Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Old Man and the Me

Nurse Mary: Do you have any pain?
Dad: You mean other than this one here? [gestures to me]

Yes, I definitely get on the old man's nerves sometimes.  Tuesday was CAT scan results day.  I found out later that Dad was quite nervous, but he never told me that.  I was feeling pretty calm, but I was definitely afraid the results would be bad.

Before I go further, I'll say that the moral of this story is that if you or a loved one is over the age of 50 and has not had a colonoscopy, then they need to go get one.  Colonoscopies save lives. Fact.  And if my dad had gotten one when his doctor first started nagging him about it all those years ago, we probably wouldn't be in this situation.  I promise this is not a sad post, but if you're not up for reading about an old man with cancer and his bossy ginger daughter, I get that.  Here's a picture of some donuts I ate in Portland to reward you for reading this much, and I'll catch you on the flip side:

Short time line of my dad's illness - one day in May 2009, back when I was living with him because I was trying to save money, I found my dad in bed in intense pain with a distended belly that made him look 6 months pregnant.  A week before that, he had gone for his first colonoscopy, but the gastroenterologist couldn't get the scope past a certain point in his lower colon.  In retrospect, I strongly suspect that the doctor thought Dad had a tumor, but he probably didn't want to scare us.  Instead he referred Dad for a scan, and on the day he was supposed to get the scan, he woke up with the aforementioned pain and distension.  I took him to the emergency room where they took a scan which revealed that he had a large tumor obstructing his bowel.  Throughout the day we would slowly learn more, including that the tumor had spread to his lymph nodes, pelvis and liver.  Dad had emergency surgery to remove the obstruction from his colon.  I happen to think that we actually got lucky here.  If Dad's tumor had been caught a little earlier, they probably wouldn't have done surgery, they would have put him on chemo, and I think removing the largest tumor has given him a lot more time.

Since the surgery, Dad has been on four chemotherapy protocols.  That is a lot of protocols. He still has metastasis to his lymph nodes, liver, pelvis, and a few tiny ones on his lungs.  But most days he feels quite well, and people tell me all the time that they can't believe he has stage IV cancer.  

The long and the short of it is that I have spent a lot of time over the last four and a half years learning about colon cancer and its treatments.  I'm a big believer in being an informed patient.  Dad does not like to read anything about it.  So it's my job, and it's one I take very seriously.  I love Dad's onco team, but trust me - I check every medicine they put in him, and I come prepared with questions.  

The problem over the last year has been that one damn pelvic mass.  It's not on any organs so in theory it's not that dangerous, but it continues to grow and that is bad.  The most recent protocol, the Stivarga, was keeping the liver, lungs and lymph nodes in check, but that damn pelvic mass kept on growing.  So, today it was decided that Dad would switch protocols again, which means he's going back to regular infusions, not just oral medications.

Here is the kicker.  While we're sitting in the exam room, going over the results with Dr. T, it comes up that Dad has a growth on his chest that he neglected to tell me about.  He told Dr. T about it last visit, which I didn't go to because I was on vacation.  I was not happy.  Dr. T is pretty sure it's a cyst, but he's sending Dad for a mammogram (which he is being a big baby about) to make sure.  When we left, I pointed out to Dad that he never told me about the chest growth.  "I want to feel like I don't have to be with you at every appointment.  But when you withhold stuff from me, I feel like I can never miss one."  Dad admitted that he didn't want me to worry, so he didn't tell me.  And he claimed he'd do better about telling me stuff like this.  I never cry about my dad's cancer around him.  Frankly, I almost never cry about my dad's cancer period.  I'm not in denial about the seriousness of his illness.  I know my dad is going to die someday, and that it will probably be a lot sooner than everyone else's dads.  But I think I stuff down a lot of my stress and sadness about it because I feel I need to be steady for him.  So the fact that he withheld something serious regarding his health from me troubles me - it makes me feel like I am not doing a good enough job of being solid, steady, optimistic for him.  

It makes me sad that he didn't tell me he was so worried about the scan results.  He told my sister that he was worried.  My sister, who has never been to a single doctor's appointment with Dad, and who could never in a million years rattle off the names of his chemo protocols.  Jeeves thinks that Dad told her because she's less involved, less likely to think anything of Dad's worry.  Dad knows all about our infertility and the treatments, and he's constantly telling me to not stress or to no overextend myself because he thinks it's going to impact my treatment.  So maybe that was part of it.

I've thought a lot about the relationships we have with our parents as they get older.  I worry about treating my dad like a child and I try to treat him the way I would want to be treated if I were 78 and my annoying 35 year old kid were taking me to the doctor and force feeding me Ensure.  But it's hard.  As Dad would say, "Getting old is not for sissies."

I'm 2dpiui (that's two days post IUI to my non-IF readers).  Ovulation pain was pretty strong on Monday, and totally gone yesterday, so I feel good about our timing.  Obviously this Dad stuff took up all my brain space yesterday.  I'm trying to make a list of other things I can do as distraction during my two week wait.  


  1. First of all, I'm going to need that Oreo donut. Like. STAT. Secondly, I think your husband is right—your dad thinks you already do so much and have so much stress that he feels guilty adding more to your plate. Of course, since you're coordinating his care, it's important he DOES disclose everything. I hope moving forward he is more forthcoming.

    I started writing this an hour ago and then I got a phone call and now I forgot what else I wanted to say.

    1. That Oreo donut was a little piece of heaven. I could go for one right now, actually. I think you're right re: my dad and why he didn't tell me. But yes, he definitely needs to tell me this stuff!

  2. Commenting back from ICLW!

    Those doughnuts distracted me for a minute. I kind of just stared at them. I may have drooled.

    I am sorry about your dad, I know how tough it is to watch someone battle cancer. You and your family are in my prayers!

    1. Thanks, Melissa! I drool every time I look at those donuts, too.

  3. Your dad is so lucky to have you. Sounds like you are in incredible support helping with his treatments.
    Also, I've been to Voodoo Donuts a few times. Heading there in 2 weeks.

    1. Thanks so much, Marcy. I always say, it really doesn't feel difficult to look out for him - I'm just happy I get to spend more time with him.

      I love love love Portland. I would move there if it weren't so far from our families. If you haven't had the oreo donut at Voodoo, I highly recommend it.