It all started 5 years ago on my Dad’s 64th birthday. In 2011, after about 4-5 months of back and chest pain, doctor visits, and chiropractor visits my Dad got a phone call that on his latest CT scan they found what appeared to be Renal Cell Carcinoma (kidney cancer). A couple of months later they did the first attempt at surgery on one of his kidneys to remove the cancer, the plan was to go back in at a later time to remove the cancer from the other kidney and adrenal gland. Within about a month, Dad started having severe pain in his back and a lump became apparent near his spine in the middle of his back. After my mom made numerous calls to his doctors and being adamant about having another scan, Dad was soon at Duke for yet another X-ray and CT . Upon this visit they found a tumor on his thoracic spine that had to be removed immediately. He was rushed into surgery and the tumor was removed, and hardware was put in its place . The remaining part of the year was spent with excruciating pain throughout his back and the rest of his body, due to the cancer metastasizing to his bones.
The following year, my dad had fallen in the kitchen and landed on his right arm, while trying to brace his fall. From this accident he had broken his humerus bone, which was a worse break than it should’ve been since the bone was weak because of his cancer. He had to have surgery to repair the break and they placed a metal plate with screws in his arm. During surgery the doctor clipped his radial nerve and dad lost most of the function in his right hand. He spent a lot of time in rehab doing therapy on his right arm and hand to try and help regain function. We feel as though this is when things really interfered with Dad’s mental and emotional being. He was not able to do much on his own, not only was he weak but he was unable to use his dominant hand. For those that knew my father he was always working on a project, and the fact that he had to succumb to asking others for help was truly debilitating to him and may have been some of the toughest moments witnessing him losing hope. He would say, "If I had to choose my arm or cancer, I would want the function in my arm and hand back so I felt that I was useful." That statement was enough to bring us all to tears. There were moments of a hopeful break through, he would say he would feel tingling in his arm where it would normally be numb. We were told that this is a sign of regaining nerve function, but unfortunately over time there was never any progress of function.
It seemed to be a domino effect throughout the course of his sickness. Our family, very close and very large, watched as the strongest man we all knew was unable to do the everyday things he once loved, including gardening, mowing the grass ( yes he actually like doing this ), fixing something that may have not even been broken. He loved to stay busy and laugh and spend time with those he loved. My parents had/have great medical insurance but some of the bills kept piling up. We bought a bike (with 3 wheels) at a point in time when he felt like he was feeling better, though this was short lived, we all had hope. We also had a chair lift put into their house after he was not steady walking up stairs anymore, bathroom equipment to help him get around easier, walkers, etc. No matter the cost we just wanted him to keep feeling independent. There was some help from the Veteran Affairs (VA), my father did two tours of Vietnam and was in the field when we dropped “Agent Orange”. My father never wanted money from the VA until he realized that his sickness was most likely linked to Agent Orange and the chemicals that were associated with it. There are many forms of cancer that is covered for those who were subjected to the chemicals, but Renal Cell Carcinoma was not one of them. He also had trouble with his hearing and the VA ended up helping in that area but did not acknowledge the real problem at hand. Now after mistakes of hoping this would one day be settled and Dad would be recognized through the VA for this, it has yet to ever come to fruition. If you research, there are plenty of men his age who were in the same tour as my father who also have Renal Cell Carcinoma. One day I hope for the memory of those lost and those still fighting, will be recognized for their strength, resilience, and for risking their lives for our country.
At the end of 2014, beginning of 2015, Dad's body was starting to get very week and he had been in out of the hospital for pneumonia. Valentine’s Day weekend, 2015, he had thrown up blood and scared us all to no end. He was having trouble overcoming the pneumonia. We received the type of news we have been scared of for many years……”the cancer has spread….. “ The cancer spread to his liver and lungs and within the next month he was unable to overcome what ended up being MRSA pneumonia. The ambulance came and took him to the hospital when his blood pressure plummeted and his heart rate was going through the roof. Unfortunately, we were never able to bring our sweet father home from that trip to the hospital. The worst nightmare of them all, and I hope that no one ever has to watch someone they love go through anything like that.
Fast forward, it has been one year since my father passed, on March 3, 2015, although it feels like yesterday. For my siblings and myself, we have prayed that we could help our mom (who has emphysema and struggles to do daily tasks) keep her home and remain able to pay her bills, as well as past bills from Dad’s illness. It has finally come to a head and though we all have so much pride and want to do right by our father and take care of our mother, we have gotten in a little bit deeper than we anticipated. The last thing we ever wanted to do was ask for help, I feel as though that is natural but if we continue the way we have been, our mother may lose everything. Our mom is the glue that has always held this family together, my father was her everything and because of her he was able to push through those years of sickness. My worst fear is that my mother can’t be happy again after the loss of dad and having nothing but stressful situations burden her. No matter what we all do, it just hasn’t been enough thus far. The most recent event, one of the rooms in her home flooded and though it was attempted to be fixed once at her cost, it flooded again after the next heavy rain. The insurance company said they would not cover for it to get fixed, so we felt like it was a sign to either save it or sell it and we had to make a decision quickly. Our main goal now is to help mom sell her home, get it ready to be placed on the market, and find her a home that she will be comfortable and happy in and be able to get back on her feet. I don’t know if she will ever be as happy as she is in the home that has all of the great memories of her, our father, and of all of the family visits but we are hoping she finds new joy in some different surroundings.
As we reach out to others, we are determined to return the good heartedness and give back to someone else in need during difficult times. We are now living what seems to be like a nightmare and are hopeful to one day soon be able to give back and help turn someone else’s life around. Everyone deserves happiness and a piece of mind, though one’s decisions can effect that, some things are never promised or turn out the way they seem. Life is a journey, keep those you love close and tell them how much you care every chance you get. Thank you for reading our story, we wish you peace, love, and much happiness.