by Christina Fain
After some initial testing, my dad found out that the suspicious spot on his neck was indeed cancerous and that the cancer had spread to his lungs. He was alone when he received this news.
As upset as he was, he took the time to type out a family group text to give us the news. In the text message, he asked that we not ask questions until he could process the information—process the monster inside of him. Stage IV melanoma. I will never forget those words. Blunt. To the point. Fact. My strong, active, amusingly sarcastic father had cancer.
Even though I was shocked to read that message, I was proud of him. He was taking control of what had to be the most overwhelming day of his life. That day, I silently vowed to myself to always follow his lead as he managed this disease. I also vowed to myself he would never feel alone again.
In a flash, my family began gathering information on targeting genes, treatment plans, modality care, second opinions—all of those things that we had always thought only happened to other people. I felt myself both deflecting and absorbing information I was in no way expecting or equipped to handle. Dad was in shock. My mom has Parkinson’s disease and had been in ill health for quite some time. Dad was never sick, so it did not make sense to any of us. A life curveball no one was ready to catch.
Before the diagnosis, my father, at 74 years old, held down a part-time job just for fun, mowed his grass, worked on his cars, and was a do-it-yourselfer kind of guy. It wasn’t until after his treatment started that he began to show signs of illness.
If there is such a thing as a “helicopter daughter,” I became one. I was reading medical literature, attending appointments, taking extensive notes, relaying information to other family members, planning conference calls with my out-of-state sister. Cancer was his diagnosis, and his cancer came with a personal assistant, me. I found myself analyzing every cough, hugging him periodically, trying to get a manual read of his temperature, quizzing him on his protein intake and sleep habits while updating him on the information I had read on WebMD. I felt the more information he had, the better he would be, and, like it or not, he needed my assistance. The reality was, I was doing all of this for me. He was following his doctor’s orders and managing well.
One day during a brief call with him, his voice sounded like something was off. He was confused and agitated, not feeling well, even though he didn’t say those words to me. I found myself, 40 miles away, diagnosing him with an infection caused by a suppressed immune system. I was terrified that the treatment was hurting him more than helping. Signs of infection are red flags. I took charge, calling people who knew people who could call to get him to his oncologist that same day. At some point, I left work to meet him at the ER I was insisting he visit. I made it to the hospital before he did. I was freaking out. He, on the other hand, was getting himself ready to go to the doctor with a friend like he had a stuffy nose. On his terms.
During one of my “where are you?” calls to his cell, he answered, and what I heard on the other end was a voice I had not heard since my teenage years. He was mad. Angry at me. He was lashing out, telling me I was treating him like an invalid. I quietly listened as he vented raw emotion, ranted about losing his independence. Without saying it directly, he was telling me I was overstepping my bounds. He was right. As I stood in the ER waiting room waiting for him to arrive, I realized I had broken my promise to follow his lead. Even though the doctors admitted him that day, it was not an “I told you so” moment. It was the moment I knew I had to step back, be less aggressive, and ground the helicopter. At least for now.
Photo by Miguel Ángel Hernández (Guatelmala) @miguelherc96
Tina began creative writing at a young age. Professionally, she has written for legal professionals spanning more than 20 years. As an over-thinker, mother of two, she draws her inspiration from her adult son and much younger daughter, as well as her personal experiences trying to navigate life’s beautiful complications. When not writing, she spends her time reading, hiking with her family and planning her next travel adventure.