When you find out your dad has cancer

OK, ideally Step 1: don’t let this be the very day that you put your mum into a nursing home.

Probably one of the hardest days of my life so far was to have to put my mum into a nursing home (finally, this was a relief for everyone in my family!) but to also have to call an ambulance because your dad is writhing on the couch in agony.

When this kind of shit happens, your body goes into an emergency state – you know what you’ve gotta do and you do this on autopilot, blocking out your emotions to get things done (even as I am writing this my dog has just done the mother of all farts and you just have to laugh).

After I had gotten back from organising the care for my mum, my dad finally let us call the ambulance to take him to hospital. He’s always been as stubborn as a mule but completely devoted to any task at hand, be it looking after us kids while mum was working and away, doing the utmost for my brother at racing or ultimately, looking after my mum who should have been in a home well before she went in. Despite being up with indescribable pain since 3am, he still would not let us call for help until he knew that my mum had some place to go. A pretty incredible feat, given they were never close as I was growing up and was sure they were going to get a divorce once my brother and I had finished school. Nevertheless, this was also a stupid feat as we would come to learn.

Watching my dad be taken away in an ambulance was one of the saddest moments I’ve experienced recently. My brother went with him and I stayed back to organise and pack things for mum and to drop her off at the nursing home. While I had things to do, I also allowed myself 5 minutes to sit and cry and be emotional.

Coming into the emergency ward of the hospital, I had no idea what would face me but had a pretty bad inkling that it might be something much, much worse than stomach pains. My gut feeling proved to be correct, and we found out my dad had bowel cancer. They were going to do a life-saving operation and cut off his intestine to put in a stoma bag. I kept things together OK, but when other people around you start crying and the realisation kicks in it’s pretty hard to not let it get to you.

Side note: Be prepared for people to reenter your life that haven’t been part of it for the last few years because of the situation. While it might make you angry or feel worse at the time, take allllll the help and support that you can get. Suck up those messages and calls of support and take them all in, because as much as you think you don’t need them, you will.

I’ve never been a very patient person and have become to appreciate the art of patience in the last few months. It’s difficult when you just want to know what’s happening but at the end of the day, being angry, upset and impatient isn’t going to get you anywhere in hospital. It took a long time for us to find out what exactly Dad’s prognosis was, and even still, there are many, many questions – what stage cancer is it? Who will look after him when he eventually comes home from hospital? Do I have to see a lawyer about wills and powers of attorney? Are the finances in order? When you have another parent who is well and of sound mind it makes these questions a whole lot easier to answer and deal with. However essentially losing both parents in one day is a whole other kettle of fish.

After 5 weeks in hospital my dad had seemingly recovered from surgery and put on some weight (by some I mean he was now 57kg as opposed to 52kg – for a 6 foot guy this is certainly still skeletal). He was discharged from hospital and came home. I had spent the whole weekend cleaning the house and making sure everything was immaculate so that he wouldn’t have to lift a finger – his only job was to relax and recover.

The second night he was home we ended up back in the emergency ward due to issues with his catheter. The third night he was home, he was complaining of pain and bleeding where he should not be bleeding but, as stubborn as he is, refused to go back to hospital. The fourth day he was home I got a call from the RDNS service that the hospital had organised asking when would be an appropriate time to come around and change dressings, check the catheter etc. Boy did I get my head bitten off when I asked Dad what he thought. Stubborn-ness strikes again!

The week that he was home his condition got worse and worse, he was barely eating and still in a lot of pain and bleeding (just lovely! – one week you’re cleaning your mum’s shit off the toilet and the next week it’s your dad’s blood!). Every time either me or my brother asked if he was ok we got our heads bitten off and were met with swearing and a fight – not a pleasant environment for two young adults that have just said goodbye to their mum and had to deal with their dad being incredibly sick in the same week, day no less.

As shit as this situation can make you feel, you push through each day, hoping for something good to come in the next. Feeling depressed and overwhelmed, it would be easy to say I’ve had enough and end things, but that’s incredibly selfish and would only cause more hurt to the people that do indeed care. So you track on through life, one day at a time, hoping you’ll catch a break.

Unfortunately people are dealt a shitty hand of cards. But, at the end of the day, it’s their choice in how they react to them. I was lucky enough to find an amazing book that was my mini life counsellor during the last week – thank you Mark Manson and ‘The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck’ (book review to come). This book helped me realise that life wasn’t all sunshine and roses and positivity – thank you!! No, I’m not going to stand in front of the mirror and tell myself I’m happy to achieve happiness – what a load of crap! Rather than sitting back and let shit bring me deeper and deeper down, the book teaches about the adversity in dealing with pain. Everything worthwhile that you achieve in life is associated with a problem or pain that you have chosen to overcome – mind-blowingly true!

My dad today has just been re-admitted to hospital (finally!) because the nurse advised that we should (not me or my brother as we have been doing the past week). The worst or the best is yet to come and only time will tell what actually happens but in the meantime, I’m holding on to the fact that great things come from dealing with pain.

Til soon, Em


One Comment Add yours

  1. Tess says:

    Beautifully written Em. I’m glad you have an outlet to put it all down here on the interwebs. It takes a lot of courage to do this. Such strength and hope you have to do it even on the worst days. Love you xxxx


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