Friday, October 31, 2008


My parent’s are flying out to San Diego next Thursday. I am excited but at the same time very nervous about them coming. Due to a new round of Chemo and the progression of his tumors, my dad is now unable to walk on his own and he has lost all of his hair.

The last time we visited Andrew was concerned about grandpa's appearance. He commented on how different he looked. This time his appearance will be a ton more drastic. I am worried that the kids will be scared. I know it sounds silly but I remember the way children would look at him after his first round of chemo years ago. When we would go to the grocery store little kids would stare or get a look of panic on their faces when they would see him. I just don't want my kids to treat him differently or be afraid. Other then my fear of the kid's reaction to my dad, I cannot wait to spend time with my parents. Their plan is stay for good. My mom is having a hard time caring for my dad on her own and needs help. They are going to rent an apartment nearby. My mom tends to flip flop when it comes to decision making so I wouldn’t be surprised if she changed her mind and moved back to Chicago. I refuse to get my hopes up!

In response to my stress levels over my parent's upcoming visit, I rewrote an old journal entry I found on my computer about the first time we found out about my dad's cancer. My method of dealing with stress is to write, it saves money on shrink bills! Here it is (it's very long!):

My first experience with cancer occurred at the age of 18. After my sisters 4.0 grade point average startlingly plunged down to a 2.0, she decided to take a year off of college and head to Kansas to live near her boyfriend. Just graduating from high school, and not ready to enter head first into years of school and books, I decided to go with her. Our plan was for a year of relaxation and freedom. We lived in a small college town. Michelle and I were just about the only people in town who didn’t attend the university. We lived in a tiny yellow apartment that housed our vintage furniture. We both got jobs together at the Nordstrom outside of Kansas City. Michelle outsold everyone in our department. All the other sales girls gossiped constantly about her. Due to her ability to always overachieve, the two of us were basically shunned by our coworkers.

My sister managed the bills and I tried my best to have enough money to party and pay for my half of the rent. I drank too much and stayed out too late. Most of the time Michelle and I lived together she hated me. I found her to be bossy and judgmental. She found me selfish and irresponsible. We avoided each other at all costs. In the beginning we laughed a ton and eat dinner together but after a couple of months we could barely stand the sight of each other. She spent a lot of time at the kitchen counter, calculator in hand, tallying how much I owed her on recent bills. When I wasn’t at work I spent all my time avoiding our apartment. Apart from work we were living very separate lives. While our sisterly bond was deteriorating, unbeknownst to us, so was our father’s health.

In April our mom called. She had a tone of urgency and panic in her voice that was frightening. “You need to come home,” she said, “get on the first flight. Your father is very sick. Don’t drive here you have to fly, we are at LaGrange hospital.”

It’s amazing how slowly time ticks away while operating in a panic mode. Everyone moves at a snails pace. I wanted the cars to speed up and for people to speak in quick short sentences. Instead, everything seemed so drawn out. I just wanted to get home.
I can remember every detail from that night. I can visualize entire hours down to the chipped fingernails of my dad’s nurse. I remember the stillness of my apartment, and stuffing dirty clothes off the floor into a backpack. I remember how quietly Chris, my boyfriend at the time, stood by watching me. I wanted him to say something, anything to break the awful silence but he didn’t. He was wearing his dirty Nike basketball shoes, the ones with the red stripe. I hated those shoes and had told a friend that if it hadn’t been for his sense of humor, I would have never spoken to him due to those god awful shoes! Before leaving he hugged me tight and kissed my forehead. We were standing on my porch. Across the street some kids were playing basketball. He promised to call me everyday. I wished he would come with me.

I remember driving to Nordstrom’s before our flight. Michelle and I stopped in to tell our boss that our dad was seriously ill and we weren’t sure when we would be back to work. I remember the escalator we took down to the parking garage. That matt, Michelle’s boyfriend’s, shoes were untied. I imagined that they would get sucked into the escalator. He kept shoving his hands into his pockets as if there was a lost penny somewhere inside. When we got in his car he played a Big Head Todd tape. Michelle sang along. I remember thinking that no one should sing in a moment like this. I expected all cheerfulness to come to a halt.

On the flight we sat next to a woman who wouldn’t stop talking. Her face was familiar, like we had always known each other, as if she had been a neighbor or one of the lunchroom monitors at my elementary school. She had short cropped brown hair and red lipstick. She wore a white sweater and her presence was oddly comforting. I wanted her to hold my hand and tell me that everything was okay. Instead she told us about her daughter’s prom dress and college plans for the fall.

It was late at night when we arrived in Chicago. Stacey, my best friend, picked us up with her dad. I had only met Stacey’s dad one other time despite being friends with her since the 6th grade. Since we lived in a predominantly white neighborhood, he thought our friends wouldn’t want to hang out with Stacey if we knew she had a black dad. He always kept to himself and shut his bedroom door when her friends were over. When we got to the hospital he drove over a curb and came to a screeching halt in front of the ER. I decided right then and there that I loved him for his sense of urgency. Michelle and I thanked them for the ride. We braced ourselves with the heavy reality of our situation.

When we got to the waiting room we were surprised to see it filled with relatives and friends of my parents. Irish people know how to gather the troops! My mom was on the phone trying to a book a flight for my brother from Spain. She told us they were unsure what was wrong with Dad but the doctor doubted he would survive the week. I was told which room to find him in. Michelle and I headed in his direction. I wasn’t prepared for what I found. He was connected to tubes and his skin was a weird color. He looked half dead. The tears came quick. Before I knew it I as sobbing. Michelle stood stoic, as still as a statue. For a moment I wasn’t sure if she was even in the room with me. I bolted. I couldn’t stand to see him like that. I collapsed outside the waiting room, not wanting everyone to see me crying. My aunt Claudia came out and sat with me. She hugged me tightly while I cried. Before long she was making fun of the nurses and my dad’s friend with the long nose hairs. The two of us were laughing madly and inappropriately outside the waiting room. Due to that moment, To this day, I love my aunt Claudia more then any other aunt.

Later that evening Michelle and I were told to go home for my mom’s phone book, we shared an elevator with my dad’s best friend. Matter of factly he stated, “That man is not going to make it through the night.” That was the one and only moment in my life that I have ever felt complete hatred toward another human being. I wanted to punch his face or spit or scream at him. To this day when I see, or think, of Tom I get angry. I’m not sure why. I think perhaps all the fear and anger I felt that night transferred to Tom. I know it’s not fair but no matter how hard I try to forgive Tom every time I see him, I picture him in the elevator saying those words. In his defense years later when my dad was laid off due to his severe memory loss Tom gave him a job when no one else would. He worked as a bartender in Tom’s pub. He was a terrible bartender but Tom didn’t care. He has always been a great and loyal friend to my dad.

It was interesting to see the way everyone else handled their grief. My mom was constantly on the phone speaking with doctors or speaking with family and friends. She turned her grief into action. My brother never cried. He was the one that would announce to strangers at the grocery store that our dad might die. I remember on the way to the hospital one morning we were stopped at a red light next to our elementary school principal. Rog rolled down the window and waved hello, and shouted, “We are all home visiting our dad. He’s dying!” Mr. Alpalter was stunned and at a loss for words. When he drove away we were all cracking up. “Did you see the look on his face!?” rog laughed. As weird as it was, Roger’s mode of grief was making other people uncomfortable for a good laugh. It was his way of trying to be okay. Michelle was strong as always. She did her best to comfort everyone else. She made sure everyone had enough food to eat and that we picked people up on time from the airport. Most of all she was the only one capable of soothing my mom. I was the most scared and outwardly emotional. I was prone to crying and hated that I behaved that way.

After about week my dad was diagnosed with a brain tumor. When they told him he cried. That was the second time in my life I have seen my father cry. The first being the day he learned his mom passed away. When they operated to remove the tumor I was in the waiting room the entire time with my mom and my sister. We were unsure if he would live through and what kind of man he would be afterward. We were told that he may be a completely different person. We were uncertain if he would be able to speak or see or even walk after the surgery. Afterwards he was the same only a little bit more sentimental and his memory was a bit off. He had staples running down his scalp and his face was swollen. He looked like someone out of a horror movie. I remember the day he was released from the hospital. He was wheeled into the elevator and there was a small boy in there with his mother. My dad loves children so he was making jokes with the child and the boy hide his face because he couldn’t bare looking at my dad. That was one of the saddest moments in my life because I saw in my dads eyes that he knew he would never be the same again.

My dad’s sickness changed everything. Oddly I felt that in some ways the changes were for the better. It was as if everyone in our family woke up. We rallied together and became stronger. Through his tumor we learned to love each other more. We talked openly and deeply. Months before we discovered his tumor we were a broken family. I barely spoke to my parents and truthfully felt a lot of animosity towards them. Roger had moved all the way to Spain to escape us and rarely spoke or wrote to the rest of our family. Michelle and I could not stand the sight of each other. All of that changed. Not only were my bonds with my family stronger but I also came to realize who I could count on. Tragedy shows the character of those around you. I was able to revaluate some unhealthy relationships. Chris, the first boy with whom I had ever loved, called me just once while I was home with my family. When I had arrived back to Kansas he had found a new girlfriend. This is the guy I had spent every day of the last 8 months with. He officially broke up with me over the phone in an awkwardly short conversation. His explanation was that he had been lonely while I was away and met someone else at a party. While it was devastating at the moment, I am thankful I did not waste any more time on someone who clearly did not care about me.

While my dad’s sickness had been extremely rough on all of us, oddly there has been a lot of happiness as result. He has inspired strength and compassion in everyone who loves him. At moments I see his cancer as a gift. While I would rather a healthy father I know that we have learned and loved more then we could have ever imagined if cancer hadn’t entered our lives.

1 comment:

Nicole said...

I guess if I kept up with your blog, I would know what was going on! Have fun with your family!!!