Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The cancer journey, losing my dad

We are at the find stage of a very long 15 month cancer journey.  Unfortunately 9 years ago I walked a cancer journey with my mother too but thank God early detection meant we could put vile toxic chemo into her body and kill the cancer and keep the Mama. 

Chemo is brutal.  When my father-in-law got cancer in his late seventies I was convinced the chemo would kill him before the cancer did but old Basil managed to survive both and is now 82 and just fine.  His girlfriend (do you have a girlfriend when you are 82?) lost her husband to cancer too.  Basil lost his wife, Gary's mom to cancer over 20 years ago.  And we lost our Bee too who was only in her forties.  My list can go on and on.

How is it possible we can facetime each other across the world?   We have all this incredible technology most of which is beyond my understanding but someone gets cancer and they die??  When Pops was diagnosed on the 27th of August last year I did what we all do when faced with news like this: google.  Google everything I possibly could about pancreatic cancer (PC) and the news out there was pretty bleak.  Its the cancer with the highest mortality rate due to the late detection and very few cases where surgery is an option.  Most people die within 3-6 months.   The 5 year survival rate for stage 4 is given at 1%.  I suspect its zero but they have to put a tiny glimmer of hope in there.   My dad at age 67 being a stroke survivor with stage 4 PC and mets to the lungs with his old patched up heart of 2 triple bypasses and numerous heart attacks was not given the best odds.  They just sent him home to die and we did not think he would make last Christmas. 

His response was a big fat f*ck you to his death sentence and he decided he was going to beat this monster.  He would throw whatever he could at his cancer because he had a whole lot of life to live and places to go.  We used the same sweet kind oncologist who saved my mom our beloved Dr Loots.   Life became about tumour markers and blood tests and numerous visits.  Bouts of grief and then mad hope junkie moments as I would get swept up in his cycle of hope.  Maybe?  Just maybe he could beat the odds.  My dad is the Man van Staal.  He is one stubborn bugger who loves a good fight like his grandson.  He should have died many times in his life. 

When the first chemo stopped working we hit the second type of chemo but this one was horrendous and left him exhausted and feeling horrendous.  And then he got an embolism which could have easily killed him too but he caught that one in time.  Unfortunately it left him too weak and we had to stop the chemo and were unable to get the port placed.

And so began his real decline and the loss of irrational hope.  Pops finally had a battle he could not win.  He became smaller and smaller and weaker and weaker.   He used to be over a 100kg, he is now 60kg.  Once again the frantic googling began of signs of death.  The not knowing when he will pass is very hard.  Every time I read a symptom and get an idea of time my dad does not follow the rules and defies the odds as always and stays the exception.  He will die at home.  I am grateful to my mom who has given him that gift, an incredibly hard gift to give.  I am also grateful they have brilliant medical aid that pay for the hospital bed and the nursing staff.

This end is very drawn out.  2 months ago he ate a few mouthfuls a day.  4 weeks ago he stopped eating completely.  Like zero food for 28 days??   He cannot even sit up he is so weak.  But still he stays?   We wait every day expecting it to be the day.  I have days when I am so very sad, I have days when I feel like I can't stand one more day of this slow suffering.  My exhausted mother cannot continue like this day after day.  Their are good parts of course.  The closeness of my family.  The humour we all share which is mostly inappropriate but keeps us going.  The sweet gentle side of my dad I never knew existed.  He is so polite and nice.  He could be a real arsehole when he was well.  And we were not close growing up with little physical affection or I love you's.

Now, now I get to rub his bony back and massage his hip and legs which aches.  I rub his arms and skinny little legs and kiss his face and old head.  Every time I leave I say 'I love you Dad' and he says 'I love you my girl.'   I want to know that is the last thing he said to me.  So we wait in limbo unable to plan anything like Christmas carefully watching my mom who has to dig so deep to care for her husband of 49 long years.  He gets very confused and talks the weirdest stuff and we stay infinitely patient with him just going along with what he says.  I love this sweet kind gentle man who I finally have access to after feeling on the outside forever.  The price to pay for that closeness is way too high and I would rather have him alive and well but I will take beauty from ashes.

My sister and brother arrive the end of December so perhaps on some unconscious level he is waiting to have all his kids around him.  I have been glad they have been spared the sight of him so incredibly thin and frail although I know how hard it is for them to be away.  I am so fortunate to have the family I have.  So grateful for my father's close friends and brother who have been incredible with him and my mom.   My Uncle Brian who keeps us all laughing.  My brave, stubborn, fighting dad who I love.  We call him Laz after Lazarus because he keeps rising from the dead.  Mom is Florrie (Florence Nightingale) as she cares for him.  Florrie & Laz, what a team.  Mimi & Pops.  Okie & Dokie.  I can't imagine the one without the other but its the end of the line now.   We salute and release our Pops and give him our blessing to step off the battlefield and sleep forever.  My Dad, what a legend. 


  1. I worked with Terrrrteea yonks ago. I wish you all strength. The one small plus of cancer is the time it gives us all to get organised and say all the things we want to. But as you say, what a price! What strength to even write this. Incredibly moving. Virtual hug froma complete stranger

  2. Thank for your very good article! i always enjoy & read the post you are sharing!