Monday, September 3, 2012

18 months to 2 years


“18 months to two years.  Average.”

This was the oncologist’s answer to my dad’s life expectancy question, posed after the devastating news that his lung cancer had moved into his bones, making it officially stage 4 and incurable.

I sat in the doctor’s office with my parents, crying silently, watching their reactions.  They had both been taking notes about medications and dosages.  Both stopped writing, both looked up at the doctor’s emotionless face, both were silent and still for a few seconds.

Then both started writing again.

I mean, what do you do when you get this kind of news?  (In their case, not skydiving -- not yet at least.)

I saw that the word my dad had been writing ended up unintelligible and incomplete.   Mom put her pen down, rubbed Dad’s back a few times and then resumed writing as the doctor continued to talk, talk, talk, talk.

The doctor finally left the room to order meds and a shot and schedule a brain MRI (since the cancer may have spread there) and chemo treatments for next week.  The kind that will make him nauseous and his hair fall out and his bones ache and his extremities tingle.

“With this new life expectancy, I’ll have to re-think our finances and what we do with them.  I’d always planned on living as long as my dad (early 90’s),” Dad said.

Mom stated the obvious, how shocking this was.  We knew it wouldn’t be good news but had been expecting 5 to 10 years.

Dad said, “At least my mind won’t go first.”

My parents then opened my dad’s official Cancer Treatment Binder to the calendar section and started writing in the chemo treatment dates, counting weeks, speculating whether Dad could fly out to California for a grandson’s 12thbirthday at the end of September.

There is so very little they can control, but they can write things on the calendar.

This they could do.

We went to In-N-Out Burger for lunch on the way home.  While Dad was getting our order, Mom said, “We’re going to have to put everything in both of our names, like cars.  It’s so much harder to do that after the fact.  I don’t know anything about the bills, Dad pays them all online.  And the AC filter in the attic – I don’t know where it is or how to change it.”

When Dad sat back down with our food, he wondered aloud if there was a senior discount at In-N-Out.  “You could always play your cancer card, Dad,” I said, “Just tell them you’ve just been diagnosed with stage 4 incurable Cancer and have 18 months to 2 years to live.  They’d probably give you the entire restaurant.”

We managed to laugh.

Dad’s bucket list includes a trip to Peru (where he served his Mormon mission) and a cruise with his kids.  We talked about kicking the planning into high gear.

All the while realizing that we have no idea what is realistic and what would simply be pie in the sky hopes.

The talk shifted to the pharmacy and Dad’s meds.  “Now that one pain med,” he asked, “the one the doctor said I might need a higher dosage of eventually – what would cause the pain again?”

“Your bones, Dad.  Your bones.”

“Oh.  But I feel so good now, it’s hard to wrap my head around this.”

My parents possess a strong faith in God and profound optimism.  Dad will make the best of what is left of his life, of this I am confident.  Mom will be strong and make the best of the rest of Dad’s life as well as hers (Dad says she’ll reach the ripe old age of 100), of this I am also confident.

Taking their lead, I will too -- and help my kids do the same. 

I’m praying that I will be able to do this sooner than later.

But for right now, my heart is broken.

My parents at Dad's 70th birthday party in May