Be there on Monday

I've been staring at the phone for the past few days, knowing that I should probably get up the bravery to call home and find out how things were going. But sometimes there is comfort in deliberately knowing nothing for a few days, in believing that while you're going on, blithely living your life, that just because everything is calm and quiet in your life everything is calm and quiet in everyone else's lives as well.

It's more deliberate than that, really. I didn't call home because I wasn't sure I wanted to hear what Mom had to say.

I decided to wait until last night to call. From the last time I talked with Mom, she'd said that the trips back and forth to take radiation treatments were pretty painful on Dad, and exhausted both of them. The first course of radiation ended on Monday, and I thought waiting until the next day to call might mean she'd had a chance to rest up a bit.

How do I explain that I knew when I started talking with Mom that something was wrong? I hate to use pseudopsychological babble phrases like "coping strategies," but it's true. Mom and I cope with the impossible in the same way: with upright spines and brittle smiles. Our crying, our emotional release, only comes when no one is around to see the carnage.

How do I explain that I heard that brittle smile in her voice last night?

Her words came out in such a way that she might have been just offering an offhand suggestion—"You know, next week might be a good time for you to come home. Before your Dad starts his next round of radiation."

But her voice didn't match the words she was saying. Her voice said something else entirely.

In return, I tried to ask her the question whose answer I already knew. I think I just needed to hear confirmation from someone else. "Mom, I need to know something. What is—I mean, how long does, well, Dad … have?" I couldn't force the harsh words out: Death. Die. Loss. Lose.

"Maybe six months."

Now flash the next section through your head, and you will have some approximation of my thoughts before I answered my mother:

I already knew it; why did it hurt so much to hear it from her? I've done my research; I've known what to expect. The pancreas is such a deep-tissue organ that early-stage pancreatic cancer is almost impossible to detect. By the time it is detectable, it is generally in the most advanced stages. In Dad's case, by the time it was diagnosed, he had two tumors in his pancreas, several more nodules in his chest cavity, and metastases in his vertebrae.

Stage IV.

Stage IV is pain management, grief management, consolation, and loss. How does one "spin" this, a disease whose mortality rate hovers around 95-98%? How do you nod, accept, cry, dry your eyes, get up, and march on?

The morphine helps with my father's pain, but does not completely ease it. The pain in his vertebrae is intense; he sleeps (fitfully) in the recliner because he cannot lie flat in the bed. He does not have the strength to dress himself or bathe himself. He cannot be left alone.

It's time.

"Mom, we've got a couple of commitments here. Jess is coming up tomorrow, and we've got a meeting we've got to attend on Saturday. The earliest I can leave out is Monday morning. Let me get a few things wrapped up here and I'll be out there on Monday afternoon or evening."

"I think that would be good, hon."

"Let me make some phone calls and get some things arranged. I'll be there on Monday."


Words escape me... I know there isn't anything I can say to ease your grief. Enjoy your time with your Dad, and know that you are all in my thoughts and prayers.

Jen said it best..... ditto from me. I have been quiet on this topic for you because my grandfather died from pancreatic cancer in 1974. Its one of the worst and I can't believe there is still not a better prognosis all these years later. Godspeed.

In the same way that you knew what your mother had to say, Amy, I knew when you left a voice mail on my cell phone last night what you were calling to talk about. -sigh- Words fail.

I will keep you and your family in my thoughts and prayers. Have a safe trip and make the best of the time you have--something I've learned along the way.

I know you have already heard this, and will keep on hearing this, but we will do whatever we need to do to help out. Jeff will eat more than pizza and shake and bake while you are gone, and the cats will get thier scritchies, and you will have many pairs of arms to hug you when you get back.

Amy, As someone who has had loved ones go through the final stages of cancer, I'll repeat what the others have said here...enjoy what time you have. Wrap up whatever issues you can and give yourself and your dad a chance to truely say goodbye. Also, give yourself time to grieve, both now and later. If there is anything at all that Brian and I can do, we are just an e-mail away. We'll certainly keep you and your family in our thoughts and prayers in the coming months. Much love, Suzan

((( ... )))

my friend, i wish i had the right words to say in such a way to convey my understanding and support. i have dealt with the loss of both parents so i know what you're going through. suzan has it right but you already know that. you will be surprised by the strength you have within you. draw on it and that strength that is shared by others around you. i am here if i can help, even if it's only a word of encouragement.

hug hug hug hug hug hug hug hug hug hug hug hug hug hug hug hug hug hug hug hug hug hug

My heart is with you and your family.

i went through a similar time with my grandad. its tough. and at the time, when he finally went, i couldnt do anything. i remember it, because i had just come home from a really good driving lesson, and i was hyped up ready to go out for the evening. i took one look at my mum when i walked in the door, and i just knew. she wasnt crying. but i could see it in her eyes. it was tough. i couldnt even cry. but i got through it, and im sure you will too. much sympathy. and hugs of course.

As someone in a very similar situation (my father has just gone through a course of radiotherapy for two brain tumours, and has two further tumours in his chest) I wish you all the best, and the strength that you will inevitably need to carry you through this terribly tough time. Take care of yourself.