I thought it was mom’s cheap potatoes.
It was Easter, and while doing a million things, she added too much butter. My brother, dad, and I playfully pricked it with our fingers and laughed as Mom rolled her eyes and scraped the oil into the trash and dropped it on the table with an annoyed thump.
As dinner began and our plates filled, we exchanged glances at each other, reluctantly scooped potatoes, and lifted small bites into our mouths with reservations to please Mom. But while we were eating, Dad uncomfortably sat down on her, pressed her lips, and looked down at the food he barely touched.
She had had pre-existing symptoms such as indigestion and abdominal pain. In January that year he went on a family trip to Mexico and most of the time he went back to his room early to lie down. At the buffet he was gagging and turning his nose up. For months, his appetite had waned and he was feeling unwell, which we figured was because it was flu season, he was traveling, or something was wrong with his food. Maybe those awful potatoes upset him.
A month after Easter, my father was diagnosed with colon cancer.
The following year, my father embarked on therapy with hope and determination. He was joking around with the staff who did the chemotherapy, forgetting about the chest port, and discussing it with us on the ward when he needed a stint on his kidney. The disease was gaining strength and drawing more from him.
The day he was diagnosed, I flew home from Chicago and made a quiet pact with myself. I don’t want to burden him with more of my fear and anger. On the way home, I hid in a dirty toilet cubicle and sobbed softly so that no one could hear me. I nodded politely to the airline crew and covered my puffy eyes with sunglasses. Upon arrival, I collapsed into my mother’s arms, unable to breathe, worried that my legs would be exhausted, and cried all the way to the hospital to expel my emotions.
But when I went inside and saw my father for the first time, I couldn’t help but soften the uneasy flutter in my chest. I took solace the following year when he returned in a shady corner of the hospital hallway. At home, I vented my anger by going to the bathroom to relieve redness in my eyes and throwing things in the basement. Then, after I pulled myself together, I sat down with him and exchanged jokes and shared my favorite old tales.
It was ten months into his treatment that I finally broke down in front of him. Our conversation moved from mundane chatter to breaking news about his treatment, his progress, the food he could still stomach, and what could be next steps.
I approached even the darkest of situations with optimism. I searched for kernels of hope even where there seemed to be no hope. But my father thwarted me with his steadfast practicality and the reality that I could not avoid.
I felt the anger welling up in my throat — I tried to put it into words during the tears I held back for so long — when I finally asked the question we often ask when faced with the toughest of situations: Why? why him?
He calmly looked back at me and said something I will never forget.
why not me Three little words leveled the room, hanging there plainly, filling the space between us like mist. Even in his agony, he was able to see and accept things that most people would never do.
why my father why my friend why my spouse? Why my child? Why do bad things happen to worthless people?
If the tragedy is personal, it feels non-random and you desperately try to find reasons not to feel that way. Blame. But dad didn’t do anything to get cancer. This realization meant accepting an absolute lack of reason. Cancer and other scary, unthinkable things don’t happen to everyone, but they can happen to anyone. Who.
In May 2015, less than a year after he was diagnosed, we lost him to colon cancer. Since then, my grief has lingered like the mild disorienting fever I carry every day.
Over the past seven years, I have watched colon cancer gain momentum. I’ve seen headlines about how it upended more lives. I read more disappointing facts about more people fighting or dying from it. March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. I can’t help but think back to these three words of hers. I can’t help but think how these words bring invaluable wisdom and how I can put my father’s perspective into practice.
according to American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death. It is estimated that there will be more than 150,000 new cases of colorectal cancer in the United States this year. It has long been considered a disease that generally affects older people, but common in people under the age of 55.
We may not know why someone gets colon cancer, but there are ways to detect it. Usually, the earlier it is detected, the better the prognosis. actual, American Cancer Society Notice “When colorectal cancer is found in its early stages, before it has metastasized, the five-year relative survival rate is about 90%.” Colorectal cancer screening from age 45 Important for people at average risk of disease and for people with a family history of disease (up to 30% colorectal cancer patients) or Other risk factors You may want to talk to your doctor about starting screening earlier.
Unfortunately, according to the Fight Colorecter Cancer organization, 20 million Americans Fall Behind in Screening Despite Increasing Diagnosis more advanced. a lot of waiting symptoms As my family has intimately learned, appearing can be fatal because they may mistaken for a minor or other mundane problem Cancer is not detected until late stages, when it is difficult to treat.
Armed with this information, I know I have to be vigilant about screening myself. I can’t say that things would have changed if my father had been screened or had seen a doctor about his symptoms earlier, but I didn’t know – he The possibility of being saved – is a question that will haunt me… for the rest of my life.
Of course, Dad’s realization – “Why not me?” – taught me more than just prioritizing my health, not just his illness. It also inspired me to live a more fulfilling life. Opportunity invites risk, but it also invites reward. My father reminded me to be careful when I can, but he also reminded me to believe in myself.
Because of this, I took a passionate leap and discovered that I could land where I never thought possible. It helps to remember that you never know what great things will happen if you don’t try. I was able to do nothing. Why can’t I reach for everything I want? Shouldn’t I pursue? Perhaps those three words were his last lessons, the ones that gave me the strength to live a life that he would be proud of.
Erin Hall is a proud Michigan now living in Chicago. A communications professional by profession, she spends her spare time from doodling on nightstands to “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Believe in Angels,” in the words of Detroit Her Metro Her Times, Multiplicity Magazine, and TodayShow.com. is spent scribbling Deep Wild Journal. find her on her twitter @Erin Hall 802.
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