Four years ago today, you took my father from me. 8 months before that, he was just my dad, a seemingly very healthy 64 year old college professor. In the blink of an eye, he was living with Stage IV metastatic esophageal cancer.
Within weeks of his diagnosis he was no longer able to eat, as his tumor was so large it blocked his esophagus. He had a feeding tube surgically implanted into his abdomen. He was on such intense chemo that he was given a private room at the hospital for the whole day versus all the other cancer patients who sat in a communal room sharing their chemo experiences.
He knew he was dying. He knew he would never eat real food again. Food that he loved. He made this list of dishes he wished he could eat, after coming to terms with the fact that it would never happen.
His days were marked by medicine, injections, tube feedings, naps and frequent, difficult and unpleasant trips to the restroom.
On June 25, 2013, he got a violently bad headache in the morning. He was taken to the local emergency room where it was discovered that he had a massive brain bleed. He was swiftly transferred to the Level 1 trauma hospital where he was being treated for his disease.
My dad had major, emergency brain surgery that night. My sister and I flew in to be with him. We didn’t know, when we got on the plane, that we wouldn’t just be seeing him, we would be saying goodbye.
Upon arriving at the hospital around 1am, he was rushed in for a second brain surgery to fix a subsequent bleed. That surgery never happened as they checked his pupils and they were fixed. He was technically alive, but Cancer, you had already killed him.
Within hours, more family ambled in like zombies from their early morning flights to say their goodbyes, before his breathing apparatus was removed. I lay across his bed and sobbed as the last wisps of breath left his body, my sister by both of our sides.
He did everything right, Cancer. He didn’t smoke, he ate well, and he exercised regularly. But you came for him anyway.
Three years later you came for me. I didn’t smoke, I ate well and exercised my whole life. Why did you come for my family again?
In a way, I am glad you took my dad before he had to watch me suffer. But my suffering was nothing like his. You put me through my paces, but him through the ringer.
I don’t want this letter to be a total slamfest so I will take one paragraph to thank you for a few by-products that came from your encroachment on our lives. You showed me that time is precious, that good health is not a given and that people are intrinsically good, as they stop their lives to help you.
Don’t let my politeness fool you. I am mad as hell at you, Cancer. I will live the rest of my life wondering if and when I will fall prey to you again. And I will live the rest of my life fantasizing about how my dad would have loved to watch his grandkids grow up.
I get it, Cancer, you are a part of human evolution. You came not on your on volition, but on the waves of biological development over time. I accept that you are as much a part of our greater existence as bipedalism, opposable thumbs and our instinct to smile when we experience joy. You mutate our healthy cells to become vicious defectors who take us down from within. Not cool.
You take and take and take. You are here to stay until we learn to destroy you. And we are learning. Everyday we have new medical and holistic advances to battle you. Everyday the cancer community grows more powerful, to fight to protect our care. Your days are numbered.
Cancer, I miss my dad every day. I missed him more when I was suffering under your weight myself. There is no 12 step program that could therapy me away from despising you. You made your mark and it is permanent. I have the urn of my father’s ashes and the scars on my own body to prove it.
I can’t make you go away on my own, but we can. We are the doctors and researchers and citizens who devote our lives to eradicating you. We are the people who willingly apply for clinical trials that may kill us faster, but are willing to risk that in the name of a greater victory. We are the parents raising a generation of children who will use their own knowledge and voices as weapons to fight in honor of their family.
Sleep with one eye open, Cancer, ’cause We are coming for you.