Early last November, after urging my dad to see a cardiologist, he was told that he would need to have bypass surgery – very soon. I remember thinking how strange it was that my dad was going to have surgery at the end of the month. During all the years of my childhood, I cannot think of a time where he was ill. Maybe a cold, every now and then, but nothing that would make him unable to go to work. Working was my dad’s life, and he enjoyed it immensely. Aside from family being his first priority, his clients were his second. He didn’t work as hard as he did to make any money, he did it because he genuinely cared for his clients. My dad, being his workaholic self, was more worried about scheduling his bypass and it affecting his clients, than he was himself. All of his questions revolved around, “When can I go back to work?” He even thought he would be able to work from the hospital, because he simply did not want to let his clients down. Now that is truly a loyal attorney!
After the surgery was scheduled for November 30, I believe my parents, brother, and I were faced with the real possibility of what could happen during the surgery. We all began spending more time together. My dad and I went to a Creighton Basketball game, which ended up being the last game that he went to. I am so glad that i got to go see one last game with him, as it had been his tradition with my brother and I for years. We had a wonderful Thanksgiving and appreciated the time together as a family. It will always be the most memorable Thanksgiving to me. Reality hit me like a ton of bricks, and opened my eyes as to what was important in life. NOTHING is more important than your family. I started clinging to my dad, and wanted to be with him and take as many pictures together as I could. – Which probably drove him nuts, because he hated my constant persistence with capturing everything on film. I did not get as many pictures as I would have liked with all of us before the surgery, but at least I was lucky enough to work with him every day at his office, and those memories will forever be in my heart.
My dad and I at his office, after our Sunday breakfast – less than a week before he had bypass.
The day before his surgery, he and I left his office around the same time. I remember thinking to myself as I watched him leave, with tears starting to build up in my eyes, that this could be the last time I see my dad walk out of here as the person that I’ve known him to be. We went to dinner that night, and I could tell he was nervous. Who wouldn’t be? I get nervous by simply going to the dentist. I couldn’t imagine facing quadruple bypass. I didn’t let it show that I was so scared for him, instead I had to be strong for him! I couldn’t sleep that whole night. I was scared – plus nervous that I would over sleep, but most of all I just wanted everything to be over, and my dad to be ok. I needed to see my dad before he went into surgery, so I arrived at the hospital around 5 AM. (For those that know me, I am sure you are shocked that I woke up at 4 that morning!) My mom, brother, and I took turns going into the pre-op room talking to him and trying to distract him so that he wasn’t nervous. I will never forget that the ceiling in the pre-op area had these twinkling lights on the ceiling. When you are in the hospital with a loved one, its strange what you remember. Once the medical staff had us leave the pre-op area, we began our very long wait.
It shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone that I am NOT a patient person. 7:00am – 3:30pm seemed like the longest hours of my life. We had friends and family in the waiting room, and I honestly cannot tell you what any of them talked about that day, or who all was there, because I just kept staring at the television screen that had his patient number with his status. I remember people trying to get me to eat, I simply just did not want to do anything. I just wanted to know that my dad made it through and was ok. A huge relief rushed over me around 3:00-3:00 when that television screen finally showed “recovery.” Around 3:30pm, the doctor came out and took us into a room. My dad had made it through his bypass and was doing well. Then came the infamous “but..” I literally at that moment felt like life had stopped. If he was ok, then why was this doctor starting off a sentence with “but..?” During the surgery they had found a tumor within his chest wall, and the initial flash test was benign. It had been sent off for further testing in the lab, which would take a few days for those results to come back. I had been so scared that my dad wasn’t going to make it through the bypass surgery, it never crossed my mind that they would find something else.
All that I remember after that, is making a bolt for the elevator because I needed to go outside and get some air, and break down where no one could see me. I was so angry. How could this be happening to my dad? He just had quadruple bypass. It was just supposed to be heart surgery. I am the one who urged him to go see a cardiologist. What if the tests result came back with a cancer diagnosis? My world changed in that consult room, when the doctor mentioned the word tumor. I just wanted to see my dad at that point. Nothing else mattered.
I finally was able to see him in the ICU as he was coming off of the anesthesia, and he was being quite the jokester. To all of our surprise, he was not in horrible amounts of pain, because due to the diabetes, the nerves around the incision sites were damaged. That comforted me, because that would make recovering much easier. I still could not get the thoughts of the tumor out of my mind though. It was all I was thinking about. I was at the hospital early the following morning, and by that time, they had told him about the tumor. I couldn’t bring myself to bring it up to him, because if I didn’t mention it, it almost did not seem like it was real. He did not bring it up to me either. It began to consume my thoughts, and I started researching what type of tumor would be in the chest wall. There were so many that it was hard to narrow it down to a specific one, especially not knowing if it was benign or malignant.
I believe it was the following Tuesday, December 4, that my worst nightmare came true. I was sitting on the window ledge, drinking some coffee and kind of looking around the room. I heard my Uncle Mike ask my dad if he found out anything from the labs. My dad nodded his head to say “yes.” The next question my uncle asked was, “Is it cancer?” That was also followed up by my dad nodding his head, “yes.” In that second, I didn’t even know what to do, say, think, and to top it off, they did not know that I had just heard this. I think I sent my mom a text because she was across from me, and she and my Uncle Gary took me into the hall and told me. At that point they did not know what kind of cancer it was for sure. More tests needed to be done, most importantly a CT Scan, which uses iodine. Since he had low kidney function before the bypass surgery, and even lower after the bypass, they had to be careful with the amount of iodine that my dad was given, as it is hard for the kidneys to flush out.
Everyone in my family was upset, but we had to pull it together and be positive for my dad. We did not want my dad to know how terrified we all were. I was freaking out inside and just wanted to cry, scream, and blame someone for what was happening to my dad. As scared as I was, he had to have been one hundred times more scared. His world had literally just been torn apart. The only thing, at that time, I could do for my dad, was be there for him and let him know how much I loved him. I continuously sat next to him, rotating breaks between my mom, brother, and both of my uncles. We were all in a state of shock and wondering how all of us were going to get through this.
In the short time period between November 30 – December 4, our lives were forever changed and were never going to go back to how things were before. We had to adjust to what would become a roller coaster – both mentally & physically.
You never know what is going to happen tomorrow, so always appreciate each and every day. Most importantly tell the ones you love, that you love them, never let it go unsaid.