Saturday, July 30, 2011

Isolated in the Crowd

My dad really had a rough time last night.  He was in acute pain, the pain pills didn't seem to be helping and he was refusing to go to the hospital.  I had been in Bowling Green since Monday night and although I hated leaving, I came home Thursday evening to spend a couple of days at home.  I know I can't be there with him 24/7 and I certainly have things to take care in my own household, but I struggled yesterday with not being there.  I was weepy most of the day and when I got home from work, had a serious and long case of the sobs.  About the time I spent most of the emotion, Jan called to ask me to call and talk to my dad because he wouldn't listen to her about going to the hospital, or even trying some medication to make him more comfortable.  I got on the phone with him and it was obvious that he was in distress, but wasn't going to let anyone try and help him.  It was extremely upsetting and the feeling of helplessness that I already feel in this situation was smothering.  I told him I would call back in an hour and if he wasn't feeling better, I was going back to BG and would manhandle him into an ambulance myself if that is what had to be done.  When I called back, he was sleeping and Jan did not want us to come back since I am already planning to go back tomorrow and stay for several days.  This morning he does seem to be a bit better, praise God.

I know many friends who have lost their parents, spouses and children to cancer.  I lost a dear friend to breast cancer a few years ago.  My aunt died of lung cancer in 1999 and my cousin of brain cancer many years before that.  Most everyone has experienced a loved one or someone they know dying of cancer. My sister died in a car accident when she was 13 and my mom died in 1999 quite suddenly and unexpectedly.  Although my dear aunt died of lung cancer (acutally the same day my mom died, but that is another story), I lived in a different city and did not experience the day to day diminishing of her life from her disease.  This experience with my father is my first stint on the front lines of caring for someone who is dying of cancer.  Several of my dearest, most beloved friends have lost parents and spouses to cancer and have stood where I am now.  They are holding me up daily with advice, prayer and the sharing of their experiences.  I'm surrounded by people who love me, who are there for me, who are reaching out daily just to make sure I am okay, who are willing to cry with me, give me a hug or just sit silently with me.  My husband is my rock and is walking this path by my side.  I have all this support from wonderful people and I have honestly never felt so isolated in my entire life.  It is hard to explain it, but I know that those of you who have been in my shoes will know what I mean.  I even feel hollow in my soul, like if i banged on my chest with my fist, I would hear an echo like the tin man in the Wizard of Oz.  My life feels surreal right now and I feel like a spectator to it a lot of the time.  I don't know what I would do without the loved ones who are keeping me grounded right now and making this isolation in the crowd bearable. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Home at Last

After 46 days, we finally brought Daddy home.  It is a little frightening for us all after so much time.  He has received such great care while in the hospital, are we going to be able to provide what he needs at home?  He is so frail and thin now and weak as a kitten.  Like I mentioned before, he was always such a strong man, that it is so difficult to see him in this state.  Getting from the driveway into the house was so hard for him.  He hates and I mean HATES that he has to have help to do even the simplest things.  We had a conversation earlier today about how hard it is to ask anyone for help.  The cancer is robbing him of his independence and it is so very sad to see.  I worry that taking care of him is going to be so hard for my step mom.  I want to be here every minute to help, but realistically I know that I can't.  While I work for an awesome company that is allowing me to work from my dad's home, I have responsibilities at my own home.  The 90 miles between our homes seems so far these days. 

So anyway, we are in a place now where he is home from the hospital, but we don't really know what's next.  We have an appointment scheduled next week with the oncologist to see what the next step is.  I know that he feels like daddy needs to be much stronger than he is now to withstand any kind of chemotherapy.  I am not sure how he is to get stronger when he isn't eating hardly a thing and any exertion is very difficult.  I am emotional today about entering the next phase and am struggling to be positive.  One day at a time has been my mantra for many weeks and I am trying to just hang on to that.  I am grateful, though that daddy is home at last. 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Crying on the Patio

My parents divorced when I was 12 or 13, I can't really remember now.  I always loved my dad, but those weekend visits were so hard sometimes.  It wasn't that I didn't want to spend time at my dad's house, but all my friends were back in my neighborhood.  I didn't want to miss out on any fun that might be going on in my absence.  Of course, I was a teenager too, so whatever boy had my attention at the time was far more important to me than spending any time with my dad.  I'd have time for that later.  Today, when I was sitting at the hospital watching my pop sleep, I was thanking God for that moment with him, and the next, and the next.  Life really goes by in a minute and I regret all those times that I avoided the weekend visits as a young girl because as an adult, I realize that hurt him and I am sorry for that.

Today was not a great day.  Daddy is discouraged and depressed and really didn't have a whole lot to say.  He has been reading that book "Heaven is Real", and while I am glad that he is reading something that choice makes me certain that he is scared.  I sort of like it when he sleeps a lot becuase when he is sleeping he is not thinking about his situation or uncomfortable.  He still has quite a few visitors and that cheers him.  Cards cheer him, too although they are slowing down.  If you would like to send him a card, send me an email and I will share his address.  My email is

Tonight Jan and I sat on the patio and had one of what I am sure will be many conversations about daddy's future and our lives without him.  There is a special piece of my heart breaking for her because she is losing the person she chose to spend her life with.  I'm sure she has her own fears about her future without my dad in her life.  I'm saying special prayers for her.  While it was a tough day, it was nice sitting with her outside watching the sunset, listening to the birds and crying on the patio. 

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Roller Coaster

Today is dad's 33rd day in the hospital.  We were encouraged the past couple of days because the fluid draining from his chest had reduced significantly, but today it is back over 300cc's.  It needs to be below 100 before they will send him home.  We were hoping that he could get the tube out and go home early this week.  The hospital is wearing us out.  Oh, the care he is getting is exceptional, but the sitting around and waiting for something good to happen is exhausting.  Daddy is so tired of being there.  Each time I visit he seems to be more depressed and withdrawn than before.  He told my step mom a couple of nights ago that he wished he would just go ahead and die.  It is so difficult to hear him say these things, but who can blame him? 

I am struggling with managing my own emotional reactions.  The return of panic attacks has really taken me by surprise.  In the late 80's I was diagnosed with panic disorder.  I did a good deal of cognitive therapy and both individual and group counseling to get to where I could manage it and not let it take control of my life.  Before I developed panic disorder, I never really understood Agoraphobia, but once you have a major panic attack while driving, while at the grocery, while in the movie theatre, at a friends, at work, at church, you begin to understand how someone could make the decision to never leave their home again.  I begin to volunteer with a support group called Agoraphobics in Action (AIA) and worked with them for a couple of years.  I sat on panels at Vanderbilt during classes that were studying Agoraphobia and panic disorder and even participated in an information video for use in classes.   I mention all of this only to let you know how much panic impacted my life.  I even had serious thoughts of suicide during the time before I learned to manage the panic.  Over the past 20 years, I certainly still had panic attacks, even a couple that made me go to the ER, but have not had the anticipatory anxiety that is starting to take hold of me again.  Anticipatory anxiety is really the fear of the possibility of having a panic attack.  It is a crazy circle.  

I have pulled out the "managing panic" toolbox and am working on keeping the beast at bay.  Also in play for me is being in peri-menopause.  I've always been overly emotional, usually to the empathy side of things, but lately rage is starting to be my go to reaction.  I don't like this at all!  I don't like how it makes me be with people I care about.  I don't like how it makes me be with my co-workers and I don't like how it makes me be with myself.  I realize that some of my anger is a grief reaction.  Of course I am mad as hell that my dad is sick with a horrible fucking disease that is causing him to suffer.  I'm mad because I selfishly don't want my dad to die.  I'm mad because I can't do anything at all to change the future.  I'm mad because I still have to function in my day to day life instead of curling into a ball and pulling the covers over my head until it's over.  I'm mad because the little girl in me is not ready to be an orphan.  I'm mad because I can't control being mad!  

So, here I am on this roller coaster of emotions, knowing that there are others that have shared this ride, but still having my own personal experience. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Where Did My Big Strong Daddy Go?

Daddy has been in the hospital for 26 days and we really have no idea when he may get to come home.  He still has too much fluid draining from his chest, which is being caused by the cancer.  Right now, he has no treatment options for the cancer until he can gain enough strength to handle traditional chemotherapy.  It is hard to be hopeful when I see him so weak, but I am trying to hang on to some hope.

My dad has always been a tall, strong, tough man and even as he as aged, I've never seen him any other way.  Our relationship was tough in my teen years and early twenties.  I was a wild child and he had already lost a daughter and I know that he often felt I was on the road to destruction.  He probably has no idea how often he has been my white knight, and I certainly do intend to tell him.  It is so hard for me to have that image of my big, strong dad stripped away.  He is struggling, too.  The first couple of days in the hospital, he was denying himself enough pain medication to keep him comfortable because "he could take it".  Convincing him that he didn't have to "take it" was tough because I know that went against everything he is.  He is putting on such a brave face, when I know that he has to be a jumble of doubt, fear, anger and every other emotion you can imagine. 

He is so brave and strong and I am a wimpy mess.  I have done a pretty good job not being emotional when I am with him and for me, that is quite the feat.  The couple of times that I have broken down with him, he has assured me that he has had a good life and that I shouldn't be so worked up.  That cracks me up because it is so typical a Daddy statement.  So I am keeping my worked up moments to those times when I am not around him.  It's hard, but I know it is what my big, strong Daddy wants.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Last Leaf on the Tree

Recently my father was diagnosed with advanced stage 4 lung cancer.  The impact that his diagnosis has had on me has been somewhat stunning and in order to help me cope, I've decided to write about it.  For those who may read this who know me, know that I am an open book about my life.  I think that openess began years ago as a teen and has become a tool that has helped me handle my life.  I don't know what this blog will become.  Maybe just a personal journal of my feelings about the pending death of my only living parent.  Maybe it will be about being the sole surviving member of my family unit, which is having quite the impact on me.  Maybe it will be about facing my own mortality, or my newly developed fear of becoming a lung cancer victim myself.  Whatever it will be, I know it will be helpful to me through a very difficult time.  Loss of loved ones is not new to me.  Death has not been a stranger to my family.  I know grief very well.  I am different now, though.  Older and wiser maybe, but my own body and mind are going through "the change" and I don't know myself as well as I used to.  I'm hoping that this little blog will help me find myself again in this ball of emotions that I live with nowdays.  We will see.