If an enemy was attacking your family, you’d jump into the fray, punching, kicking, and tearing at the combatant’s limbs. The engagement would be bloody, gritty, and raw because you’d do anything to protect your own. You’d even sacrifice your life, if necessary. In the end, win or lose, you’d be secure in the fact that you’d done all you could for their well-being.
Unfortunately, the cancer battle is not so much earmarked by fighting as by inaction. This invader is attempting to destroy my father from the inside out, and there’s nothing I can do about it. My family and I spend many hours waiting: waiting in lobbies, waiting in doctor’s offices, and waiting by hospital beds. This trip, as I do every trip, I naively thought that I could use that time to get stuff done. I could spend the hours finishing a short story I started months ago, grade papers for my homeschool co-op writing class, or even balance my family budget. Of course, I did none of those things. I just sat, along with the rest of my family, because with cancer time stands still and nothing exists outside of its world.
This wasn’t our first rodeo, so we expected to be at Moffitt Cancer Center all day when my father had his surgery. Like all the other families, we arrived at the waiting room and staked our territory by turning all of our chairs inward, forming a large circle. The numerous family clusters brought to mind an ocean filled with pods of whales. There were a couple of solitary people, sitting rigidly and staring into space. I felt sorry for them as they stood vigil without a pod to buoy them.
My sister, who had spent many insomnia-filled nights due to worry, actually slept as we waited. Her muffled snores vibrated like a cell phone on a glass surface. This wasn’t the only day where she managed to sleep at the hospital when she couldn’t anywhere else. I decided that Dad finally being under a doctor’s care relieved some of her anxiety, and she was able to relax enough to sleep. She wasn’t the only one conked out. Surgery day starts before daylight for most, and you’ll find people here and there curled up in chairs with jackets thrown over their faces to block out the light.
The waiting on this day advanced in stages. First we waited to hear if Dad had made it through surgery without complications; then we waited to hear he was out of recovery; finally, we waited to hear that he’d been moved to a room. Because he was having a lobectomy, Dad was transferred to the Special Care Unit (SCU). Where we waited some more before they finally let two of us at a time back to see him. We carved up the available minutes, making sure everyone had their moments with him. It was important for all of us to be with Dad because even though the doctor had given a good report, it wasn’t enough. We needed to see him with our own eyes and touch him with our own hands before we could be assured he was okay.
The doc confirmed that there was cancer in the lung section he removed. However, it would two weeks before tissue analysis could tell us if it was lung cancer or if the Berserker Merkel Cell was once again on the rampage. So we have to wait again. We won’t know for another week whether Dad’s war with cancer will continue, or if this is the last battle for a while. If it continues the fighting won’t be done by my family, it will be done by poisons and radiation. In that case, it will be more like a Phyrric Victory. The enemy will be once again beaten back, but the cost will be Dad’s body.