Just breathe. Don’t take that very simple act for granted. Yoga has taught me that. When my almost 3 year old has a tantrum we often talk her down by telling her to take a deep breath, it works. And many times over the last couple days I have had to take my own advice because at the moment I am pretty pissed and feel like screaming and stomping my feet. But rather than look like a ridiculous 36 year old toddler, I am making the effort of taking a deep breath, slowing down, being present and keeping perspective. But cancer you still suck.
If I could use every expletive without offending my Dad I would (he often reads my posts before I publish them and asks me to think about using a different term other than some of my favorite descriptive 4 letter words). But right now I am bullshit. I am angry. A couple weeks ago we had to come to terms with the fact that the chemo my dad had undergone for the 6 months prior did not give us the positive results for which we were hoping. That news sucked. And the news we got on Friday sucked more, and it was twofold. Firstly, we were seeing the slow progression of his PSA increasing over 3-4 months, but in two weeks time it has now doubled, further proving that this aggressive cancer isn’t backing down. This is bad news A. Worse news B: After working with innovative research partners in reviewing his genomic cancer profile and thorough molecular biology, the outcome of the
analysis said that there is no known chemotherapy that will work. The report concluded as follows:
My Dad received this report on Thursday and his oncologist had him come in early Friday morning to discuss it in detail. After the appointment my parents asked if we could meet for lunch. The poor waitress at Joe’s probably didn’t know what to do with us because as they told us the news, there sat my mom, dad, Laurie and Karen crying at the table. I wasn’t being stoic, I was furious. I’ll channel this anger in some way, but for now it’s one way I’m dealing with this news. Everyone else is pushing through with tears, hope and distraction.
At this moment, I’m not focusing on being sad; I think I’ve been preparing myself for the inevitable (we all die someday). I’ll be sad when that happens, but for now I’m keeping reality in check—I have tried to maintain this since March when we got the news of stage IV metastatic prostate cancer; we need to keep on living, cherishing every moment. I have been doing that, I am very fortunate that I work for a company, a boss and with co-workers that value family and allow me the time to work from my home office where I can pop over and see my dad and mom on a moment’s notice. I pack up the kids, pick up a medium Dunkin Donuts coffee for my dad and schlep over to their house at 7:15 in the morning, often thinking that if my folks had a tough night crying in each other’s arms, that the innocent smiles of my 1 and 2 year old will help them forget that cancer is clouding their mornings. And secretly I am soaking up every second of spending time with my dad while I can. We don’t have to talk; just being there makes my mornings better.
Just being there – being present – not taking this time for granted. We can sit and dwell on this awful news or we can keep on living. And that is what my dad has chosen to do. After leaving the doctor on Friday facing his mortality, my dad has not given up. When he questioned if the life expectancy is only a year, his doctor and nurses said that he’s not the typical patient. He’s stronger and healthier than most, he’s staying on top of any and all avenues that can be explored, but mostly he hasn’t given up hope or the will to live. I think some people given this news would say “screw it, since nothing is going to work, I’m going to give up.” Well not my Dad. And from that I need to turn my anger into hope.
This is where I am struggling and need to move past. But I need to voice this. What kind of god gives an awesome human being cancer? Or hell, here, have 2: a rare incurable blood cancer and stage IV metastatic prostate cancer. That’s just not fair; he has the fighting will to live and you, god, say there is no treatment that is going to work? WTH?! Born and raised Catholic, I went to a private Catholic college, both of my children are baptized; I really truly believed in God and I had a relationship with Jesus. Now I’m not finding any comfort from either of them, and not only am I angry at said god, but how the can I believe in something that has done this to my dad? Faith is God? I’m just not sure. Faith in Science? I still need to be hopeful. And my father, the advocate for faith in science still hasn’t given up that hope. So he must foster that will to live from somewhere, and my guess is not his fear of dying, but his love of living.
And this is where I, again, will ask all of you to make that effort to be present in your life with those that you love and truly appreciate all that you have. You don’t have to have cancer or know someone that does, because the truth is any of us could get hit by a bus tomorrow. So live like you are dying, don’t have regrets or look back on a time that you wish you had spent with someone or doing something you loved.
Don’t get me wrong, there are days that it’s hard for me to keep this perspective. It’s easier to scroll though the mindless newsfeed on Facebook, complain about the tedium of 6 loads of laundry, or some other insignificant crap that has consumed my time, but more often than not, I really do try to live and be happy. I am now realizing that through all of this it’s my dad who is the living breathing example of that. So let me apologize in advance if I don’t seem all that empathetic to your current life “crisis” that can be fixed, changed, moved past or put in perspective. Just chuck it in the f*ck it bucket and move on. You are alive; if you are not happy do something about it.
Traveling makes my dad happy. I’m sure many of you have seen his posts traveling all of the country and world doing his advocacy work. We have often asked him to stop traveling because he is susceptible to all sorts of disease riding around in a germ-infested vessel (read airplane) and surrounding himself by thousands of people at conferences, shaking hands with someone who could have a cold. And for some time he did limit or stop travel all together, but he knew that he needed to be doing this advocacy work as it was and is part of his own treatment plan. At his talks he often says that he’s not doing this for any altruistic reasons, like saving humanity. He’s doing this so he can save his own life, well Dad, it’s a pretty awesome byproduct that in doing all this work in an effort to save your own life, you will be extending and saving the lives of others.
He slows down when he needs to, to recover, to rest and to relax. That’s part of living too, self-care. So this also means that just because some molecular analysis says that there is no known chemotherapy that can beat this aggressive cancer, this doesn’t mean that he’s given up on finding one that can prolong his life. Scans will be done in the next couple weeks to see the status of the tumors and we’re hopeful that nothing has spread to the soft tissue (like liver or lung) as there was no previous indication of that. The plan as of Friday, which will likely change because it always seems to do so, is to go through a wash-out period, coming off all chemo, drugs, medication, everything. A new chemo will start in November followed by radiation, and a potential clinical trial come January.
Why go through all this if nothing is proven to work? My dad’s response is this: if the chemo slows the progression at all, this gives him more time to breathe and researchers more time to come up with a treatment that will work—that will save his life. If that’s not hope, I don’t know what is. Hope is the desire for a certain thing to happen or grounds for believing that something good will happen. This is the same thing as setting a positive intention every day. Rather than saying I don’t want to be sick anymore, we state it in the affirmative, saying I’m healthy today, so I’ll ask this of you as well. Extend that hope and set your intentions for your day, and feel free to send any of those positive vibes this way. Breathe in hope, breathe out despair, inhale in health, exhale disease, basically inhale the good shit, exhale the bullshit.
We’re in this with you Dad, let’s enjoy this roller coaster ride.