It’s been a crappy couple of years for my father’s health. To be honest, it’s been a crappy thirty-something years back to when he was diagnosed with bladder cancer. That cancer has never gone into remission; it’s just been controlled with chemo and other treatments. Add to that the skin cancer that has claimed so much of the tissue behind his ears that he’s had to have grafts; then mix in a myriad of other health issues, and you can see how Dad being unwell had sort of become normal.
I used to say that he was the healthiest unhealthy man you’d ever meet. Dad never let these things slow him down. He didn’t appear or act infirm. A soldier through and through, he kept marching on. That was until the big bad came in October of 2011– Merkel Cell Carcinoma (MCC). MCC is a rare, highly aggressive form of skin cancer. This vicious brute hits hard, grows fast, and metastasizes quickly. In two short months, it had gone from being a small lump on his scalp to invading his lymph nodes. Between October and Christmas of 2011, Dad had two major surgeries, which were followed by a springtime full of radiation treatments. With each clear follow-up scan, we breathed a tentative sigh of relief that Dad might beat his thirty percent odds of making it five years. However, it all took its toll, and Dad for the first time in his life was frail.
Life and other health issues swirled on. Last summer, he had a pacemaker installed. With his heart problems under control, doctors were now able to remove a benign macroadenoma from around his pituitary gland. However, a routine scan found a small spot in his lung. A needle biopsy was inconclusive. Docs decided to proceed with the adenoma removal and recheck the lung a couple of months after. So to recap, lung needle biopsy at the beginning of January this year, and then brain surgery in mid-January.
Jump forward to March. The new scan of Dad’s lung showed that original spot had grown and a second one had joined it. Because the needle biopsy was inconclusive, doctors couldn’t outright say that it was cancer, but, in their words, it was certainly acting like cancer. The decision was made to remove a lobe (one-third) of my father’s right lung. It could be metastasized MCC or it could be yet another whole new cancer for my dad. Either way, it sucks. Big time.
I haven’t talked much about this current diagnosis. What is there to say? I’ve said it all before, countless times, and now all the words are used up. I haven’t prayed much either. Those who know me might find that surprising. Prayer is a huge part of my faith life. I didn’t know what to ask Him. How many times can I petition for healing before I feel greedy and ungrateful for all the times God has already answered those prayers for my father?
Beyond that, I haven’t talked about it because I wasn’t ready for all the well-meaning comments and verses that would follow. Those phrases come from wonderful people who love me and want me to feel better, but I didn’t want to feel better. Not right away. I had just come down a rocky mountain, had barely begun to rest in the cool shade of the valley, and splash my weary face with refreshing water when I was told it was time to climb again.
I didn’t want to climb. I was tired. I not only needed to acknowledge that it sucked, but I also needed a little time to let it suck. I feel like society today is afraid for anyone to be sad or in pain. Sometimes I feel like when people offer sentiments and verses, they aren’t truly meant as encouragement, but more as a deflection. Sharing in someone’s suffering is uncomfortable, so we bat it away with comments about God’s plan, God’s power, and God’s victory. While all those things are true, they don’t change the current difficult circumstance. If I’ve been knocked down, I need a hand up, not a list of reasons why I should be standing.
Sitting at the breakfast table with my dad today, he mentioned being tired of having to wear a brave face. I know what he means. I think that’s why I haven’t talked about it much for the last three weeks. You don’t have to put on a brave face, if no one knows you are struggling.
I’m at the end though. The time for wallowing in the suck is over. Dad’s second major surgery in three months is Tuesday. It’s time to put one foot in front of the other and trudge up the mountain.