This post comes on the heels of my “Thirties Life Crisis” which at this point seems trivial, but on the flip side, it also puts emphasis on the importance of finding that balance in your life, purging the inconsequential crap and cherishing the happy moments.
I was in the middle of my “What Got me Here” blog post (to be posted later), when I got a call from my parents to meet me in front of my office. I didn’t even know they were in Boston, let alone outside my front door. I knew this couldn’t be good, as it was all too familiar to a call I got 8 years ago.
My Dad was diagnosed with a rare blood cancer – Waldenstrom’s Macroglobulinemia (WM) – in March of 2008. The initial prognosis of this incurable cancer was 5 years. He called bullshit on that, took charge, became educated and has been fighting WM through clinical trials of new chemotherapies, a kick-ass attitude, and a head full of hair.
But these last couple weeks had been particularly tough; the biweekly infusions and a compromised immune system were weighing on him. He was in a significant amount of pain so he knew something was up and so he went to see his PCP. After multiple appointments with various doctors at different hospitals across Boston he was finally able to see a specialist as they feared it was another form of cancer. His doctor put some urgency behind getting a biopsy and scans at Massachusetts General Hospital, which is where my parents were prior to showing up at my office.
My heart was racing with the adrenaline pumping through my veins as I took what felt like the longest elevator down to meet my dad in the lobby. He was pacing, and as I saw him, his face fell and I said, “It’s not good is it?” His answer wasn’t “no,” it was “it’s complicated.” That’s my dad, he puts a spin on it—you get some of the shittiest news in your life, and he doesn’t say he’s dying, he says it’s complicated and is ready for a fight. He asked if I could leave for the day so they could explain all the results on the car ride home.
It’s metastatic prostate cancer. What the hell is that? It’s prostate cancer that has spread; in my dad’s case, to his bones and lymph nodes. My dad described the scan of his skeleton as, “it was lit up like a Christmas tree.” There are lesions up and down his spine, in his shoulders, hips, arms and legs, and a significant concentration at the base of his spine. Hearing this scared the crap out of me, I can’t imagine what my parents are feeling.
I’m numb as my dad begins to explain the stage of his diagnosis. From my understanding of this, prostate cancer is graded on a Gleason scale of 1 through 10, whereas you see other cancers described in stages 1 through 4. Well, Dad is at a 10, so this equates to stage IV prostate cancer. Which is fucking terrible.
Yep, I’m going to leave that F-bomb right there, because that is the damn truth. I’ll take the motto from www.fuckcancer.org: “We are sorry if you are offended or have a problem with the word FxCK! We are offended and have a problem with the word CANCER!”
So he gets another prognosis – I don’t know how someone can deliver the news that you have a certain time period to live – but it went something along the lines of “you’ve got 3-4 years.” Which I guess sounded “good” because typically when you hear stage IV cancer you’re looking at a much shorter window.
Team Whelan is calling bullshit on this one too. Call it eternal optimism, denial, whatever you want; I’m calling it hope. After sharing this news with family and friends, the common thread is: “your dad is one of the strongest people I know, and if anyone can beat it, he can.” My dad has already said that his new story will encompass that of a two-time cancer survivor.
That’s why he is amazing. Some people will see this as a life sentence but when my dad told me, he called it a 3-4 year “program.” Even his attitude from last week has gotten more hopeful, initially it was, “well we’re going to have a helluva a lot of fun these next couple years,” and then today, he says that’s not good enough, we’re going to explore and exhaust every option of getting the best personalized treatment and living longer and healthier than that.
Meanwhile, hormone therapy started last week which aims to shrink the tumors and prostate to ultimately alleviate some of the pain. Seeing my strong dad wince breaks my heart, I wish I could take that pain away. Being his daughter puts me in a unique position, because he too, doesn’t want to see me or my sisters hurt trying to cope with the severity of cancer. So he tries to protect us—that’s what parents do. Little does he know that his strength, determination and love is so, so, so much more powerful than the fear that we are facing.
I hope my parents know that. My sisters and I all come to grips with this from different perspectives, but the one thing that holds true for all of us, is that we are in it together and we are a family filled with the same determination that we learned from him. My mom, oh my Mom. She’s the heart in all this. My dad wouldn’t be able to get through any of it without her, in fact, none of us could. I know she’s about as exhausted as my dad is, trying to stay strong, when I know she’s scared as shit. That same will and love lives in her girls. We’re going to survive this together and we’re going to have fun doing it.