The C Word.
Yesterday, I wrote about toddlers and swear words. It was a jovial post, meant to feel lighthearted and carefree.
This... is not that. This is a much heavier post about something way worse than the F word.
Cancer really is a bitch. A life-stealing, soul-sucking, stress-inducing monster (put mildly).
Three months ago, I got the news. We'd been living with Brian's parents since August, and by now, I'd grown use to the two-hour commute to their house in north Georgia. I'd just come home after said commute and was breast-feeding my littlest in the upstairs guest room, our temporary home while we house-shopped for our own. My second-littlest hummed happily beside me, playing on my iPad, while my oldest played somewhere with Grams and Poppy.
My cell phone was downstairs. My iPad started ringing, "Mom Cell" on the display. I'd never taken a call on my iPad before, but because my phone was one flight down and I was mid-feed, I took the iPad from Parker and slid right to answer the call.
The previous week, my dad had been in the hospital. A standard biopsy led to a not-so-standard infection. He spent a few nights in the hospital on an antibiotic drip. A simple hospital stay, he went home fine.
When I answered the iPad call that night, a very tiny voice in the back of my head gnawed at me - something felt different. I shoved the voice away.
My mom and dad were on the line, together. The conversation was relatively normal, at first. We chatted about the kids. Parker tried to talk, but her two-year old self lost her cool when she couldn't see Grandma and Grandpa on the screen (thanks, Skype, for ruining my daughter's expectations of what a long-distance conversation should be).
Then, suddenly, my whole world changed and that little voice came back to scream. My mom told me to hang on, she was dialing in John.
A very small part of me hoped they were adding my older brother to the conversation to give us great news...
A surprise vacation!
They won the lottery!
They were moving closer!
But a much heavier feeling encroached upon my optimism. Like a slow-motion tidal wave, or a sky-high wall of smoke-black fog. I tried to push it off, to tell myself it wasn't real... but I knew.
The events of the prior week suddenly made sense.
My dad had a biopsy. So? That happens to old people (sorry, Dad, but you know it's true) all the time. Breast biopsy, here, skin biopsy, there. Then, with Dad's crappy luck, a quick hospital stay. No. Big. Deal.
Except that... it was a big deal. A very bad deal.
I knew it before he said it. Though I pushed back on the thought and tried to convince myself otherwise.
My dad had cancer.
I lost my breath when he said the words out loud.
I held back my tears while my dad bravely shared the news. He delivered the words with such calm, I could certainly hold myself together. I could be strong.
As my dad talked, I yelled at my daughter. She had started screaming at me, because she was so frustrated that she couldn't see her grandparents. She was flat enraged when I tried to walk away from her - with her iPad! - to find a quiet place.
I yelled for Brian, to tell him to come control my lunatic daughter. Though it was only seconds, it felt like ages by the time he made it upstairs to scoop her up. On his face, a thousand questions:
Why are you so desperately yelling at me? Who are you talking to? What's going on?
I whispered the words "My dad has cancer."
Whoa. Saying it out loud made it so... real. I feel it, again, as I type this up. It doesn't matter how many times I think of those words, I still feel the feeling. Like, saying it out loud made it more true.
The words were a whisper, Brian didn't hear them at first. I whispered a little more loudly - and with a lot more desperation - the second time.
"My dad has CANCER!" I yell-whispered, trying to hold the iPad away from my mouth, like I was telling a secret I wasn't supposed to share.
His face dropped and concern darkened his expression. He grabbed Parker and I locked myself in the bathroom. I could hear her wailing, a distant sound that only added to the darkness of the moment.
The call only lasted a few short minutes. We said our I love yous and our goodbyes. I hung up and sobbed on the toilet.
Alexa, my older daughter, knocked on the door. I don't remember if I opened it or if she let herself in. She was so concerned, the sweet girl. She turned around and went to find Grams to tell her that I was upset. Sweet, sweet, girl.
Grams - my mother-in-law - came in and found me upset. I had to say it out loud again... my dad had cancer. But this time, Grams offered me her shoulder to cry on. It was warm and exactly what I needed in that moment. Her sympathy was so genuine and her concern validated my feelings.
In the following weeks, I called my dad often, just to talk.
My mom and I would chat too, both of us starved for more information. one of us having just read the latest medical rumors on Google, freaking out, and the other one sharing a different article with different information.
He underwent a series of tests and body scans to determine the severity of the cancer and whether it had spread. Small abnormalities on his spine may or may not have been tumors. A high PSA (prostate-specific antigen) and Gleason score of 9 meant the cancer was severe and very likely to spread. But, bless my dad and his inner voice, he caught it early.
Christmas came and went. My parents flew down to see us and we had a wonderful time together.
When my parents said goodbye, I held my dad tight, worrying about how many more hugs I'd get. He whispered to me, telling me that everything was going to be okay.
On January 18, my dad had a robotic prostatectomy. The surgery went well, and, as is standard with cancer patients, more tests were performed, the specimens sent in for testing.
The procedure revealed cancer in the tissue surrounding the prostate, the cancer officially categorized as stage 3.
The doctor was pleased with the results, but the PSA test scheduled for several weeks later would be the real kicker. If levels were low, that means they caught all the cancer and it hadn't continued to spread.
Fast forward to last week - ages after the initial diagnosis. We got good news! The PSA was a low 0.08. Not a zero, but low. The cancer had definitely not spread to the bones.
You know, it's funny how many people told me prostate cancer was "the kind of cancer you'd want, if you had to get it." True, it's the most treatable form of the disease, but those words didn't make me feel any better. The thought was nice, though. And I really mean that.
Before cancer, I never knew what to say to people who were going through things like this. But what I've learned from this firsthand experience is that it truly is the thought that counts. Just care. Be there to listen. Be a shoulder. My coworkers did that for me, and for that... I'm forever grateful.
My dearest friends, on the other hand, mostly had no idea. I didn't share this news broadly... it was almost as if saying it out loud made it more true. Or like I was placing undue burden upon their shoulders. My coworkers - they had to know. My work suffered a bit on the worst days, so I had to tell them why that was happening. But they fully understood and were extraordinarily supportive.
So, here we are. There's one more hurdle - the genetic marker test. Those results come in this week. If low risk, we go back to our regularly scheduled lives, Dad continues to monitor his PSA levels for the next few years. If medium or high risk is indicated, radiation is likely.
I never thought Cancer would happen to us. But it did, and we're making our way through it. My dad was the one who listened to his inner voice and went to take the PSA last winter (men - take note!). Thank God he did, thank God he caught it early. I can't even imagine what life would have been like if he didn't.
Now, we wait some more. We wait for the next test results and pray for more good news. My dad turns the big 6-0 this week... and we could really use another reason to celebrate, to put this whole "cancer" thing behind us.
If you've made it this far, thanks for listening, for joining me on this journey. If you're up to sharing, I'd love to hear your story, too.
I'll let you know what happens next!