Tag 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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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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Gone on Hiatus

Lately I’m finding it hard to be positive about anything. It’s not like I was Miss Suzy Sunshine before but I generally saw the cloud’s silver lining and was willing to take on most things that came my way. As I look back to discern what transpired to cause my positive outlook to disappear, I have to say it’s when I realized that I was going to lose my job. I’m not saying this job was ideal nor was I happy with the decisions that were being made by upper management but I was good at it and I loved the completeness that I felt when I was talking to patients as they came in and out of the office. In that office, I saw hope and despair and everything in between, sometimes all at the same time, all within the same person.

There was one person in particular that I will never forget. His name was Harry. He was married to a wonderful lady named Connie. They had 3 Great Danes and had lived in Georgia for years. He wasn’t like most of the patients that came in, he was sassy; always coming in with an iPod and jamming out while waiting to be called back. Despite his diagnosis, he was always chipper though the disease was weighing on him both physically and mentally. When I met Harry, he’d been a patient for a short time (relatively – in comparison to some of the others) but had a thick file. He’d come in because of a nodule on a CT scan that he had done and Dr. S was the best of the best. Shortly, he’d be diagnosed with Lung Cancer. Still, he maintained his optimism and sass. The first time I met Harry, he signed in asking why I didn’t have coffee and donuts waiting for him. I explained that it was his turn to bring them and he laughed and had a seat in the waiting room.

The last time that we ever saw him, he and his wife brought munchkins for us. We traded – we took the donuts and offered him a handful of jelly beans. He smiled and accepted. I promised that his next visit, I would bring the donuts without question. Harry wouldn’t last long after that – the cancer was building and spreading across his body. We had no choice but to encourage him to continue with an Oncologist and hospice, both of which would make his last days as comfortable as possible. It seems oxymoronic to combine comfort and lung cancer in the same sentence. You become a shell of what you once were, hardly recognizable to those that love you. Still, Harry never complained. At times he’d seem angry about the cards that were dealt to him but never did he complain about the pain. He taught Connie how to do “manly” things around the house, and insisted she treat herself to pedicures. They fixed their male Great Danes in an effort to make it easier on Connie after the painful inevitable.

The day that Harry passed away, I was going into my Theories of Personality class. It was a cold day, with a bright clear sky. The leaves were changing and it was fall. I’d returned to school because I felt empty going to work everyday with people who didn’t share my enthusiasm for people who deserved amazing care. Albeit, medicine is a difficult industry to work for and now more than ever people expect the world from a limited number of people but it angered me that the staff wasn’t willing to go above and beyond for most patients. Patients like Harry.

While I didn’t know Harry as well as I would have liked, I was privileged to meet him at all. The world lost a great person when Harry passed but all of us who were so blessed to know him and to still communicate with Connie have a little bit of light in our lives. No matter your belief on the afterlife or Heaven or Hell, I believe that when you pass, it’s merely a hiatus, a break from this world. I think that Harry and Connie will run into each other again soon. Now that I think about it, perhaps my positivity isn’t completely gone. Perhaps it’s on hiatus, just like Harry is right now, just looking for an excuse to jump this hurdle that has been standing in my way since March.

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