tract infections in men are very uncommon and we urged my dad to see a urologist just to make sure.
The appointment was made yet the wait to get in was unacceptably long. 6 weeks was the best he could do and there were no cancellations. Everything seemed to be going fine until the end of July when the blood came back. Panicked my dad called his doctor who once again prescribed antibiotics. They seemed to work again until he was off them. By this point, it was August and my dad still had no idea what was going on with his body. He couldn’t get into see the urologist no matter what. “You’ll have to wait” they said unemotionally. “We’re fully booked“. As the weeks went on and it became obvious that the antibiotics weren’t working, my worried dad called the urologist every day to see if there were any cancellations. There were none. Finally by the end of August there was an opening. Two months had passed since the start of the bleeding.
Thanks to my dad’s persistence and our urging for him to take charge of his health care situation, my dad finally got into the urologist to do some tests. Four days after his appointment, on August 28th my parents 45th wedding anniversary I got the phone call I didn’t want to receive at 6 pm. After hearing over and over again for months that it was only an infection, I was completely stunned to hear those dreaded words from my dad. “The urologist says it is 99% sure that I have bladder cancer”. I felt like my world come crashing down. I was destroyed.
Five days later I boarded a plane and flew to Tucson, Arizona. My dad had his biopsy scheduled for the next day and there was no way I wasn’t going to be there with my parents when they heard the news. On the outside, I appeared happy and strong, as if I could do anything. Yet on the inside, I was falling apart. My head felt like I had a tight rope yanked around my forehead. My stomach throbbed. My emotions sank. I felt like in any given moment I would burst into tears and fall apart. I wanted to crawl into my bed, pull the covers over my head and stay there forever. Yet I held it together for my dad. He needed me to be strong, as did my mother who one week before had shoulder replacement surgery.
When I walked off the plane and first saw my dad, I gave him a smile. Be strong I told myself. Don’t cry. Yet I was aching inside.
There was my hiking partner – who I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have traveled the world with- walking towards me a little less stronger than before. A man who two years ago at the age of 69 trekked the Himalayan mountains of Nepal with me, always one step ahead.
The fact that my dad has cancer seemed impossible to believe. It couldn’t be real.
The night before the surgery felt surprisingly normal. We were laughing, talking and enjoying each others company despite the realization that the next day was going to be hard. I was amazed at the power and bound of our love and how it gave us all strength. Yet when I went to bed and was alone to think in the darkness about the following day, I laid acutely awake and aware of my fiery emotions. I was insanely scared.
Tuesday we rose all feeling a little more on edge. We knew the biopsy was finally nearing and the anxiety made my head feel like it was going to explode. I realized at the hospital that it was the very first time I’d ever seen my father seriously sick. He has always been my rock, an amazing symbol of strength and inspiration. Seeing him lay on the hospital bed dressed in a surgical gown made me want to cry. Our roles seemed so idiotically reversed. He was always the one who had taken care of me. Now I was taking care of my own father.
My mother, sister and I awaited in the lobby feeling anxious and scared. I soon discovered that a hospital can be a truly lonely, sad place. Around us were plenty of others awaiting the news of their loved ones results, each with their own set of worries across their face.
When the surgeon came up to update us, I immediately tensed up. It felt so surreal, like some kind of bad dream. Yet there he was, dressed in baby blue scrubs with a picture of the tumor he had removed from inside my dad’s bladder. I stood there in silence, too overcome by emotions to even talk. The surgery went well but we would have to wait for the results of the biopsy which would tell us the extent of the cancer. It could be 3-5 days. Thus the dreadful, unimaginable waiting began.