Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Vital Passengers

Back in September as Brian, my Mom, and I carefully weighed my different chemotherapy options, I had an appointment with my (now former) PCP "Dr. Thomas" (who also happens to be my Mom and my Dad’s PCP). This was the second time I had seen Dr. Thomas since my diagnosis and I don’t think it was a coincidence that those two appointments were the first and only ones that hadn’t been preceded by a long wait in the waiting room.

As Dr. Thomas washed her hands, she made the usual doctor small talk – How was I recovering from my surgery? How was I sleeping? How was I eating? Prior to breast cancer, Dr. Thomas knew my hypochondrical tendencies and she attributed almost every symptom to stress. I didn’t usually agree, but there was no use arguing with her. That would just stress me out.

At that September appointment, Dr. Thomas asked me about my chemotherapy plans. Her questions, however, were so strange—she already knew so much about the options we were considering, despite that I had never talked to her about them. When I left the exam room, I told my Mom how strange it was that Dr. Thomas knew so much about my three chemo options. She must read my blog, I figured, but that made no sense. How would she ever know about my blog? In fact, I hoped that she didn’t read it because I hadn’t exactly been complimentary of her here. I ended up not worrying about it, mainly because she really didn’t seem like the blog type.

Of course, my Mom figured it out right away. I think your Dad told her, she explained as we left the doctor's office that day. Ah ha. Yes. In an instant, my heart sang and cried at the very same time.

* * *

My Dad and I don’t talk about my cancer. He asks me how I’m doing and he gives me all the love and encouragement that I need, but we quickly move onto to something more interesting like work or the kids. When it comes to playing the role of the “caregiver,” my Dad takes a back seat, not necessarily because he wants to, but more because there’s not any more room up front.

As much as I’ve written about how hard all of this must be on my Mom and Brian as my primary caregivers, I haven’t written enough about how hard it must be on my Dad. He’s in an awkward position—obviously wanting to do anything he can to fix this, but knowing that Brian and my Mom are always there to pick up the pieces before they even fall out of my hands.

Early on in the treatment process, I thought my Dad was in denial about how serious this could be. But the moment I learned of his discussion with Dr. Thomas about my chemo at his own medical appointment—the moment I realized that he knew every last detail we had been weighing—I knew that he wasn’t roaming around the Desert of Denial. Instead, he was suffering through all of this like we were. Seeing cancer up close is hard, but that sure doesn’t mean that seeing it from a distance is any easier.

*  *  *

Almost every time I drive by Walgreen’s with my Mom, she recounts the story of my Dad on the day after my first surgery. Obviously I don’t remember any of this but apparently CVS didn’t have the medications that I needed when my Dad went to pick them up. Little did they know that No was not going to be an answer; not for one of my Dad’s kids. Hours (and several trips up and down Washington Street) later, my Dad had secured the goods. But he didn't need to rush into the house and vent about his pharmacy adventure. He just wanted to rush into the house and hand me my pills.

My Dad is incredible that way. If I ask him for anything—to be at one of the kids’ school events, to drive them somewhere, to babysit them while I work out, to come to Teddy’s t-ball game, to run an errand for me, to join me for a treatment, anything—my Dad always says yes. And then he does it. No questions asked. He is without a doubt one of the most reliable, and generous people I have ever met.

He's also one of the most inspiring. In the midst of my treatment, my Dad (and my brother) started a new company. My Dad is an entrepreneur down to the bone (or artificial joint), and partly, I know why. My Dad is a visionary, a dreamer, a doer. He sees things bigger than I could imagine and then he builds them. He doesn’t consider failure as an option, or if he does, he doesn’t show it. He just powers on towards his vision.

While my Mom’s calendar includes all of my medical appointments, my Dad’s calendar is, I believe, focused on his life long dream—to put his children and his grandchildren through college. He and my Mom already achieved the first part, and despite that we all chose outrageously expensive schools, they somehow made it so that three of us could come out of our undergraduate years without having to worry about loans. I know that wasn’t easy for them. I hope that's part of why my Dad is so proud of it.

It’s not easy to ride in the driver’s seat of a car barreling down the path of cancer treatment. For Brian and my Mom, riding shotgun hasn’t been easy, either. But there are all sorts of different challenges for my Dad, and anyone sitting loyally in the backseat, along that treacherous road. Sometimes they need to be quiet when they want to scream. Sometimes they need to wait while the driver pulls over to a rest stop and cries on someone else’s shoulder. They need to watch to be sure that the exhausted navigators are heading in the right direction, but they can’t always see as clearly out the front window. And they need to be ready, at any moment, to change a tire or trek five miles for gas. Or sometimes, they just need to be the ones to suggest that someone up front turn on the radio.

I hope that these brave and loving passengers know how important they are. I worry that they think that from the backseat, they aren't important, or as important as someone else. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Yesterday, my Dad and my brother picked Teddy up and took him golfing while Annabel napped. Both Brian and I wanted to join, but we also saw an opportunity to relax for an hour or maybe even two, so we seized it.

My Mom stopped by while they were golfing and Brian, my Mom, and I sat under the sun in our backyard and sipped cold drinks. The topic of cancer didn’t come up once. It was Heaven.

Yesterday was the perfect example of how vital our passengers really are. Because as I sat there with my Mom and Brian, I thought of my Dad. He made that precious time possible; which meant that even though he wasn’t there with us, really, he was.

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