Note: this draft has been a long work-in-progress, partially due to laziness, partially due to stress, and partially because my parents didn’t want to announce anything until after my father’s treatment started. After several weeks of delays, he finally started chemo and radiation two weeks ago.
Note 2: The last draft date was back on April 9th so all of this is really, really old.
“When you have a moment, we need to talk” are words you never want to hear from one of your parents, even if you’re in your thirties. Those words were reserved for special occasions, usually bad ones.
What my mom wanted to talk about was this: my dad received confirmation of stage four throat cancer.
“It’s not the bad stage four,” she quickly added. “It’s the best of the worst.” Which shocked the hell out of me. I thought stage four was just one smidge away from it being death.
Slowly, she brought me up to speed on how my dad discovered he had cancer: there was a general checkup and his GP didn’t like how his tonsils felt. A scan was taken and a small mass was discovered on a tonsil. A biopsy was done and the mass proved to be malignant. The only silver lining to this was that it hadn’t spread to a lymph node.
The first thought that came to mind was of George Harrison; he had throat cancer twice and passed away because of it.
The second thought was of my dad losing his hair. Apart from some minor thinning (due to aging), he’s had a full head of hair as far back as I can remember. I’d have to try and find him some soft beanies; bonus [for him] if there was a New York Yankees logo on it.
The third thought (and totally random in my opinion) was that I may not have a father around to walk me down the aisle (if I ever get around to getting married).
I found my dad in the kitchen and promptly burst into tears. He pulled me into a hug, which was startling for me: my dad is about as Japanese as you can get (i.e., stoic). The last time he comforted me like that was when I was around four; I used to run to him after my mom yelled at me for misbehaving.
Like how he used to, he spoke quietly, interjecting small jokes to try and cheer me up. He told me he wasn’t dying, that the cancer hadn’t spread, that he wasn’t going to lose his hair but it was a good thing he’d always had a full head of it…little things like that.
Fast forward two weeks. A second biopsy showed that the cancer hadn’t spread, and was actually better than what the oncologist originally diagnosed. My initial fear of “my dad is going to die!” has faded a little bit, but there’s still a nagging pang in the back of my mind. I know my parents aren’t immortal; no one is. I’m in my thirties; my parents are in their sixties. All people die. This is fact.
It’s having a solid possibility of what will bring a parent’s death that jarred me. The reality is there (opposed to just thinking, “it’ll happen down the line”). And that’s the scariest part for me.
I’m not sure what to do or expect, even though it’s been two months since my parents told me about his cancer. Life has changed a little bit: meals are [kind of] planned out, schedules are being shifted to accommodate doctors’ appointments, and more visits to the drug store for prescriptions and basic medical supplies. The next few weeks will be difficult for sure but what can you really do?