Eight hours I sat in the hospital waiting room beside Mom and Aunt Terri, as if we were waiting to be seated in a restaurant– longing for certainty. Except our attempted conversation was undeniably masked by racing thoughts, shaking legs, and metaphorical nail biting. Right before Dad went into procedure, he continued to put laughter on our table, making sure we said “goodbye to his right lobe.”
July 2013, my Dad was diagnosed with liver cancer.
July 2013, I spent an abundant amount of time sleeplessly researching and prying for reasons explaining how this could be reality. My parents stood in front of me as they were trying to explain this phenomena– circling around words, meanwhile my room was turning into a kaleidoscope and they felt a million miles away as I was focusing on preventing any tears from swelling from my eyes. If they’re strong, so am I– and I couldn’t falter that. Trying to keep it my little secret, I thought if I didn’t let the words slip from my mouth, maybe if I kept it between very few people, called it a “serious procedure,” it would not be a reality. It could not be scary if I didn’t show I was scared.
I found out reality bites hard, relentlessly, and with the jaws of a hungry shark.
Cancer bites harder, incessantly, and really fucking changes your opinion on a shark bite.
Homemade dinners waiting on our front porch, an outpouring of “if you need ANYTHING at all, let us know,” and a paradox of, ‘I’m so sorry, Alicia,’ became a definitive line of what mattered.
October 22, 2013, “Daddy IS CANCER FREE!! THE BEST ANNIVERSARY GIFT EVER!!!” from Mom illuminated my phone.
Everything felt normal.
I would run around town the next day to fill the house with balloons, streamers, and a big ‘WELCOME HOME!” and Dad would spend six months recovering with doctor’s appointments, and lists of movies to watch from his friends at work.
Blood work came back normal, pain started to go away, recovery was going as expected and the excitement of returning to normalcy was glued to Dad’s forehead. All of our foreheads.
Symptoms prior to his diagnosis were becoming prevalent again, symptoms almost indistinguishable from the flu. Blood work came back normal, but my nerves knew otherwise and I tightened my fists to counteract the uncontrollable tremors I could feel through my arms and legs. So, Dad went for more bone scans, CT scans, and PET scans, where they found “spots” in his bones. This was not normal.
“They aren’t 100% positive yet, but they think it is cancerous because, well…There’s not much else it could be.”
Diagnosis: Metastatic Liver Cancer. It’s in his bones– it has been, and it always will be. It will continuously redefine our standard of normalcy.
Surgery. Radiation. Surgery. Clinical Trial. Chemotherapy. Radiation. Not working, not working well enough, not significantly helping, let’s try something else, there are other options…
Cancer sucks. Cancer is eye opening, heart wrenching, life changing.
It isn’t easy on the ears. It’s an ugly fucking word that changes your sense of reality the second your throat tightens as you say it back just to make sure you heard it right, “cancer?”
I am Alicia Napierkowski, I am the oldest child in my family, the older sister of two younger brothers, the first born, the only daughter, only sister, all of those ‘things’ that subcategorize a family. Watching the way it affects not only Dad, but Mom, my brothers Michael and Peter, and myself; it’s terrifying.
So how else am I supposed to say it?
It requires availability, honesty, time, and reflection. It requires erasing all previous conceptions of your comfort zone; taking chances and being strong, weak, accepting of help. It requires learning how each of these pieces fit together the best they can and why they’re falling in and out of place. It requires free falling into emotional wreckage and accepting that more often than not, it’s not meant to be understood.
It requires letting people in, letting people love and help you; allowing them to learn who you are at your best and your worst and letting them be there. Thanking them, being gracious, sobbing and laughing and being engulfed in every moment.
Showing people out, finding your backbone, drawing lines and strengthening them; saying no, saying yes, making decisions and being truthful to yourself.
This has been our journey so far.
I thought of one more way to say it, “Fuck cancer.”
Edited & republished on American Cancer Society WhatNext, May 2015 ("Overcoming the Harsh Reality of a Parent With Cancer")
Originally published: 'Dad Has Cancer' on Medium.com