March 28 is my father's birthday. He would have been 84 today. We lost him 18 years ago to colon cancer.
Cancer is no stranger to my family. Almost all of my relatives have had cancer and usually died from it. So when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer 19 years ago, she thought that was the end.
She was the first in our family to conquer this disease, and my father assumed he would be just as lucky.
He had stage IV colon cancer. When they attempted to operate, it had already spread and the doctors said there was nothing they could do.
Dad tried chemo, but he didn't take care of himself, so his white blood cell counts were usually too low and he continued to eat like a bird.
My dad was certain, though, that he would make it through cancer just like my mom. Without my mom knowing, he even ordered items for their next vacation. They were delivered after he died.
There's a song by Laurie Anderson where she says, "When my father died, it was like a whole library had burned down." That was my dad.
My father was like a kid when he finally came home from the hospital. My mother and I were going to take care of him with the help of hospice. We thought we would still have time with him, but he only lasted a week.
For a couple of days he was in a state of unconsciousness. He made a raspy sound as he breathed, which I understand is common when people approach death.
I didn't know if he was aware of his surroundings or not, but in case he was, I wanted to make him happy. My cat Bathsheba came in with me, and she snuggled with him on his bed. I played a book on tape about the adventures of a cat. (I'm sure Dad was thrilled!) Even if he couldn't hear me, something told me I should tell him what was on my mind.
Saying goodbye to my father
I said something like, "Dad, you may be scared right now but everything is going to be OK. We want you to stay with us, and I pray for a miracle, but I don't want you to worry about us. Today, Mom and I picked out a beautiful plot with lots of trees, birds and squirrels where you and ultimately Mom will rest. I wish you could walk me down the aisle someday and be with us for all special moments, but I believe you will be watching over us. I know you are not sure if there is a God, but I believe you will meet Him and I hope you will be open to accept His invitation. We've had our differences, but none of that matters now. I love you, I forgive you, I am sorry and I will miss you."
I finished and sat watching my father, wondering if he even heard me. A tear ran down his cheek. Then, the raspy breathing stopped.
I put my hand to his mouth, but felt nothing. I ran to get my mother. We called hospice and later the police.
I felt it was a sign that everything would be OK when the police officer who arrived was one of my best friends from school. It definitely seemed both surreal and comforting to have my good friend confirm my father's death in the house were we played.
Confident we will conquer
As my mom starts her chemo treatment next week, we think back on all of our cancer experiences.
My mom is healthy, has a positive attitude, solid faith and loving support of family and friends.
Her oncologist, Sharon Giordano, M.D., said, "You were cured of your first breast cancer, and I feel confident you will be cured of this cancer as well."
We are confident, too, and have many angels watching over us, including -- I hope -- my dad.