The beginning of the end
I don’t know where to begin. I don’t know what to say, or what I am supposed to say. But I think I will start with “I cannot process my father’s death”, and I still have no time to do so. The idea of someone ceasing to exist is just bizarre! I remember very well how he laughed, talked, scolded, and joked around! Then one day all that stops existing is just incomprehensible! I know he deteriorated gradually. But I wasn’t there for it. It also doesn’t hit you when you were hopeful that things were going to get better, especially when he told you so, that no matter what happened, things always happened for the best. I want to share my experience because I have this constant need to just tell you over and over what exactly happened when I was there in that hospital room number 69 on the first floor!
My dad was diagnosed with invasive antral (gastric) cancer in the summer of 2017. It fell like a shock on us because we have no family history on both sides of any kind of cancer. My father was the first case in the extended family. He was later on scheduled for an operation to remove the tumors in August. I had to leave back to the States before his scheduled operation. It was really difficult to make that decision. But with a lot of support and readings on the internet, things looked a little bit brighter than they actually were. See, my mom told us that he was on Stage II, hiding the fact that he was actually on Stage III. To this day, I still don’t know what her reasoning was behind this misinformation! And whoever knows cancer or experienced it, knows that from stage II to stage III things are very different. When you’re hit with the reality of cancer, you start reading a lot of respectable and not very trustable sources and statistics. Generally in the stomach cancer cases, the rate of surviving the 5-year mark is very low. And from stage II to III the percentage plummets by %10!
When he was in the operation room, they discovered once they opened his stomach that cancer had spread outside of the stomach to the near lymph nodes, a total of about 12 nodes were removed plus the margins. They discovered from the biopsies that he had two different types of cancers (adenocarcinoma and GIST), which according to his oncologist is very rare to have both at the same time. He then recovered well and took the time to be convinced to start chemotherapy. If you are familiar with stomach cancer, you know there isn’t one known treatment for it. It was a very invasive aggressive type of cancer that the oncologist had to decide which treatment was best. My dad was scheduled for 8 sessions over 8 months. He was given the “most gentle” kind of chemotherapy as the doctor described, due to his age, diabetes, and blood work results.
On his last two treatments, he took half a dose, then none, respectively, because of low blood platelets count. All that happened over the course of 2017 / 2018. I wasn’t there. I didn’t see him going through chemo. I didn’t witness all the fatigue and tiresome nights. I didn’t see him in pain. He still kept an active lifestyle as much as he could. He still went to the mosque for prayers, visited family, and tinkered around the house. Don’t get me wrong, he was weak! But my dad never liked showing weakness, it embarrassed him. And I think we inherited that from him. He got better! He traveled with the family for three weeks to the U.K. to visit my sister. He was happy. He had hope, but most importantly faith. He was regaining his lost weight. He had an MRI followup appointment when he got back. They found an enlarged node behind his lung. They said it was too small to do anything and that we shouldn’t worry, they will keep monitoring it every 3 months. I can tell you now that then he was under the delusion that he was fine. No symptoms, no pain, anyone would think they’re fine. He was fine.
Now I want to tell you how I felt throughout the past year. I felt distressed. I was in constant worry. My family called every week. I’d talk to dad for a couple of minutes, nothing deep, no major stories, just your typical how-are-yous. He seemed fine. He was always comforting me not to worry. But I couldn’t help it. Every time I expressed my desire to go back, he would tell me not to. My relationship with my husband suffered. David offered all the support he could. He is compassionate by nature. But I am very difficult to deal with during times of hardship. I don’t like to be comforted, hugged, or reminded of my distress. I’ve always believed it’s a sign of weakness. I battled the decision of leaving everything behind daily. I always wanted to leave everything behind. But then I kept telling myself everything was fine and my father was fine.
During the beginning of 2019, my grandmother and my father both fell ill. And her illness progressed very fast consisting of heart failure due to old age. She had always suffered from high blood pressure and diabetes. My dad, who was so close to her, took it hard. It took a toll on his health, his worry and stress manifested in physical symptoms. He started turning yellow. He was jaundiced! He was admitted to the hospital and discharged the next day due to the normality of his jaundice! It was part of the cancer progression. His cancer by then has metastasized, and enlarged lymph nodes are now blocking his bile duct, hence jaundice. He was put on IV fluids to flush out the built-up bilirubin. His condition calmed down. He didn’t suffer from anything else but turning yellow every now and then, and he got his fluids and drank lots of water, he was back to normal. Then one day, after Ramadan of that year had ended, everything went down the drain!