Like many devoted readers of Somewhere on the Masthead, I was anxiously awaiting the outcome of Magazine Man’s most recent adventure on Thursday morning. I wanted, no, needed to hear some good news. Worrying about someone elses dilemma helps me. It keeps me from hyperfocusing on my Dad’s cancer.
I wept when I read the post of Blaze & MM home, safe and mostly sound. It was the best ending possible, in spite of the injuries. MM achieved what most of us would envision as impossible. I’m in awe of the man’s courage, intelligence, determination and resources. I should have had the same feeling you get when you walk out of the theater after seeing a great movie, when the hero beats impossible odds and saves the day. But, I didn’t. I only felt a feeling of saddness.
It was a couple of hours before anyone else showed up in the office. I was on the verge of tears all morning. When she arrived at work, I talked about it with my best friend, D. We’ve known each other for 25 years now, and she’s very adept at reading me. She figured I missed my kid more than I thought I would. It was logical. I haven’t been away from my son for more than 6 days since he was born, and that was one time. She knows how protective I am. She knows, better than I do, how tightly the apron strings, I so vocally expressed a desire to cut, are wrapped around my heart. For the first time in 16 years, I am not responsible for anyone but myself. I don’t know how to be anything other than a mother anymore. It’s been so long. Dad being sick and the ex getting away with his lies again in court, only added to the emotional overload. It made sense. D’s objective insight is usually right on the money.
Anyone would be emotional, with a week like I’ve had. It’s been a rollercoaster of ups and downs. I wasn’t at the usual emotional time of my menstrual cycle. Maybe, I was ovulating and that was a contributing factor. Normally, I would feel better in understanding the roots of my emotions, in finding a logical explanation for feeling such an overwhelming sense of sadness. I can usually move beyond the emotion, once I understand the cause. I couldn’t shake this feeling Thursday.
Dad called at 4:05 PM. He said he had some bad news. I knew right then. All I could say was “No”. There was silence as he collected himself. I feel he was trying to keep from crying. “No” was all I could whisper. I didn’t need to hear the words. I didn’t want to hear the words. My heart imploded, as dozens of thoughts crashed in my brain. The dam I had been holding back all day gave way. The tears flowed freely down my cheeks.
Results from the partial MRI, done Saturday, showed that the cancer had metastasized to his brain.
They completed 75% of the MRI before they had to stop. Metal fragments came into view in the area around his eyebrow. If you worked as a forklift mechanic for 53 years, you’d have stray bits of metal imbedded in your body too. Magnetic Resonance Imaging uses powerful magnets, powerful enough to rip out any metal in the body. Even tattoos containing metal inks will be drawn out. Depending on the location, this could be, not only lethal, but very damaging and/or painful. It also distorts the image results.
Dad actually serviced forklifts in a warehouse that constructed MRI machines. He once told me a story about it. The huge magnets are glued together during assembly. The assembly workers were at lunch, when they heard a loud “BANG”, as loud as an explosion. When they investigated the sound in the large warehouse, they found the huge magnets stuck to the ceiling. The magnets were so powerful, they couldn’t remove them.
This memory, along with my researched knowledge of NonSmall Cell Lung Cancer raced through my head. Mom had recently chastised me for too much internet research, when I asked her what kind of NonSmall Cell Lung Cancer Daddy had. I feel that knowledge is power, in this case: ignorance is bliss. No matter your knowledge, anyone can recognize the severity of cancer traveling to the brain.
In less than a heartbeat, I knew. This is stage IV cancer. I had read enough to know what it meant, when lung cancer metastisizes to distant regions such as the liver or brain. I didn't have to wait for staging from the doctor's. Worst case scenario. I mentally kicked myself for letting down my defenses. I thanked my Dad for letting me know and I asked how Mummy was doing. I wanted to appear in control. I didn’t want him to worry about me. I didn’t want to expose my panic to him, even though he already knew, I knew what this meant. Being an RN, my Mom was devastated by this news. I asked Dad how he was. In true, SUPERDAD fashion, he replied: “There’s nothing I can do about it, it is, what it is.” My heart broke into a million pieces.
We hung up. I cried. I shouted my anger at God and the universe. I raged against the unfairness of it all. I couldn’t stop my mind from racing. I thought about the story Dad’s PCP told of a female patient with the same scenario. She lived 7 years before she died. Not from the cancer, but from the side effects of the radiation treatments. Seven years. It’s not enough. He will only be 68. That’s too young.
I tried to maintain routine. I took the dog for a walk. I dropped her back at the house and continued my walk. I was breathless, when the call came on my cell from my son, from my intense pace. I briefly debated whether or not to tell him. I know I am incapable of telling a convincing lie, so I told him the truth. At the initial diagnosis, my son had the best attitude of all: “I’m not worried, if anyone can beat it, Grampa can.” But, even at a naive 16 years of age, he instinctively knew the implications of lung cancer traveling to the brain. “Oh, no”, was all he could whisper. As tears overtook him, he asked if Grampa would be OK. The protective Mother wanted to reassure him, the petrified daughter shared his panic. “I don’t know, I wish I was there to hug you”, was all I could say, as he broke down. My Father has been the only real father figure my son has ever known. He asked if I wanted him to come home this weekend. He wasn’t planned to come home until next weekend. I agreed to his coming home. I told him that I needed his help to move items too heavy for me to lift off our porch, in a lame attempt at normalcy. He was more interested in seeing Grampa, which was fine with me. He wanted to go see Grampa. He said he was going to call Grampa, but called me back a few minutes later. He was too upset to call. I told him that was OK, he could call Grampa when he was more composed.
Daddy called me at 6:42 AM today. I was on my way out the door to work. There was a determination in his voice that was absent last night. It was as if he was calling to reassure me. That is who he is, more worried about everyone else than himself. “I’m not giving up, I’m going to fight”.
“That’s right”. I responded. “You have to be around to see your Great-Grandchildren.”
“I will be.”
He informed me that they’d probably be going to Maine for the weekend. I think that’s a good idea.
Son called at 8 to say that he would be staying with his father. He did call Grampa and found out they’d be going to Maine. I’m being trumped by Sea Bass.
I left work at noon today. Mainly, because I was an emotional wreck and completely useless. I need time to digest and regroup.
I just got off the phone with Mom. Daddy had the first of 10 radiation treatments to his brain today. The entire brain is irradiated during treatment. To get what they can and can't see, they irradiate the entire brain. There are three cancerous areas that show on his brain. He'll have 10 additional radiation treatments to his lung.
This is my vision of hell.