A certain complacency comes about mid cancer treatment when it is going well. My dad had just completed his third round of chemo, and his was going extremely well the last time I visited home. So well that I’d almost forgotten he was sick at all.
The gruesome picture of a cancer patient didn’t, and still doesn’t, fit my dad. He had all his hair. He still worked sixty hours a week. He still went golfing and mowed the lawn on Saturdays. He looked healthy, healthy enough to spend the morning out on the boat enjoying the sun and catching fish. Chemo, at least outwardly, hadn’t had much of a lasting effect on him.
Seeing him was comforting. I could almost pretend he didn’t have cancer. My mom had tried to reassure me over the phone every week that he was doing fine, but being two hours away and unable to see him for myself, the only thing I had to go off was that other picture of a cancer patient. Spending the weekend with him and watching him do things in a distinctively non-cancer way was reassuring and solidified the fact that everything was going to be fine.
When I went home, I felt safe in the memory of that weekend with him. I think it was the first time I’d visited post diagnosis that my eyes didn’t tear up on the way home. My dad was going to be ok.
Scrolling through my Facebook feed later that week, my sense of security was erased when I saw that a good friend’s father had passed away from Lymphoma.
I remembered going to the bar the weekend I came home after finding out about my dad’s diagnosis. I’d gone to meet up with some old friends and told them why I’d come home at such an odd time of year. As soon as I told them about his Lymphoma, my friend told me about his father battling the same cancer for the third time.
All I could think at the time was great, another part of the cancer process to fear: its reoccurrence. I wanted to pick my friend’s brain then, find out all the inns and outs of his father’s cancer battles, but I also didn’t want to know. I wasn’t ready to know. I still lived in the world of denial where this whole cancer thing was a joke or a mistake. The doctor’s were going to retest and find out it was really just swelling or that his results got mixed up with someone else’s (not that I’d wish the diagnosis on anyone). In the end, I didn’t ask him anything. I told him I hoped his father won his fight just as desperately as I hoped my father won his.
It’s hard, now, to place the two men side by side. My dad sitting outside on a sunny Saturday night shooting the shit with a few beers while another dad sits dying in a hospital bed, both with the same killer running through their veins. I feel selfish that I’m the one sitting in a lawn chair instead of a hospital one. But also eternally grateful.