This post falls firmly in the “heavy stuff” category and I didn’t know how hard it would be to write until I started. I guess certain things are harder to put into words. I actually started this post on Father’s Day but it was too hard.
Me and my amazing Dad
Two weeks ago my Dad went to the doctor for lower back pain. It was a tumor. He’s had several tests since then and late last week we got the diagnosis. Cancer. Please forgive my lack of medical knowledge as I try to explain his situation.
The official diagnosis is multiple myeloma (a type of bone cancer) with plasmacytoma (which apparently attacks the plasma blood cells). They think they caught it early but won’t know for sure until they see how he responds to treatments. He will undergo radiation to shrink the tumors (one in his chest and one on in lower spine), followed by 2 rounds/months of chemo. Then they will reevaluate. He could need more chemo or possibly a plasma blood transfusion to replace the diseased blood cells with healthy ones. He is starting treatment this week and that will consume the next three months.
A diagnosis of cancer or any other serious disease is always confusing and scary. This is especially true, I think, for someone not trained in any medical field. My sisters have the advantage of understanding better than I do. Maybe that does not make it easier, but I think it may help. The unknown is usually more frightening. Unfortunately, the outcome is always unknown and that makes it hard for everyone.
When I found out about the tumor, I took it hard. Since then I’ve spent many an hour crying, analyzing, and trying to cope. There are some things I’ve come to realize, some things that help. I want to share those with you.
Don’t Research Too Much (Or Don’t Focus On It)
Having technology at our fingertips at all times is both a blessing and a curse. The first thing I did when I heard the diagnosis was Google it. I read up on multiple myeloma: the causes, the treatments, and of course, the survival rates. This was not good for me. Reading the survival rates, even for Stage 1, caused a solid hour of uncontrollable crying.
It is good to have our expectations grounded in reality, but it is so important to remember that each case is different. Those survival rates are averages. They usually don’t specify how old the patient was or whether they had other health issues or complications.
Research is important and can help us understand what is happening. This helps some people cope and causes others to worry more. Everyone will be different. But if researching is causing you more pain, worries, and fear, STOP. Focus on your unique circumstances.
I’ve stopped researching for now. My focus will be on my Dad and what his doctors are telling us about his situation.
Support when dealing with a diagnosis and a disease is so important. Reach out. Family members will share your fears and you can help each other through it. Friends will want to be there for you if you let them know what’s going on. It can be hard to reach out. Maybe you don’t want to bother others with your problems or you think you can do it all by yourself. Asking for support does not make you weak. It can only make you stronger. As my Mom told me, “get support wherever you can”.
Personally, I know I process everything by talking out loud. I often just need someone to listen to me. Or be there when I’m crying so I don’t feel alone. No one knows what to say or do in these situations. Being present is usually enough.
Do What You Can From Where You Are
I live 15 hours away from my parents. On a normal basis I struggle to be so far away, especially because my sisters are closer. I hear about them getting together for weekends, birthdays, to go out on the boat. I get sad when I see what I’m missing out on.
Given these recent developments it is even harder to be so far away. I feel helpless. I can’t be there to help drive to and from the doctor’s office. I can’t help with meals, errands, or household chores. But I can be there in many ways. I can call often, both to see how my parents are doing and to distract them with things going on in my life. I can let them know how much I love them and find ways to keep their spirits up (I have a good one I’ll share later!). I can visit when possible.
I may not be able to be there in person very often but I can still provide love, comfort, and support.
Prayer is something that is both important to me and hard for me to do. I, like many people, have a complicated relationship with God. We don’t always see eye to eye. Yet I still believe in the power of prayer. It can bring about miracles, but even more so, it can bring you peace. Passing your fears and hopes to God can help lighten the load you carry.
My sister knows a priest in New York. She shared our situation with him and he has been saying mass for my Dad. I have friends in other countries praying for us. One friend has asked her in-laws to remember my Dad in their prayer circle. I find it uplifting that people in so many different places, people I don’t even know, care enough to pray for my family. How neat is that?
Here’s the thing about prayer, even if you struggle to believe. It can’t hurt.
Coping with a diagnosis is hard, but it is just the beginning. There will be months of treatments. We don’t know what the side effects will be. There could be complications. All we can do is move forward, take one day at a time, and hope for the best.