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A Daughter’s Love

My father was an almost 40 year smoker.  Some of my earliest memories are of me running into his arms when he would come home from work, late at night, with the smell of his cologne, cigarette smoke and the cold night air still lingering on him.  My Father was a railroad engineer for 35 years and one thing he learned early on was you could pass the time riding the rails a lot easier with a lit cigarette in your hand.  Cigarette’s were my Dad’s constant companion, and I have to admit, that as a child I always thought my Father looked “sophisticated” when he smoked, like an actor from the 1950’s, my very own Richard Burton or Clark Gable.  And like most little girls, he was my hero.  It never occurred to me back then that his smoking was putting him in very real danger. 

Fast forward about 30 years.  My Dad had quit smoking back around 1995, so it had been a long time since I had worried about something like “Lung Cancer”.  See, in my mind, lung cancer happened to people who were “Smokers”, my Dad no longer fell into that category, he had quit smoking over a dozen years ago, he was safe, right?  Wrong.  In March of this year, my Father went for a very over due appointment to his cardio-pulmonary doctor.  He had suffered an awful case of kidney stones and when he went in for treatment they suggested he check in with his Cardiologist, just to be safe.  Well, sure enough, in the process of a good once-over check up, a small spot on his left lung that they had been watching for years was suddenly not so small anymore.  In fact, it had more than tripled in size in the 18 months since he has last been in to see his doctor.  Well, needless to say, panic set in, for me and my entire family, including my Dad.  Within about a month my father was admitted to the hospital for eight days to undergo major cardio-thoracic surgery.  The section of the lung where the “spot” was had to be completely removed, not the tumor, the lung. 

I remember at first I just couldn’t wrap my mind around the idea that a surgeon, a complete stranger to me, was going to cut open my Father, my hero, my Clark Gable open like can of tuna and cut out the lower quarter of his left lung, and then just sew him back up, like my Mother did for my rag dolls when I was a child.  I just told myself over and over again, for days on end, “He’s going to be fine, he’s going to be fine, he’s young still, he’s strong, they caught it early, lung cancer has one of the highest survival rates when caught early” every statistic and cliché I had read or been told.  But it always came back to the same thing “I haven’t had enough time, He hasn’t had enough time.”  Every day for eight days I went and sat with Dad and talked to him, kept him company, talked to his nurses and doctors and often, just watched him sleep.  When I would leave him for the night and walk back to my car, I would tell myself over and over how good he looked and what a fighter he was.  He was going to be just fine and I had worried myself for nothing. 

And then, 2 nights before he was to be discharged, he had to be taken infor an emergency procedure to remove an infection that had developed since his lung surgery.  When they brought him back into his ICU room, he was as white as a sheet and he looked listless and semi-conscious.  As he started to come to, I started to see glimpses of the man I had always known, my hero, my Clark Gable, my Dad.  Then suddenly he started to talk to me, but he was very confused.  He knew who I was, and he knew my Mother, but he had no memory of the ICU room he had been brought back into, or of his nurses that had been caring for him for the past week.  He became nervous, and agitated, paranoid and convinced that something was very wrong.  I tried my best to make sense of what was happening to him, but I was thinking something physical was wrong, when in reality, it was something very different. 

That night, when I walked back to my car, I was very quiet.  There was no inner “pep talk” about how strong he was and how “everything was going to be fine”, just silence.  I sat down in my car, closed the door, put my hands on the steering wheel, and I sobbed.  I cried for every moment of fear I had for my Father.  For every moment of pain and fear I saw in his eyes, and for the crippling fear I saw in my Mother’s eyes, even though she dared not speak of it.  I closed my eyes and I thought back to every memory of us, teaching me to tie my shoes, to ride a bike, to hit a ball.  Kissing my skinned knee to make it feel better, cheering with pride when I sang the National Anthem at school, walking me down the aisle on my Wedding Day.  I was flooded with memories and tears.  Thankfully, my Father is still here.  He survived his surgery, and the subsequent procedure for the infection.  He had to do 16 weeks of chemotherapy to make certain that every base was covered and that nearly took all the fight he had left in him.  There were more than a few times during that 16 weeks when I found myself again repeating my mantra “He’s going to be fine, he’s going to be fine” as his hair thinned and his weight dropped and he seemed to age before my very eyes.  He is on his way back to his former self.  He has regained some of his strength, a little more each day.  The color has returned to his cheeks and his signature sly grin has once again begun to creep across his weathered yet handsome brow.  Lung cancer didn’t win this battle, but it certainly did its best.  Our family came face to face with our greatest fear; our Dad went toe to toe with the “Big C” and came out the other side.  We learned that lung cancer is no longer the death sentence that we had feared as children, however it was also nothing to dismiss lightly.  We got lucky, and during “Lung Cancer Awareness Month” we are reminded of that, and every time we look at Dad, we are reminded again.       





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