My Dad was dying long before I even knew it, that’s not me being harsh or being insensitive. My Dad was battling prostate cancer for over 15 years, long before I was even aware he was ill.
I was 17 years old when my Parents told me that my Dad had stage 4 prostate cancer. That afternoon seemed like it would be like any other day. Except for when you entered the house you felt this aura, this tense energy. It only made sense something was going on because our parents called us into the living room to talk.
It came out like word vomit.
My Parents spilling every detail as I tried to connect the pieces and memories I had as a younger child. The reason my Parents didn’t want to tell my siblings and I sooner was because his cancer had gone into remission. They also didn’t want us worrying at such a young age.
Bless their hearts for carrying on that weight for so many years, for being so resilient – especially my Dad.
Everything became a blur, I tried thinking back as far as I could as I heard my parents muffled voices in the background.
But, it all finally made sense. Our frequent visits to Rochester, MN wasn’t just for “fun” or “vacation”. I mean we didn’t even have family or friends that lived in Minnesota. It was strange we would go so often for the “Mall of America.” For my Brother and I it might’ve been a fun, random trip, we took monthly, because we were completely unaware of the real reason we were there. It was because my Dad was receiving treatment at the Mayo Clinic. The colored bandages around his arm, the reason my Grandfather would be the one taking us around in Minnesota and how my Parents would be gone for hours on end. It all finally made sense.
Our abrupt move to Arizona made sense too. There was a Mayo Clinic in Arizona. I remember our parents telling us we were moving to be closer to Family (which was also true). As I gathered my thoughts and emotions, I just remember staring at my parents — angry for keeping such a secret for so long. Angry that they thought it was now suddenly convenient to let us in. But, what difference did it make? Why tell us now?
It’s because his battle was over
At his advanced cancer stage, the options in getting rid of the cancer completely and successfully became a slim chance to none. But, my Parents fought back, they tried the last few rounds of chemotherapy and surgery. Traveled throughout the US to various rated clinics and hospitals. They tried every holistic, natural approach & even traveled to various churches to see different priests. But, no radiation, no IV medication, no pills, and unfortunately no prayers was going to slow down the progression. It was also clear that all these treatments were no longer benefiting my Dad, his quality of life was suffering as is and by putting him through more treatment and regimen’s would make him suffer even more.
My Dad was silently battling cancer in front of us for years unbeknownst to myself and my younger Brother. And, even at his last stage of cancer, he continued to live life to its absolute fullest, you would’ve never guessed the man was even ill. Besides seeing the physical changes: the bald head, frail figure, and the unfortunate affects of treatment. Cause I sure didn’t see it, growing-up, he never acted like it either. I saw a Man go about his day and fought relentlessly.
For as long as I could remember I had a strong bond with my Dad. I was a Daddy’s Girl, 100%! He was Super-Man! He was always my Pageant escort, he proudly supported me in the bleachers cheering me on for every game, or competition. He was present for everything. He made sure every activity was fun, he was the life of every party, but, he never showed us his pain. He never showed us how bad it hurt or how tired he was. He kept going-on even in his final days.
But, even Superman needs to hang-up his cape at some point.
It was brutal hell, pure torture watching my “over-the-top, energetic, larger-than-life” Dad wither away right in front of my eyes. My Dad was dying, and I couldn’t stop the inevitable. Amongst the chaos, I realized something else.
My Dad wasn’t the only one dying
While my Dad fought tirelessly, my heart was hurting for my Mom. I saw her determination, her fight, she was adamant to figure out other options, she was willing to shell out every penny she had to make sure that he could receive the best treatment to be guaranteed to live another 100+ years. But, she was tired too. Her eyes were constantly puffy, she prayed more times than I could remember & she was quietly falling apart. She bravely watched her Husband of 20+ years fight for his life, for his Family. She was present for every one of his treatments, she saw every pain, was at every emergency visit or procedure, she silently fought this battle with no one to turn too. I admired her for her strength. But, apart of her was dying too.
I felt like time was against me, this bombshell that was just dropped on me was pure torture. I felt like I had to speed up things, things that I needed to do while he was still alive. Things like graduate college, get married, have kids. Things I wanted my Dad to be present for.
I was grateful that he watched me graduate high school, I was grateful that he was able to see me compete at my national pageant. Even though he couldn’t walk me down the stage as he has done many times. I was grateful for the last few strongest months that he had. But, I knew at some point it was going to end. It was hard going about my day to day life not knowing if my Dad was going to be alive in the next month. But, I followed his lead, I cherished the moments and enjoyed my time with him.
In his last month, he spent it in and out of the hospital, in and out of clinics. He was no longer home with us, and if he was home, it was for a short time before we would have to take him back to the hospital. On one of the last nights at the house, he asked us to walk him around in his wheel chair around the block. We thought that was such an “odd” request, but, we did so. My Mom pushed him around the block in his wheel chair, as he took it all in. The suns rays were bright he took in the rays, enjoyed the fresh air. They ended up in the backyard as he gazed at his garden. My Dad had such a green thumb. He could literally make anything grow! He worked SO hard on the backyard. But, I could see it in his eyes. He was tired. We realized He was taking it all in.
The following night he was in the ER. My Mom spent less time at home and spent more nights at the hospital. Everyday after school or before work I would go to the hospital, bring him his favorite doughnut and a coffee (if he was allowed to have it). One day after class, I hung-out in the room with my Dad while my Mom ran errands. I remember seeing him lay in the hospital bed. Trying not to grunt in pain. I walked over and asked if he wanted me to do something to help him. He looked at me. Smiled. He was so tired. I saw it in his eyes. But, I think he saw something more in my eyes because He looked at me and told me…
“It’s going to be ok, you’re going to be ok.”
I was already trying to hold back tears as I watched him in pain & he pulled me in for a hug, and I just crawled into the hospital bed with him and buried my head in his chest. I begged him to fight, I begged him to come home. And, all he kept telling me was to “stop crying and that everything was going to be ok.”
That night, as I laid in my room I tried to memorize his facial features, remember his mole, his big teeth, his scent. I tried to take it all in before I couldn’t anymore. We transferred my Dad into hospice care the following day. His health was deteriorating and comfort was our focus. The night he was transferred into hospice, I was going to a “Relay for Life” event in honor of my Dad, and to crown my successor for a Pageant. It was one of the things I was focused on during my pageant reign. I stopped by to see him as I was going to be staying overnight to give up my pageant title that same weekend.
He was his chipper self, making jokes, making the nurses laugh, it seemed crazy he would even need to be in such a place! He was alive & his positive energy and laughter could be heard in the silent hallways. I hung-out for a little and was telling him about my day, I told him my plans for the evening and that as soon as I gave up my title I would come straight back. As I leaned in to give him a hug and kiss, he looked at me differently. He held on longer, tighter. And, his eyes followed me as I made my way out the door. I turned around and told him ” I love you, I’ll see you tomorrow.” He replied, “Don’t go. Just stay.” I turned around and gave him another hug, I assured him I was going to be ok. This was the first pageant event I would be attending alone without Family. I figured he was sad he couldn’t see me give up my title. But, I kept assuring him that it was just one night. I gave him a hug & kiss, told him “I love you.” He looked at me one more time, smiled and said, “I love you.” And, I left.
Little did I know that would be the last conversation I had with my Dad.
Later that evening, as I was getting ready to meet the contestants. I received a phone call from my Mom saying that my Dad really wanted me to spend the night at the hospice center. She told me my God-sister was on her way to pick me up. I quickly packed my things, and found my director and told her that I had to leave due to a Family emergency.
My God-sister and her than BF arrived, her BF drove my car back and I got in the car with my God-sister. They both seemed normal, I looked at my god-sister as she drove. I asked if everything was ok? As I just saw him that morning. She smiled and said, yeah. He just wants to see you. As we made it into the parking lot, I walked into the building and I couldn’t hear laughter. But, I saw Family in the hallway outside my Dad’s door. Lots of them, I saw my cousins from out of town and surprisingly the room was full. It was quiet as I walked towards my Dad. I felt all eyes on me, no one said anything to me except squeeze my shoulder.
I walked in and saw my Dad in his bed sleeping, I looked over to my Mom who gave me a faint smile. I walked-up to my Dad and touched his shoulder as I’ve done many times before to wake-him.
“I’m here Dad” (tap, tap) “Dad, I’m here”
No answer. I looked around and I could hear everyone whimpering, I looked at everyone in panic. I started shaking his shoulder a little stronger, “Dad, I’m here! Wake-up!”. I looked at my Mom and she responded, “He is no longer responding, he is in a coma.” I felt my knees buckle and I started screaming, “wake-up! I’m here! Please!”
I remember regaining consciousness in a separate room down the hall, paramedics were called and I was whisked away to the ER down the street. After, an EKG and some medication, we went back to the hospice. I felt so lifeless as I walked back to my Dad’s room. My eyes hurt from crying, my chest felt like it was going to explode. The next thing I knew, my Aunt walked me up to my Dad’s bed and put me on my Dad’s chest, she said, “He was waiting for you” and I felt my Dad take his last breath.
I lost my Dad on May 4, 2008 at 12:56 AM to Prostate Cancer
9 years today, I lost a part of me. Although it is a bittersweet feeling, I’m at peace knowing he is no longer suffering. Although, it is selfish of me to wish he was still physically here. We love and miss you very much bald man! Rest in Peace, Papa!