Thursday, 19 November 2015

Friday the 13th / Eye of the storm

Going to make a generalization and say that Friday November the 13th was not a good day for a lot of people. For some, the worst day possible.

It wasn't great for me either.

I found out about the terrorist attacks on Paris at about dinner time. People react to news like this in different ways, for all sorts of reasons: personal connection to the people/place, beliefs, knowledge and interpretation of current events, culture, values, religion, etc. etc.

My reaction was a blast of anger.

Anger because why this? why this again? how much worse will it get? what now? who's next? who's fault?

My social media community, who apparently are a lot more optimistic about humanity than I am, posted how sad they were, how they wished for peace. Prayers were fashionable, including a great many atheist/agnostic ones. Candles and French flags multiplied.

Anybody who talked about peace, hope or reconciliation with me on Friday the 13th would have gotten a reaction something like this. (starting at about 0:40. No musical introduction necessary!).



Just as well that nobody tried.

About half an hour after I started following the news, I got a call from my mom that my dad had been admitted to the hospital. He was no longer able to swallow food. (In September my dad was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus.) Up until this week he was strong, although eating was getting progressively harder. This sudden apparent turn for the worse was very scary, especially since the hospital staff tried to insert a feeding tube when my dad was admitted and weren't able to get it by the tumour. Fortunately, my middle brother was visiting and was there with my parents through all of it.

I booked this week mostly off work, not knowing what would happen next. However, things seem to be going well, for now. The cancer specialists were able to get the feeding tube through on Monday, although even they had some difficulty. My dad has regained a lot of strength and is continuing to run his consulting company from his bedside. All our family has been able to get together on a few occasions and talk about the situation.

My dad has also made his wishes known to us and his medical team. It appears the cancer has spread to one sentinal lymph node, which is in a very difficult location to operate. There is no evidence that it has spread to other organs however. At least one doctor was suggesting palliative care, concerned that aggressive chemo/radiation and surgery could kill faster than the cancer. My dad does not want that. He wants the chance for a cure or a death that comes quickly. His mind is strong and clear. We are glad that he knows what he wants, but deeply sad that all of the options are painful, both physically and emotionally.

I spent Monday and Tuesday with my mom, offering company and ways to help. It's hard in some ways to offer help to my parents because they are so independent, and so insistent that we focus on our needs, not theirs. I pretty much had to show up and be like "I'm here and there's nothing you can do about it." I guess I also want to be there to share the burden, to not be an outsider. After a couple of days, however, my mom seemed to be worrying more about me than herself, so I gave her some space. I understand that it's hard for her to know what she wants.

We respond to stress in similar ways, so it is sort of comical when we are together, as we both try to make up for the gaps in awareness we both have. I put my phone down and can't find it five seconds later. My mom looks furiously for her scarf, and when she gives up and starts to put on another one, realizes she already has the one she wanted around her neck. Reading and processing information is a struggle: we both stare at the same document without being able to find the word we are looking for. I finally find it and we breathe a sigh of relief. I scrape the car on the side of the garage I've backed out of dozens of times. My mom back seat drives constantly when I take her places. I tell her I do better when I use my own brain. Then I leave the window open when I park (luckily nothing was stolen). We laugh hysterically as we try to set the voice mail on her new cell phone and our snickering and bickering gets recorded on the message.

Oh well. From what I've read, sometimes the most important thing in a crisis is just to have a few hours here and there that feel normal. Being able to work has much improved my dad's spirits. And the rest of us have been able to share and enjoy a few moments of the mundane, even of the humourous. I try to make a plan for the day and follow it. It's weird because I feel tired but can't relax and rest, and feel like I should be doing a lot but struggle to get motivation/energy.

I finally sent an email out to my friends because I was worried they would think I didn't care about them anymore. As an introvert socializing takes effort so during hard times I usually don't bother. But I know it's not good to be isolated either. Luckily the people I am close to are much the same in temperament and they understand, and it has felt good to reach out.

I understand that my dad will start chemo/radiation next week. The next few weeks will be hard. We don't know how he will respond to the treatment or even if he will survive it. It feels like I am in the eye of the storm right now.

As for the situation in the rest of the world, my anger has cooled to a slow burn and I no longer want to blast anyone in particular to the bottom of the Marianas Trench. I know it isn't anywhere near that simple. I have a renewed resolve to be the best and most informed citizen I can be.

Meanwhile, I'm enjoying all the AJ hugs and Mr. Turtle hugs I can. A couple of shots from our professional photo shoot at the beginning of October:



16 comments:

  1. Coming out of lurkdom to talk about family members with cancer. First, I'm so sorry this is happening to your dad. I lost my mum in May to breast cancer (diagnosed as Stage 4 in Feb). And lost my sister to leukaemia about 2 years ago.
    My parents wanted to fight as long as possible, and we did not really ever discuss what was happening. My surviving sister and I tried to talk about the finality of the diagnosis sometimes but the parents did not want to. It is really hard.
    If you can, though it is harsh, it could be good to talk now about a point at which your dad would want treatment stopped. Some hospitals have social workers to help with this conversation. Eg if no longer able to eat, would your dad want IV nutrition? When that point comes sometimes the patient is too sick to engage much and you have to guess which is very stressful.
    We also never discussed what my mum wanted at her memorial. She had planned my sister's one so we kind of just did that again. It felt like a cop out though and now I wish we had cleared all the details with her when she was well enough to tell us what she wanted and when it was still moe of a hypothetical thing.
    I really hope your dad has tons of great days and hopefully a cure to come!! Thinking of you

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    1. Thank you for commenting Martha. I am sorry to hear about your loss. Sending you lots of hugs. You make good points here. My dad is very practical so I think he would not object to a discussion of when treatment should be stopped. But you are right I can see how it is a discussion that could be put off. I wonder if it would be easier for him to write something down and then share it. Thank you for the good wishes.

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  2. So sorry to hear about your dad, but I am glad he is getting his strength back at the moment and that he has his work to distract him. I hope he responds well to treatment.

    Your pictures are adorable! I love the look on AJ's face!!

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    1. Thank you. I appreciate the good wishes and yes, we are grateful for each good day. How something like this changes one's perspective on what happens in a day. In the pictures, AJ looks like she's trying hard to humour me LOL.

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  3. So sorry to hear about your Dad. It's good he is so sure about what he wants and I hope it all works out as best as possible for him.

    Sending you lots of good vibes

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    1. Thanks. Yes, hope for the best. Appreciate the good vibes!

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  4. I'm so sorry about your dad. That must have been such a shock. I don't know all the details of course but would think that if it hasn't spread to organs, doctors should be optimistic? I would have been very upset and shocked in your shoes to hear a doctor talk about palliative care so hugs, I hope you are all able to be hopeful and strong now.

    My father in law was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer 6 years ago. One of the worst cancers to get and he was initially told there was no cure as it was inoperable and would not respond to chemo. He asked for a second opinion and that surgeon was willing to operate. He managed to get it all and 6 years later FIL is doing fine. He has diabetes as a result of missing almost all of his pancreas but other than that he doesn't have any issues anymore. It's crazy how much depends on the specialist's opinion.

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    1. Hi Romy, thanks for the good wishes and for sharing your story. Yes, I think my parents were also surprised to hear talk of palliative care; they felt that it was really not justified by the facts. But it is a confusing situation because you suppose the doctors are the experts. They actually wanted to go to an American clinic for a second opinion but then my dad go sicker and those plans were shelved for the time being. Anyway, after discussion the medical team is willing to try a more aggressive approach: I think some of it had to do with my dad's age and that there is an age cutoff for certain treatments, but my parents' position was that my dad's overall health and strength should be taken in to account, i.e. that his overall health is equivalent to that of a younger person. Thanks for sharing your father in law's story; that is encouraging. And I appreciate the comment: I didn't inlcude you on my email since I assume you read the blog occasionally, and I'm glad you do!

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  5. Do you guys have hospice in Canada? They're a wonderful resource here not just for the patient, but for families, too. I hope there's someone you can turn to for no-nonsense help and empathy right now.

    As for Paris and Beirut and Lebanon and everywhere else.. I don't know. I hope my country stops creating monsters in the middle east. The way things are going here, the fascist rhetoric of the right wing.. It's truly terrifying.

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    1. Yes, we have those kind of services here. We haven't talked about it yet. The rest of my families and in laws have been supportive, as well as anyone I've reached out to.

      Canadians and Americans are having very similar conversations (if you can call them that) about current events, although Americans are maybe even more polarized about it. We're not far behind though :-) Canadians like to think of themselves as very tolerant and nice but I think we exaggerate.

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  6. Keeping your family in my thoughts during this difficult time. It's good that you were able to take time off and even laugh about bickering on the phone message. Hang onto the small funny things even more when life is extra tough. Beautiful pictures!

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    1. Thanks! Poor AJ is sick this week which is not helping matters any. I'm trying to remind myself that this too shall pass while trying not to get too buried/overwhelmed.

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  7. I am so sorry about your dad's setback and the choices he is having to make. I am glad that they did get the feeding tube where it needed to be so that he can build his strength back up, and I'm glad he's able to work from his bedside! That must help him keep his mind busy. I'm so sorry that the choices are all riddled with pain -- for your dad, but also for you and your family who must watch him suffer. I loved that you were like, "I'm helping, get over it," but then backed off when it seemed the right time. So many difficult things to navigate here, I wish you all the peace in the world (which is pretty hard to come by, apparently). LOVE the photo shoot, so much love in those pictures.

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    1. Thanks. It's been two weeks and we're all coping. Treatment has started,my dad is back home. One day at a time and be thankful.

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  8. Hey, Turtle... I'm sorry I've been out of the loop for so long. I'm really sorry to hear about your dad. I've never experienced the ongoing sickness of a parent, but I do know (from my grandpa) that cancer is a bitch and it takes its toll. It sounds like you are doing an excellent job of navigating the murky waters, both by asking for what you need and helping others figure out what they need. I hope your dad's treatment works the first time! I'll keep you all in my thoughts. The photos of you and AJ are beautiful! Big love xx

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    1. Aw, thanks. I appreciate the good thoughts. It's a new experience for me too, and not a welcome one. Just keeping on going and trying to do the right thing and hoping I have enough courage.

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