Category Archives: lung cancer

The Saddest Thing

Anyone that knows me knows that I have a hard time expressing myself confidently. The best way that I know how to do it coherently is to write. Sometimes I do it well, other times, it’s mediocre at best. I’m my own worst critic, the voice in my head consistently screaming “DO BETTER!” Compound that with grief and my guess is you get a spiral of anxiety and depression that leaves me consistently exhausted and angry. Not conducive with a three year old and partner who depend on my ability to stay patient in the face of adversity…er, everyday life.

My Christmas present last year from Josh was a Fitbit Charge (which I love!) and that has proven to be a curse. This week, I have slept more than played with Izzi. This week, I have spent more time on the phone than teaching her how to read or working on her ability to add or subtract. The rare moments that I have found the capacity to be the mother that I think she deserves, I’m irritable and mentally spent after the exchange.

In no way is she neglected or malnourished but I can’t help but feel like I’m failing her when I can’t get out of my own head. I find myself flashing back to previous holidays, and vacations and am spaced out and short of breath when I return to the present. Usually snapping out of it because Izzi has asked the same question 18 times and I’m just now figuring out how to answer.

The other day, perhaps the beginning of my spiral, I was on the phone with my mother and Izzi asked to speak to Opa. My guess is she longed to hear him say “IKE!” and ask her how she’s doing. I was unable to prevent my mom from hearing it and after my own anguish, the guilt of Izzi’s inability to understand and the probable pain caused by her question flowed freely. I should be able to explain Opa in a way that she understands but then, how can I explain what I don’t even understand. It’s like explaining why the sky is blue or the stars shine so brightly outside the lights of the city.

Guilt and grief go hand in hand these days. I’m sad because I miss my Dad, then guilty because I couldn’t save him. I’m sad because I can’t make myself move past this and guilty because it’s taken a toll on my family that I can’t fix right now. I’m sad because I can’t heal the pain that my mom, daughter and partner endure from the loss of a man that’s left a black hole sized chasm in our family. Guilty because there should be something that I could do to ease their pain.

Grief specialists will tell you that this is part of the process and you have to let yourself feel every emotion to get through it. Grief stops for nobody. Not even a three year old that needs her mother. That’s probably the saddest thing of all.

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Empty Chair(s)

This year has been one of extreme loss for my family. Miss Gwen, one of the most lovely women that I’ve ever met, who taught me southern hospitality (the best and worst of it) passed away in May. My Dad left us in August. My tormented, creative cousin Justin moved on in October. These losses don’t include the natural upheaval that comes from loss, and the inconsiderate actions of others that have desecrated our family as a whole.

The Holidays are here and I can’t seem to muster enough joy to find reason in the season. I want to pretend that it’s just another day because those are hard enough to get through without adding the flood of memories from yesteryear. My Grandfather and later, Dad playing Santa to all of us. The smells of the kitchen from my Grandmother’s kitchen who would never let us cook, yet all of us seemed to have picked up a few tips from her along the way. (Even if it means our children can’t cook with us.) Calls from all branches of the family, sometimes even visits from those that were close enough, well wishes for the coming year and reminiscing of those lost in a figurative or literal manner. It never seemed to matter because in one way or another, those that were lost were always present; the empty chairs always filled.

This year, I feel lost. I feel like I can’t bring those to life, and honor all those that aren’t here appropriately. Not the way it’s been done in the past. Mentally, I know this calls for new traditions, to show my daughter the reason why I fell in love with the Christmas season. Emotionally, it breaks me in a way that I’ve never felt before. The tightness in my chest, the sharp physical pain in my heart and hot tears that slide down my face. There is no reconciling the past with the present right now. No filling the empty chairs in the physical manner that I crave.

If this were any other piece, I’d end it with hope. A message of peaceful conclusion that I’ve arrived at that I wanted to share with you. Not this time. This time, I’m just trying to fill a couple of empty chairs that will never be full again.



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Fight for What You Love.

A little more than 2 months ago, I said goodbye to someone. Not “see ya later.” Not “I’ll call you when I get home.” There was no more of that. This was goodbye, this one was final.

My heart speeds up as I write this and I hadn’t realized it, but I’m holding my breath. Writing this is so necessary for my healing, yet I’m stumped. I don’t know how to put into words exactly how I feel because mentally, I’m exhausted.

Dad was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer in September of 2014. He fought it hard with the same tenacity that he approached everything but this was different. We all knew it. The question wasn’t “could he beat it?” but “how long do we have?” Despite this, he responded well to the first round of chemo – miraculously in fact. The tumors shrunk, they were still there, but they shrunk to a size that amazed the Oncologist. So after a round of radiation, they put him on a maintenance drug. When the cancer returned with vengeance, back on the chemo Dad went. As successful as the first round went, this round was the opposite. Dad lost more weight and was smaller than I had ever seen him. Shortly after the second round of chemo began, they decided to stop it, and hold out hope that the newest drug approved for lung cancer would be available for Dad after the annual trip to the beach. Though I don’t know for sure, my guess is that by the time the beach rolled around the cancer had further spread from his bones and lungs to his other organs. He was in constant pain, exhausted, and ate less and less. After a particularly difficult day, he agreed to go to the ER, and was admitted to the hospital, treated and released. I should have known things weren’t good.  

The trip back from the beach was the worst trip of his life and probably my mother’s life. The day after our return, he was admitted to the hospital at home, and wouldn’t leave there. His lungs began to fill with fluid, and that was it.

The last conversation that I had with my Dad gave me hope. We talked about the embargo being lifted from Cuba and what possibilities laid ahead in international policy. I should have known then.

I write this knowing that I stared blankly at a screen full of technicality. I didn’t speak at Dad’s memorial. I couldn’t bring myself to say what he meant means to me.

How do I say goodbye to the man who taught me how to ride a bike? Who chased down the boy who stole my bike from our driveway in DE? Who patiently, (and probably scared shitless) taught me to drive around Northern VA drivers, then drive a stick on the hills of Pittsburgh. The man who taught me that honor is something that you have to be able to find within yourself and not in anyone else. He taught me loyalty. When I wanted to quit baseball, he (and Mom) said, you don’t quit something just because; you need to show up for your team mates. He taught me about family. You take care of your own. Despite having had surgery on his ankles, he flew up to Pittsburgh in 2013 to help his sister with their dying father. He was there with Grandad when he took his last breath and said that he would always be thankful that he could be there to talk him through that. At least I can say that I was able to talk Dad through that. I was there when he took his last breath. A few hours before that happened, he and I looked at pictures of the beach, and Izzi and everything he loved and my God, I wouldn’t change that for anything.

My Dad wasn’t always there. He dedicated his life to the Coast Guard. He spent many birthdays and holidays on a boat protecting my freedom. As a kid, that’s hard to understand. As an adult, and now parent, I get it. He loved us. He took care of us the best way that he knew how and the best part was that he loved his job. He fought hard for what he loved.

I don’t now how to say goodbye to him. I see so much of him in my daughter. I worry that she won’t remember him, and how much he loved her. I worry that I’ll forget how his voice sounded and how we could get together and just sit. Not always having to say something but enjoying the time spent. I’m heartbroken that there are milestones that we never got to hit together, and it’s too late now. I worry about my Mom. I worry about my brother. I worry about the rest of my family which seems to be in constant turmoil of late.

Saying goodbye was never supposed to happen this soon. Yet. Here we are. I’m rambling in a blog post about how I miss my Dad. That’s the most true thing about me right now, even if everything else seems so unclear right now. This grieving process is not for the faint of heart, but at least, I can use one of the lessons that he taught me: Fight for what you love.

I love you Dad. I’m fighting for your memory. I’m fighting for our family and more importantly, I’m fighting to live life everyday. No matter what kind of day it is.

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