Love and Compassion: What I’ve learned since finding out that my dad has cancer
My dad has touched a lot of lives in our community. It’s not uncommon for me to see people in my community and have them ask, “How’s your dad?” The usual, “Fine, he’s still working hard,” has suddenly changed into a much harder response. Now my slow and careful response has changed to, “My dad has cancer.”
Hard words to say
To admit out loud that my dad has cancer has not been easy for me. The last few months feel like they have lasted about 10 years. For a daughter who loves and adores her dad, watching him suffer has been one of the most difficult journeys of my life. I’ve had to step away from other responsibilities in my life, but don’t feel like giving an explanation why. I feel like I’ve been a little judged by PTA moms here and there, but that’s not been my focus. I’ve spent more hours talking with doctors then I ever thought I would or wanted to. I’ve learned far too much about what I never wanted to know – how quickly cancer grows, what it takes to stop it, but not why in the world it has hit one of the best people I know.
Cancer is no respecter of persons
I know that’s how everyone feels when someone they love gets cancer. I’ve learned that cancer affects every family. As I sat with my college friends at lunch a couple of weeks ago, either one or both of our parents has had the wicked disease and two of my friend’s parents didn’t survive. Empathy washed over me quickly as I have counted (a number that is too high) people who I know and love – mothers who have buried children, children who have buried parents and spouses who have buried spouses – in recent years due to this deadly disease. I’ve asked myself over and over again – “How did they have the mental and emotional capacity to fight this?” My admiration and respect for them has grown by leaps and bounds. One of my dad’s nurses sat him down at the very beginning of this journey and told him, “Now this is not your fault. Cancer doesn’t care who you are. You don’t deserve this. No one does. Remember that.” I love her for saying that. I know my dad needed to hear that because as humans we doubt ourselves, our worthiness for some strange reason. I hope he knows he is worthy of so much more than this.
The early stages
We are just in the first round of treatment for my dad – daily radiation and weekly chemotherapy treatments. And his prognosis is good. I feel at peace about it, I really do, but the journey is difficult. I also know that right now he is one of the lucky ones. He still has his hair. He doesn’t have a feeding tube. He can still walk. Being regular attendees at two treatment centers reminds me it could be much worse for him. I hope I never become callous to the pain I see there daily. As I sit and wait for my dad to complete his radiation treatment I visit with others who are suffering. One man told me last week that while his prognosis is okay, he is still getting all his affairs in order. Another younger gentleman and his wife tried to figure out how long he could still work before his body just wouldn’t let him anymore. Another man talked about how he had been in remission for the past four years, but now the cancer is back with a vengeance. His is the same kind of cancer as my dad. Sigh. The thought of it coming back after this rocky path could make me feel physically ill.
My dad’s body is feeling the effects of the poison being pumped into his veins every week and the radiation lighting up his body daily. Eating and swallowing is not easy; it is nearly impossible. Food, (and he is what many would term a ‘foodie’ in modern terms) doesn’t taste good which really breaks my heart. My dad is a Texan who knows what good southern cooking is. I long for him to enjoy food again – deep fried chicken, chicken fried steak, pit BBQ and rolls and corn bread oozing with butter will be at the top of the menu six months from now. But as we sit here today and he’s getting his chemo, what is his main concern? That I’m too cold. Always a dad first – worrying about his daughter.
While I see the pain and suffering at the treatment centers/hospitals, I also see more good than I can speak of. I have often thought that cancer nurses must receive some special seal of nursing approval to be here. They are gold. Their voices have an extra dose of kindness that make this process more bearable. There is a spirit in these places that is hard to describe. It’s like the veil between life and death is so thin that there are angels among us here. I see baskets with hand-made hats and scarves carefully knitted with love by youth groups and women’s groups. I see tables with puzzles scattered about, donated by generous folks. I see baskets of snacks and treats in abundance. There is constant questioning of how my dad is feeling and me as well. His radiation nurse walks in weekly with a case of protein drinks to make sure he is getting what he needs. The Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City is one of the most beautiful facilities I’ve been in. The views are stunning and there is light everywhere. And I’m sure that is by design. People suffering with cancer need every ounce of beauty and light that they can soak in.
Matthew 25:36: “I was sick and ye visited me.”
I have watched the outpouring of love to my family these last few weeks with awe and admiration. Someone having cancer is not new to my neighborhood as I know is true with every neighborhood. Earlier this summer a young mother was taken light years too soon with a brain tumor and last spring another young mother met the same fate. As hard as it was for me to watch then (I watched both women grow up), the gravity of what those families are facing has hit me like a Mack truck. But with this, our neighborhood knows how to rise up. Every week our LDS Relief Society president (I live in my parents’ LDS ward) asks what we need and organizes a meal. My parents’ yard (it’s a big one) was completely raked and bagged by a family. There are regular visits by friends and neighbors to my parents’ home and last week a concerned leader said he felt prompted to pay a visit and offer help to my parents. This last month the women in my neighborhood organized an event to make chemo kits for local hospitals including lap blankets, candies, books, lip balm and other necessities needed by those going through chemo. They also
honored those two young mothers with photos, their favorite things and their families. We could talk about their memory and express our love. It was a special event. And while this event wasn’t for my dad, it was a sweet reminder of how to reach out and help those who are suffering. I have been touched watching those families continue to testify of their love of their Savior Jesus Christ and how they have felt lifted over the last months. They testify of a knowledge of life after death that they have come to know and believe personally. It is a gift to know them and to hear them testify.
Their witness is an answer to my prayers in a unique and wonderful way. My friends have also risen to the occasion. Regular texts, messages and calls to see how I’m doing have made a difference in my life. My only sister lives in Texas and so my mom and I are in charge of the everyday care. My mom has been a rock. I work to be the strong one and shed quiet tears when I am alone, but some days I just feel tired and grumpy. Thankfully my husband and children work hard to understand. My son who lives about an hour and a half away calls me almost daily to check in and make sure I’m hanging in there. A gift of love for me.
Miracles along the way
The best way to get through hard times of any circumstance is to look for the good – the silver linings – and there have been many. Last July my dad fell at work. He had to have physical therapy and that’s when he discovered the lump in his neck. The fall was a huge inconvenience in his life – but a miracle. If it hadn’t been for that fall, the lump may have gone unnoticed for too long. Prayers and blessings have been the family’s lifeline. My husband gave my dad a blessing at the beginning of all of this telling my dad that this would be a long journey, but he would get through it with the faith and prayers of his spouse, children and grandchildren. We have channeled that big time. My children living at home visit their grandpa daily and he is the topic of every single prayer – even the food ones. I have two children serving LDS missions right now. My son left when we were waiting for biopsy results just over two months ago. My son was kind of a wreck about it. My children are extremely close to their grandparents and the thought of losing my dad while he was gone was too much for him to bear. I watched him get more agitated about it that day before he left. That night right when he saying his final goodbyes to his grandparents my dad grabbed his hand and pulled him close, “Now you listen,” he told him. “We will be here when you get back. Don’t you worry about it,” he said. That was what my son needed to hear and what I needed to hear too. After we went and met with all the cancer doctors as we left my dad said, “Well I’m going to have to fight this thing. I made a promise to Joseph.” I know he sees the value in his life in a new way and I also feel a strong sense that his Heavenly Father loves him and me. I always knew it of course, but I feel it in a way I haven’t before.
An honor to serve
I know my parents worry about the time caring for my dad is taking out of my everyday life. But at the end of it all I want both my parents to know is that it is an honor to serve them. It is an honor to sit by my dad’s side and meet any of his needs that I can. It is an honor to give my mom a needed break and give her a few moments to herself. I love the 35 to 60-minute drives to doctor’s appointments and the great conversations we have from football, to politics to education. I imagine that everyone else who has sat by someone they love while they endure this illness feels the same as me. I have tired days, but it is nothing compared to how my dad is feeling. As hard at is and how hard it is to watch the struggles, it is a joy to give one ounce of the love back that my parents have given to me every day of my life. Today my dad told one of his doctors he can’t wait to truly taste a Diet Dr. Pepper again. I hope I’m there to watch it.
Cancer is the worst. But I see the light of Christ in the eyes of those that serve and that is a priceless gift. In Matthew 25:36 it says, “When I was sick, ye visited me.” It seems like such a simple request, but it means the world.
Rachel J. Trotter is a writer at Evalogue.Life, where we tell personal and family stories that inspire, and help you tell yours. She has worked as a writer since her college days over 20 years ago. She loves telling people’s stories. She lives in Ogden, Utah and is busy raising six children and loves working on family history alongside her husband, Mat.