Today is World Cancer Day. What does that mean exactly?
That was the question my dad asked when I pointed this out after seeing an ad during the Superbowl.
“Am I supposed to forget about it?” He said with a smirk.
My dad isn’t being mean-spirited. He is a cancer survivor, and he tries to stay in good humor about it. Every year we celebrate his second birthday, recognizing when he got his bone marrow transplant that saved his life [he will be 9 this year, for the record]. Every day I am thankful for the donor that helped me keep my dad, and recognize that there are still so many people who aren’t as fortunate.
With today being World Cancer Day, I wanted to share my family’s story.
The first time I can remember anything happening around my dad’s cancer, I was in early high school, I believe. I remember my aunt drove up from San Diego, and the two of them were going somewhere – but I didn’t know where at the time. Later we were told that my dad had cancer cells, but they couldn’t do anything until things got worse. So we just. . .went on living, knowing that there was a ticking time bomb waiting to go off.
I think we almost forgot [we kids at least] about this. I went to college, moved away, started living my adult life. Then suddenly my dad starting getting sick, I think it was my third year. It was really scary, knowing that the monster had finally come out from under the bed and revealed itself.
Things escalated what felt like so quickly after that. My dad’s immune system started to shut down, and he got a strange bump on his elbow, and then his spleen started growing because it was trying to fight off the cancer in his body. He barely made it to my college graduation – and a lot of that time is very fuzzy to him. His memory eventually started coming back, but later in the year we would recall something that happened in the months leading to his procedures, and he would have no recollection.
The first surgery my dad had to go into was to get his spleen removed – I don’t wan to exaggerate, as I can’t remember clearly now, but it was quite large. That was the first time any of us had seen my dad so sick – it was terrifying. And that wasn’t even going to be the worst of it.
After dad recovered from that surgery, he started going through chemo and prepping for the bone marrow transplant. He stayed in the hospital for that duration, at The City of Hope. They were all so nice there, and I visited my dad as often as I could. I always brought him sour Skittles, because it was the only thing he could really taste due to the chemo.
I was still living away from home, but I during this time I had to step in and be a second parent – my mom worked a job that barely covered any expenses, and my two younger siblings were still in school. I ended up giving my car to my brother so he could get to school, and helped around the house when I could. I think this was when my mother and I started to get along better, working together and trying to get through what was happening.
They found a donor and my dad went through the transplant, which in itself was so scary – sitting and waiting to hear news, any news, about how he was doing, and it was a very slow healing process. We had to shift the diet of the family and habits to make sure dad wouldn’t get sick – I learned some gross things about germs, like how bad the ice in soda machines is for you [seriously, don’t drink it for a long time and then go back to it, we got sick when we did]. My dad lost his job in the most terribly illegal way possible, so we were pushing hard to keep everything together between my mom and his disability checks.
I have a picture from Thanksgiving of that year, about 2 months after the transplant, and he doesn’t even look like my dad. It still scares me to think how frail he was, and how much his body had gone through to fight off the cancer.
These days, my dad owns his own business, and is quite successful at it. He enjoys cooking a lot, something he had to get used to doing when he was finally able to and was still stuck at home. He goes in for yearly check ups, and so far, so good. But unlike when I was younger, I haven’t completely forgotten about the monster under the bed, and so there is always that fear in my mind that any day, something could happen.
Cancer is still a terrifying thing, and I wish no one had to ever go through it, or witness a member of their family or a friend go through it. The best advice I could give is to stay strong, and be there for your family, before, during, and after the procedure. The road to healing is a long one, but there are so many people out there willing to share their stories and experience to help each other push through.
So today, do something about cancer. Sign up to be a donor. See if there is an even near you, or see what other companies are doing to help the fight. Push information out to your channels. Educate yourself. Be a part of the resolution to beat cancer.
And thanks for reading my family’s story.