Most people unfortunately are very familiar with tumors and cancer; whether it was a diagnosis that a family member, friend or themselves had to confront. When the Spring comes around more and more walks and events are being advertised and done to fundraise money for research, treatments, and to celebrate the beauty of life despite the stains that tumors and cancer creates. I remember always going to the American Cancer Society: Relay for Life walks during high school; I had a blast playing with friends and walking around the track for my family members who were survivors. I wasn’t old enough at the time though, to know the real struggle that my family went through. I knew cancer brings many tears, fear and sadness to families but I thought that all families confront it with a strong Fuck Cancer, lets kick butt attitude. This isn’t always the case though. Sometimes it’s very different.
Cancer is not a stranger in my family but when I was told that my father was diagnosed with a brain tumor, I felt like I had been punched in my stomach. It’s surreal and it still is after all these years. I truly believed that we would have all this positive energy surrounding the diagnosis and treatments but cancer and tumors don’t always allow that. Maybe it was just a wake up call to me. Going through all these thoughts of how I always pictured a family fighting versus the reality reminded me of this beautiful photography project called the SCAR Project: Breast Cancer Is Not a Pink Ribbon. It shows the beautiful, and raw reality of these young women under the pink ribbon. The part of breast cancer that we don’t typically see.
When my father was diagnosed, it was a whirlwind and it still is. Reflecting the past few years I’ve come to realize how much this diagnosis has changed mine and my family’s lives. This is all from my experience and perspective so please understand that your experience may be and probably will be different than mine. Here are the few things that have changed for us following his diagnosis and things that I didn’t think I would do or deal with. This isn’t a list about how to get through it all, only the changes that may happen that you may not have been expecting.
The “C” and “T” Word//
We don’t use these words, we don’t really discuss them at all and when we do it’s always in hushed voices. Nothing is a “secret”, we just want to live life with these words in our face.
Need to Know Basis //
My family believes in only sharing things on a need to know basis. Even if there was a hospital visit or things are getting worse, I was not always told. My family wants to see me do the best possible work I can so when I was in school they often didn’t tell me much about what was going on unless I really worked it out of them. They were trying to protect me but at the same time it’s hard going through the day not knowing what is going on at home.
Money Becomes Tight //
The last thing that my parents want me to worry about is the price of my fathers medications, what is and is not affordable and how it is becoming a wedge in the family. Money was always a cause of disagreement in my home but now with the added expenses, it causes even more struggles.
This is a given but just the thought of what has been going on with my dads’ medical care becomes emotionally exhausting. You’re constantly asking yourself what if questions and at a point you get overwhelmed with all the negative things that can happen. It’s tiring. I will never be tired of supporting my father, the grief though is exhausting. I’m also someone who cannot leave my emotions behind at home, I bring them to work and it has been a struggle to keep up the momentum and pace.
Planning of Life Events//
I often find myself trying to plan my life events now around my family. It’s incredibly important to me that my father is at my wedding and I find myself trying to move things along faster than maybe they should be. I’ve been trying so hard to allow things to happen as they’re supposed to but it’s incredibly hard to just let go of it all.
Missed Doctors Appointments//
Because my father almost denies what is going on, he often misses appointments. I thought that he would be someone who be more on top of appointments. He’s my father and I see him as someone who isn’t afraid of anything. But he is constantly going to new doctors to hear news and getting different prescriptions and treatments, it’s scary and I’m proud of him for making every appointment that he does. I’m proud of him for sticking through all this and being so strong. Going to the appointments are so important but I can understand why some are missed. I hope that one day I will have the strength that he does.
I have learned to be incredibly flexible in my schedule and ready to get up and head home if I’m needed. Having younger siblings and my family being so far away I need to be prepared to just get up and go home. I’m not going to lie, I have guilt sometimes if I have to leave work to head home but I never regret it. I’m lucky to be working at a place that is more of a family than a business.
I didn’t give any tips about how to better manage these changes because after these years I’m still learning how to balance it and support my family. It’s not easy. This list was also mostly negative and it’s because I am struggling, my family is struggling. It is a battle for the whole family. I love my father and no matter how hard anything gets or how things may change, I will always be there with you.