I should start off by saying that I was very hesitant to make this blog post. One of my biggest fears is that I will tell my story, make myself vulnerable, and be met with indifferent silence. That happened a few days ago when I tried to vent my frustration to some friends from law school who just… said nothing. I’ve already told a select few people on GBAtemp, but I figure that I need to get this off my chest. It’s a long read but I appreciate anyone who takes the time to go through it.
So here goes. Exactly one month ago my father—my favorite person in the world—passed away. He was 57 years old and was diagnosed with a very rare form of cancer exactly 19 days prior to his passing and only showed key signs of being sick about a month prior to that.
He passed away from bile duct cancer (Cholangiocarcinoma) which is one of the rarest and most aggressive forms of cancer on the planet. I’ve done plenty of research on this particular form of cancer and this shit only affects about 8,000 Americans a year (1-2 people for every 100,000 in the western world) and usually hits when you're 70 or older.
So, for it to happen to Dad at 57 years old is so incredibly implausible that it shouldn't even have ever been a passing concern. It blows my mind and I can't distract myself from what happened for more than maybe 30 minutes at a time (if I'm lucky).
Prior to his diagnosis I was studying to take the bar exam in my state to become an attorney. The exam was supposed to take place in July but COVID restrictions extended it to September, and then again until October. I had two options (i) stay at school and study there alone for 4 months, or (ii) come back home with my parents and study there and spend time with them. Not having any idea that Dad was sick—as he was showing no symptoms and in fact helped me move very large furniture right before this decision—I took for granted that I could see them after the bar so I stayed at school and studied like crazy.
At one point my Dad called me and told me a secret about how he misses me and was excited for me to come home after the bar so we could talk about what happened in the latest chapter of One Piece. Now, I understand how that might sound cringy to some—but part of the reason I love the series so much is because it was something that my Dad and I bonded over. I’m absolutely gutted that he didn’t get the chance to see it through to the end. I even reached out in the One Piece subreddit about this situation and was met with overwhelmingly positive support, something I know Dad would have been grateful for.
Anyway, I didn’t know Dad was even remotely sick until I got a call from him on October 3 telling me that he was going to see a doctor about some bloating he was having. Then I took the 2-day bar exam on October 5 and 6. Then he went to the doctor on October 7. Then I came home on October 8. The doctor believed that it was no cause for concern but scheduled more tests. I’ll spare you the details, but I was shocked at what symptoms Dad was displaying. It wasn’t until October 26 that they finally were able to tell him what was wrong.
“Well we learned its not pancreatic cancer. And it’s not gall bladder cancer. So, by deduction it must be bile duct cancer.” Here’s the thing folks… Bile duct cancer is even rarer than pancreatic cancer and just as deadly. When caught early, the 5-year survival rate is in the single digits. As I stated above, it happens to 1 out of every 100,000 people in the western world and usually hits when you’re about 70. It’s so rare that doctors don’t preemptively check for it which means that by the time it is caught, you’re already very far along. That’s right, my Dad wasn’t diagnosed until he was already in a very late stage.
A week after he was diagnosed he took his first round of chemo (after being too weak to celebrate Halloween—his favorite holiday). A week after that I brought him to his second round and he seemed to be in good spirits, but was wheelchair bound. Unfortunately, they didn’t give him the second dosage because it became clear to the doctors that this was terminal and that there was nothing they could do.
Here’s what I’ll hate for the rest of my days… It was a Monday when the doctor told my Mom over the phone that it was terminal. They refused to discharge him at that time. Due to COVID restrictions, my Mom was allowed to visit him one time for 30 minutes (she extended it to about 2 hours) but my little brother and I were not allowed to see him at all. It wasn’t until we got the hospice stuff set up at home that he was allowed to be discharged (Thursday). My little brother wasn’t at home because he was waiting on the results of a COVID test to see Dad. Even though my Dad was weak, we had a relatively good night together. But the cognitive decline between Monday (weak body but strong mind) and Thursday was absolutely stunning.
Dad called his parents and told them how much he loved them. He called my older brother who lives a few states over to do the same and he got to hear his grandkids one last time. He talked to my little brother twice. The next day (Friday) his condition was worse. I called my little brother who got his negative COVID test back to make sure that he came home that day. By the time he came back though, Dad was no longer verbal. However, before he stopped talking I believe his last words were “I love you, darling” to my Mom. He wasn’t speaking but he was extremely enthusiastic when he heard my little brother’s voice and was equally enthusiastic when I reminded him that he was my best friend.
That night, I called my older brother and gave him permission to fly out here to see Dad. He booked a ticket that night. The next day (Saturday) it became apparent that Dad was on his way out. My little brother, Mom, and I were around him and he passed away peacefully at 10:30pm. My older brother arrived about 20 minutes later…
When the funeral home people came, they looked like complete sleezy scumbags in suits. And that’s coming from me, someone who studied to be a lawyer. One of them nonchalantly sniffed the air and said “do you smell gas?” before they took my father away. My little brother, worried, called the gas company. The gas guy came out an hour later and his radar detected no leaks but he noticed about 7 places with potential leaks…… So, he turned our gas off. Which means that literally hours after my Dad died we had no gas in the house. My older brother took care of some business, made some calls (2 out of 3 plumbers had COVID -_-) and we had it paid for, fixed, and turned back on that night. But that was just a horrible way to cap off the experience.
Only two weeks later I found out that I passed the bar exam. Not only that, but I totally overstudied for it so I can’t help but feel regret about not spending that time at home. I know that’s an irrational feeling, but I can’t shake it. Unfortunately, I find it hard to be happy that I passed or any other such accomplishment. It all feels so empty to me. I also (maybe selfishly) can't feel happy for anyone else's successes which is weird because I usually do. Nope, just anger at whatever invisible force caused this to happen.
I can put on a good act though. I try (key word: try) to use humor to cope—something that might be apparent if you see me in the forums, Facebook, an instant messaging platform, or on the Tempcast—but yeah… sometimes I really struggle with what happened. This was incredibly hard for me to write.
And that was the worst day of my life. [Insert Simpsons Movie (2007) reference here.]
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