Posted by: steveonfilm | January 9, 2012

What We’re Up Against

My father was diagnosed with a form of cancer called Chronic lymphocytic leukemia about seven years ago. The 5 year survival rate is about 75%, which as you can see my father has met and surpassed. CCL is relatively treatable, but not curable. Many people can live a long time with CLL and remain active and relatively healthy until the very end. If you had to choose a type of leukemia to get, this would be the one you’d choose.

Eventually my father will die from CLL. He knows it. We know it. That’s just reality. But it’s not a thought that’s constantly in the back of our minds. It’s a ways off. And when things start in that direction we’ll know and have plenty of time to prepare. Until then, there’s no reason to worry about it, since life will continue on pretty much as it does every day. Or that’s what we thought…

On a routine visit to his doctor, they discovered a lump near my father’s thyroid. Last week he went in for a biopsy to determine if it is malignant. We expected the results to come on Friday, hence my last post. However, they didn’t and we had to wait all weekend to find out what the lab results were.

This afternoon, my father was informed the lab results were… inconclusive, but highly suspicious. Evidently, for this type of tumor this outcome for an initial biopsy isn’t that uncommon. A follow up with his normal oncologist is set for Wednesday.

A malignant tumor on your thyroid isn’t the death sentence that some cancers can be. Of the four types of thyroid cancer, 3 of them have a five year survival rate of 100% if caught in stage one. Even when they get to stage three, those same three still have a five year survival rate of over 70%. Normally, while this would be cause for concern, it’s an extremely treatable cancer. But as I mentioned, that’s normally.

My father isn’t normal. He already has one type of cancer. Now he’s potentially facing a second.

If this growth does turn out to be malignant, it complicates his CLL treatment. Things will need to be changed. Doctors will need to decide on a strategy to fight not one, but two cancers, without upsetting the delicate balance that my father’s body currently operates in. Depending on treatment outcomes, hard choices about quality of life will need to be made.

I spent a lot of time crying this weekend. I’m not going to shy away from that. I think anyone with a healthy, or even unhealthy, relationship with their father would feel much the same way I did. Father’s are our first heroes. They seem invincible. Able to accomplish feats that we can only dream of as children.

As we get older we begin to see them not as the myth our childhoods made them out to be, but as a real person. A man, plain and simple. Conversations change. Impressions change. Life changes. But that relationship, for better or worse, will always be there between a father and his child. They will always be connected.

As you can probably tell, I was lucky enough to have a great father. His only real fault was his smoking, and some years when he probably worked too hard and missed some things in our lives I’m sure he regrets. But other than that, I can’t really think of anything I wish he did better. He was intelligent. Encouraged us to explore books, art, and music. Show my brother’s and I that being big and strong doesn’t mean you get to be a bully. He never spoke of women as objects, and thus my brothers and I never looked at them that way. He loved to talk philosophy over some good wine.

Even with all that, I was lucky. Statistics say things shouldn’t have turned out this way. My father grew up poor. And I’m not talking politician’s story poor, I mean the real poor. The kind where there isn’t food. Where your brother’s and sisters don’t go to the doctor because you can’t afford it. There aren’t always clothes. You get kicked out of your house. That kind of poor. Detroit is a rough city, and my father was in the roughest parts.

He kicked his own alcoholic dad out of the house when he was sixteen. My father was built like an ox. And he knew how to handle himself. His dad had no choice but to leave. But the damage was done. Alcoholism runs rampant on my father’s side. Somehow, he managed to escape that cycle. The beatings that my father endured growing up were never reciprocated onto me. My father was the only member of his family to graduate high school. He was an all state linebacker. He went on to have a 30+ year career in IT. He did everything the statistics said he shouldn’t have been able to do. Maybe he can pull off that feat again.

Why share this? Why put this up on a blog for complete strangers to read? Because when I type it, and I click “Publish,” it’s real. I’m left with a marker that I’ve agreed to. A reality that I’m forcing myself to face. If I don’t say anything, I can live in denial. Ignoring what inevitability lies ahead. And I don’t want to go down that road. I’ve got plenty of time to say the things I’ve always wanted to do. I don’t want to be left with any “what ifs.” And the only way to prevent that is to start as soon as possible.

Keep writing,


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