Thursday, December 8, 2011

When The Child Becomes The Parent, another casualty of Cancer.

There really is no experience I've ever gone through that is like this. When your parent becomes ill, especially with cancer, and the role shifts from child to caregiver it is almost too much to handle. I'm just not ready for this phase of life yet... I guess... but are you ever??

My brain is just on overload these days. Has been for quite some time, there's just a lot going on in my life, a lot for one mind to process. I've been plugging along, a lot of times on auto pilot, but tonight I finally lost it, broke down in tears over a skillet full of rice and turkey. I know there were a lot of things prompting it, in fact I actually broke down in tears sitting on the bathtub earlier this afternoon over the potty training trainwreck attempts but that's a story for another day...

The culmination came tonight when my Dad came over to discuss his appointment with the oncologist. For those just tuning in, my Dad has/had (I dont even know how to put it anymore) cancer. He went through 6 rounds of chemo and then a massive surgery, more complicated than open heart surgery to remove his bladder, prostate, lymph nodes and reconstruct a new bladder out of his small intestine. It sounds like complete sci-fi because it is... it's crazy what they can do these days. After a week in the hospital, my Dad was back home and has been flying in his recovery ever since. He is one stubborn ass curmudgeon, and proudly so, you couldn't knock him down if you tried. So I can't say that I'm surprised at how well he has done through this whole escapade, but I also know him better than anyone else on this planet and I know that it hasn't been as easy for him as he lets others think...

So he's been recovering for the last 3 weeks and had a follow up appointment with the oncologist the other day. He comes in tonight to tell me that basically the oncologist thinks that he should undergo 2-6 more rounds of chemo treatments just to be on the safe side. Incase any cells had broken off and traveled through the body this may or may not help in counteracting it.

Long story short he flat out refuses to do any more chemo. One of his concerns is that the insurance wont pay for the $10,000 ea. treatments and his other main argument is that he asked the oncologist if doing the chemo would guarantee that he wouldn't get cancer in the future and of course the oncologist's answer was no. There really is no way to know whether or not the chemo would help, there's no way to know if there are any cancerous cells floating through his body, it's all kind of a toss up. My interpretation is that the oncologist is erring on the side of caution, and covering his own ass, and basically trying to stack the deck. He has no crystal ball to know whether it's necessary or not, or whether it will make a difference or not but statistically speaking it's probably a good idea.

My Dad, on the other hand, thinks that there's no reason he should undergo any more "torture" when there's no guarantee for it all... and this is my mental dilemma. I understand where the oncologist is coming from and I also understand where my Dad is coming from. I can easily say that if I were in his shoes I'd just go ahead and do the extra chemo but I have NO CLUE what it was like to go through that... I have no idea how hard it was on him, so who am I to tell him what to do.

This entire experience I've had to balance the whole concept of being optimistic and realistic, there's a very fine line... You can't be a strong support system for someone with cancer and be blatently honest with them, you just can't, they NEED that unequivocal confidence that it is going to be ok if they just follow the steps. They're relying on you to be that beacon of hope and strength, and I took that role very seriously for my Dad. He has always been there for me, through thick and thin, unwavering in strength so how am I supposed to say "Dad you know, I'm scared for you, I'm scared that you may die and not be here any more and so ANYTHING that could possibly help I demand you to do, because I dont want to lose you.... I can't imagine my life without you yet... I refuse to let you give in...." I can't say that to him, I can only say it to myself and walk away when the tears begin to fall so that he doesn't know how bad this whole experience has shaken me to the core.

My Dad values my opinion above anyone in this world, I know this, and it broke my heart to talk with him tonight. I had to play the devils advocate and tell him that I wouldn't just dismiss the chemo idea, I would get all of the info and then weigh my decision whether or not to go forward with more treatments with a clear mindset. I had to tell him that my interpretation of his pathology report was not exactly what he was thinking, it wasn't as optimistic as he has convinced himself to believe. I had to be a tad bit more realistic with him but I caught myself. I realized that I was being selfish, I wanted him to do whatever the hell it took to make sure that he was around as long as possible with us, I didn't care if it meant he was miserable through more chemo rounds, that he couldn't be around his beloved grandkids for even longer for fear that he may get severely ill with his compromised immune system, I didn't think about HIM at all. So I finally said that I understood it was his decision and I will have a conversation with him later to make sure he knows that I support his decision 100% and that I will never judge him for the route he decides to go.

But it literally devastated me, as he walked out the door I realized that all he wanted to hear was for me to laugh along with him "geeze stupid doctor WHY the heck would you need more chemo, you're CURED!!that's why you've gone through all this crap, the chemo, the surgery, that was supposed to be it".... that's what he wanted me to say.... and I didn't. All he wants to hear is for someone to tell him he's finally DONE with this. That he can start to LIVE again.... he just wants to know that this horror is over and the oncologist (and subsequently I) basically crushed that for him. As easily as he dismissed the idea, despite what I was saying to him, I know that he took a lot of stake in what I had to say and it destroyed him inside, I could see it in his face and I just lost it...

I feel like I just failed at being his pillar of strength, like I just shot someone's puppy right in front of them. It's so easy for anyone outside to say what they'd do if they were in his shoes, but really none of us knows what it's like. I can't blame him for not wanting to relive the past 3+ months of chemo.. Exact words out of his mouth were "I know I didn't complain much or act like it was a big deal but that kicked my ASS and there's no way I want to do that again" And the worst part is that I know how true that is... there's no way he would ever let on how hard this has been for him... he's way too proud, one of the qualities I admire most about him.

So I guess there really is no point to this post other than to vent about how a cancer diagnosis is the most AWFUL experience I've ever had to go through in my life... the only thing I can imagine being worse is if it were my child. And that just when you think you're at the end of the tunnel you get thrown another curve ball. This has tested my inner strength to the MAX and I'm still trying to figure out why we have all been forced to go through this... it's just another reminder of how precious life is and to stop wasting it on the insignificant BS because in the end none of it matters.


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