In which there is an update on my Dad's situation, an outpouring of gratitude, some reassuring news, lots of positive thinking, lots of reflective and thinky thinking, and the reaffirmation that although life is sometimes hard, it is also very good and beautiful, too.
I want to just start by thanking all of you profusely for your support, your condolences, your comfort, your inspiration, your good thoughts, your encouragement and perspective, your generosity, your offers of crying shoulders and listening ears, your sharing of your own stories and pain and hope in response to my last post and the news about my dad. I have always known that I am far more fortunate in my friends than a person has any right to be, but you have all made me so aware again, over this last week, that I am surrounded by wonderful, compassionate, strong, extraordinary human beings. I love you all very much, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for being there when I and my family have needed you, not only now but in so many times past. Thank you for being my friends. The privilege is mine.
I have been bowled over by the GOODNESS that people have shown to me and my family over the last week, both in real and virtual life. I have even received the encouragement of people who don't even know me, a phenomenon that blows my mind and humbles me. If there are few absolutes coming out of this last week, I am at least reaffirmed in this certainty: my faith in the essential goodness of humanity is not misplaced. I have been so supported and loved that I can't help but feel braver for it, and better able to provide the same positivity and support to my family.
In other words: thank you for helping me sparkle when I need to do it most. After I posted last week, Geography Teacher and I and my brother got together and took my parents out for a good night at Buddy's Pizza, where we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, got happy, appreciated each other's company, and I made my dad EXPLODE with laughter and giggles with a series of jokes about the bizarre choice of the phrase "rest room" as a euphemism for the toilets. Where there is humor, there's perspective and hope, yes? It felt like a good and life-affirming way to set the tone.
Now then, onto the promised update and encouraging news! Dad met with his surgeon last week. That afternoon was one of the tensest I think I've ever spent in my life, waiting for the phone to ring and not knowing whether I should be filled with hope or dread. But Dad called almost immediately afterward, and I could once again tell his mood from his tone of voice--and this time, he was audibly relieved and more optimistic.
Without going into more clinical detail than most of you probably want, I will simply say that although the news is not the absolute BEST possible result, it is not far off from it, and the prognosis is very positive. It helps that the cancer was found via a routine colonoscopy (behold, the virtue of preventative medicine and regular cancer screenings!), before there were any symptoms, because it means that it was not able to advance very far. It did permeate the mucosa--but it didn't penetrate through the intestinal wall, which means that it was contained and thus does not seem to have spread. There are plenty of ongoing tests and scans to verify this result, of course, and they will still need to operate and take part of the colon, but... it IS good news, and it's nice to already have a little victory in there, you know?
The doctors and nurses are optimistic. During the consultation with the surgeon, the nurse practitioner noticed the scar on my dad's forearm and noted that he must have had a coronary artery bypass. When he confirmed that he had, she told him, "Well, that didn't kill you, and this won't, either." If/when I ever meet this woman, I am going to give her a massive hug and make her any ice cream her heart desires, because that is EXACTLY the sort of thing my dad needs to hear. The diagnosis was naturally scary to him, both because cancer is just naturally scary and because his mother--my grandmother--died of colon cancer. But his case is NOT her case, and he learned from her misfortune; my grandmother died because she was too afraid to seek help until she had no choice, and by that time, the cancer had spread to her kidneys and heart and ultimately her brain. Had she gone for regular cancer screening like my dad, her fate might have been very different. My dad's story WILL be very different.
And now starts the hard work, of course... but after the initial shock, we're all more than up for it. As I've reminded my dad, we're Scots and therefore notoriously bloody-minded and difficult to kill. You've got to kill a Scot a hundred times before they'll die! Not long after the diagnosis last week, Dad commented that he must look like a mess on paper, with all the health issues he's had in recent years: polycystic kidney disease, third degree burns and a skin graft, a heart attack and two bouts of open-heart surgery, cataract surgery, and now colon cancer. I allowed that that was one way to look at things, but at the same time... had he considered the fact that he's been through all of those things and lived? Not just survived, but really lived? He's fit and functional and active and living a very full and happy life, and none of those things have defined him! He's been hit by a CAR and shaken it off! As I told him, being through all those things and beating them and being poised to beat other things doesn't make him unlucky--it makes him really fucking metal. He's a badass!
Yesterday, I took dad for the start of all the testing and procedures and prep. The surgery won't be until next week Friday, but there's lots to be done before that. Yesterday's testing wasn't too onerous, though--just stressful and time consuming. But it was, oddly enough, not a bad experience at all. I took him to the hospital where I spent a significant chunk of my own sickly childhood (a facet of my personal history that I tend to forget), now a massive, sprawling neo-Gothic castle of medicine, with shiny new wings of modernism grafted on here and there. It is so beautiful and shiny and posh inside now that it was like stepping straight into an episode of House (TRY OUR MASALA-SPICED ROASTED COD, read one of the cafeteria posters, looking more like a slick restaurant ad), but I was equally struck by how warm and cheerful and human and vital it felt there. It's a place that pulses with humanity in every direction, flowing through its corridors and waiting rooms and cafeteria lines, and for all that each person's head and heart must be filled with fears and worries of their own, their faces were smiling, and there was a lot of kindness on display, both from staff and fellow visitors. It's not a place where people go to die, but to live.
I met and observed so many terribly interesting people while I was there, both with Dad and while I was waiting for him. I met an 88-year-old veteran of World War II, who'd enlisted when he was only 18 and now, 70 years later, has survived to see the world change in remarkable ways. (For the better, he thinks.) I met quite possibly the most adorable little girl on the planet, all filled with bright brilliance and joy and giggles and squeals of pure delight, dressed all in pink, with sparkly boots and her kitty cat hat pulled down over her face so that her mother had to talk her through wherever they were going ("Go forward... stop, now go left..."). Her squeaks and laughter made everybody in the waiting room smile. I met a woman who's rescued countless dogs who have needed her over the years, and I met the Hospital Dog, a beautiful and sweet Golden Lab called (appropriately) Hope, who cast a kind of magic over the waiting room crowd. A group of people who had been waiting in their own little bubbles of anxiety all afternoon were suddenly all smiles, eager to tell each other about their own pets.
Both Dad and I left the place feeling strangely uplifted by the experience. I felt so full of a nameless wonder and gratitude and happiness that I felt almost like it would explode out of me, like it was too big to be contained inside me. I half-expected to burst into tears, but instead I found myself grinning at everybody, wondering if they even realize that they're each remarkable.
Afterward, we headed to lunch, because Dad had had to fast for hours before the test. I wanted it to be a GOOD lunch, so we went out for Italian (one of his favorites, and mine) and had a hell of a meal, complete with good service and good wine and good food and good coffee and dessert afterward, just enjoying being with each other and feeling happy to be alive. I talked about writing, and Dad listened, and I think he understood just a little better than he had before. He looked contented and more relaxed, and he admitted that he feels very positive and empowered now, and once again, I had that feeling that my heart might burst. I'm proud of him and the way he's handling this. He's doing everything he can to set himself up for success.
It was a good day, and it is a good life, and it will continue to be a good life, and maybe we'll all appreciate that just a little bit more now than we did before. I know there will come some days when I'll need to remind myself and others of that, but I am always grateful for days like that one. Those are the moments we live for, aren't they?
And on another note entirely, I just want to thank whatever guardian angels or fortunately aligned stars conspired to bring about a photoshoot of Noel Fielding dressed up like Ziggy Stardust and Brian Eno and other godfathers of glam on a week when I most needed the distraction! I'm not really a narcissist, but the timing on that, combining two of my very favorite things in the world... well, it's almost enough to make me think that somebody's looking out for my interests. ;)
Hugs and love and glittery kisses to all who need or want them!
Is it a joke or a concept?
- And so it begins...