Cancer: Thanks for the Memories

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My family together for the first time in eight years ~ in front: the oldest brother, #3 in the center from left to right: youngest brother, #6 oldest sister, #1 niece #5 (daughter of middle brother #5) The Main Office holding our Aunt's dog Sophie, me, the middle sister #2, the youngest sister #4. Standing in the back, middle brother #5


Part l

Six weeks ago I didn't know what grieving was.  Looking back, I thought I knew what sadness was, a broken heart was, experiencing loss was; I was mistaken.  Six weeks ago I was getting ready for Thanksgiving without a care in the world--making my aunt's cheesy potatoes and a friend's favorite fluff recipe to take to my brother's house to share.  As I added ingredients, I fielded a phone call from my mother~aka "the main office". 

There are six kids in my family and suffice it to say, no one knows or says anything that doesn't either originate or filter through the "main office".  Mom's message from my oldest sister "#1" was simple.  Dad's health wasn't very good--and perhaps the midwest branch of the Family Wilson should all plan to come out to Phoenix for Christmas this year.  #1 felt this might be the last "Holiday" for Dad. Nothing would please him more than to finally realize his dream of getting us all together again.  I had a feeling things were grave--as Mom suggested she, too, would have a front row seat at the Christmas Celebration of the Century eight years in the making.

About three years ago I decided in my own mind that if the addition of the "Jew-with-the-Irish-last-name", the "first-generation-Polock", the "Lutheran-from-the-Iowa-farm-fields" and the "Senorita-from-south-of-the-border" to the "Scottish/Irish" branches of the family tree didn't kill my Dad~then cancer certainly didn't stand a chance.  What a fool I was.  

The kids and I spent Thanksgiving with my brothers~ #3 and #6.  The third brother, #5, spent Thanksgiving morning with Dad.  He sent a picture of him via phone.  #3, #6, and I all agreed that either Dad looked good or #5 had himself a pretty good picture taking phone.  After dinner we each took our turn talking to the handsome man from the picture.  He sounded a bit weak, but that was to be expected, the latest round of chemo had taken a toll on him.

We talked of going out west for Christmas--a road trip sounded the most sensible.  None of us wanted to fly during the holidays.  We agreed to make firmer plans as Christmas grew closer. 

The day after Thanksgiving began like it always does...I woke early to watch all the knuckleheads knock each other down to get a bargain-basement-price on one of two items available at some Wal-Mart in "Anytown, USA".  Then I prepared to put up the Christmas Tree.  A phone call from the "main office" came late morning/early afternoon.  #1 was taking Dad to the hospital.  His oncologist wanted to check him in for fluids.  He'd become dehydrated and needed a day of saline infusion~once he got his energy back, they'd spring him.  He spent most of the day in the E.R. waiting room.  He was finally in a bed by late Friday night.

I talked to Dad briefly on Saturday afternoon.  He assured me he was feeling okay; they planned to get him up walking a bit later to see how he'd fare on his own.  He was sorry he couldn't talk longer, but he admitted he was tired.  I told him I'd call the next morning.  He told me he loved me and would talk to me later.  As I hung up, I realized I didn't say "I love you" back...I made a promise to myself the next time I spoke to him, I wouldn't forget.  Six weeks later, I realize that was the last time I heard his voice...the last time we would speak.  Six weeks later I realize I missed my chance. 

I typed out a quick e-mail to #4--we had not spoken since Christmas 2009.  She needed to be told of Dad's trip to the hospital.  Naturally, #1 had beaten me to the punch--she'd "facebooked" her the news earlier in the day (a little tid-bit I'd learned from one of the several fielded calls from the West Coast office that day).  Oh, well, who cares how she aquired the information, at least #4 was in the loop.

Sunday came and went.  Dad wasn't taking phone calls as he spent most of the day having scans and other assorted tests.  Results would come Monday morning.  The Main Office assured me his vitals were good--however he did have a slight fever and nurses were treating him for bedsores.

#1 was taking full-charge of the entire situation--Dad had given her "power-of-attorney" in the event he couldn't make decisions...he'd signed necessary papers to make himself a "DNR"...a florescent bracelet was put around his wrist with those very letters.  #1 takes her job as "chick-in-charge" very seriously. 

I remember a few years back when the "main office" was having her own health issues.  #1 was seventeen hundred miles away recovering from major surgery herself when she hopped aboard a Southwest flight, with a catheter still attached, and flew half-way across the country to take charge here in Chicago.  It was quite obvious to #1 that #2, #3, #4, and #6 were complete imbiciles when it came to properly diagnosing and reporting Mom's health woes...#1 barged into the room, vowing to "get to the bottom of this" all the while dragging a full "banana bag" around her left ankle and reciting what sounded like health journal entries.

Even my mom's cardiologist and neurosurgeon appeared frightened as she rattled off possible diagnoses and obvious procedures.  As she left the room, after excusing herself to empty the banana bag's contents (it was a long flight, you know), the heart doc leaned forward in his chair and whispered to me very wide-eyed, "where does your sister practice?".  I assured him she was not an M.D., but she definitely missed her calling.  While #1's heart is in the right place, she can be quite over-bearing.  We've learned to bite our tongues.

And with that attitude, I listened to my mother's play-by-play of Sunday's scans with a bit of apprehension.  At 9:30 Monday morning the plan was to get my Dad back on his feet and home; with a possibility of a part-time nurse helping him from time-to-time.  By noon, Dad was transfered to hospice. 

We were assured by Dad back in October the tumors. in what was left of his colon. had responded positively to the latest round of chemo.  The scans taken on Sunday proved why there was no activity spreading in his colon; the real party was going on in his liver.  Tumors had blossomed~what a beautiful term for such an ugly disease.  The tumors in his liver were now growing around a major artery.  Doctors were afraid of a stroke; blood thinners were prescribed.  #1 still sent word via "main office" to plan on a Christmas visit; #5 was more dire.  He suggested we get out to PHX ASAP.


Part ll ~ tomorrow... 

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