I found out recently that my dad has terminal lung cancer.
It took a while to diagnose – 10 or so months, as they were treating his shortness of breath as anything BUT lung cancer (How. The. Fuck?!). His chest had gradually filled up with fluid (2 litres! Imagine a 2-litre bottle of pop in your chest cavity!) which we thought was just a severe infection – after initially worrying that it was serious, but then he had two chest x-rays that were, apparently, “clear”. Plus, maybe a bit of heart trouble, easily managed by a medication overhaul. So we thought. We really had no idea. We found out it was bad when my dad mentioned it, dropped it casually into conversation, after they’d let him out of hospital (they didn’t actually tell him, it was in his discharge letter – the word “malignancy”. Yep, that’s how he – we – found out he was dying). He could have been updating us about the latest West Brom score, so casually did he drop the C-bomb. The word “malignancy” didn’t even register at first. I remember turning to my sister and whispering, “What does he mean – does he mean cancer??”. White-faced. Realising from her expression that yep, it was, in fact, cancer. And then feeling like I’d been one-inch-punched by Bruce Lee, shock popping my ears and making me feel like I was drowning, actually drowning. I still do; I’m constantly trying to stem a tsunami that just wants to kill me.
My mum died of leukaemia so I have previous experience of nursing and losing someone I love to this disease. As you’d imagine, it was heartbreaking and harrowing. But this time it’s different.
If you’ve read my tattoo post you’ll know how I feel about my dad. That my dad is everything to me. I loved my mother, but I adore him. I am utterly my father’s daughter.
This quietly wonderful man has done everything in his power to make mine and my five siblings’ lives as brilliant as they could be; we were poor as dirt but he willingly sacrificed everything for us (I remember counting the concentric rings in the holes in his battered shoes, and the cardboard he put inside them to keep his feet dry). My dad is unconditional love personified.
Now it’s time to do something for him; to help him go in the most pain and distress-free way possible. But oh, I’m scared. Knocking on 50, I feel like a frightened child at the thought of him dying. I’m scared I won’t cope; with him leaving me, with my life without him. Yes, he’s 84 and he’s had a long life (something denied to many, many people). He’s got to go sometime. But loss is loss; I don’t give a shit how old he is.
For once in my sorry life, it’s not about me; it’s about him. It’s my duty and my honour to help him pass. But I am bereft already; grieving (pre-grieving??) that he is leaving me, that I am losing him a little more every day. He is an old photograph, once bright with 1970’s nicotine hues (and matching handle-bar moustache – oh yeah!) but now fading to grey, fainter and paler with every precious day that passes.
When I was leaving my dad’s house, I noticed some green wrapping paper from Macmillan Cancer Support on the sideboard. It had little Christmas trees with the Macmillan logo all over it and for a split second I jumped, I genuinely thought one of the nurses had left it for him: “For Your Last Christmas…”. Er, I know I have to come to terms with him going, but that was a bit full on, even for me. They hadn’t, of course – it was a mailer that had come through the post.
A coincidence, if a rather macabre one. Oh, how we laughed. Actually, I did. A warped sense of humour is one of the many things my dad has given me, for which I am truly grateful. (No idea where I got my potty mouth from, though – my dad wouldn’t even say “bugger”, while I swear like a twatting navvy with Tourettes.)