Today is my youngest son's 11th birthday and it is the first birthday that my father has not been here to celebrate the special day. Two weeks ago we were discussing gifts of bmx bikes and birthday celebrations, today it is impossible to not notice his absence.
In 2004 my father, only parent and best friend was diagnosed with cancer in his pancreas. The doctors removed what they could but could not guarantee they got it all. Chemo was suggested yet there was no confidence in its ability to be of any benefit as the type of tumor found was aggressive and had not responded well to treatment in similar cases.
Clinical trials were undertaken, chemo endured and we passed the 6 month mark. Dad was still going to the gym, walking everywhere, riding around town and determined to be anything other than 'sick'.
Then came the next hit. Cancer in the breast/lymph nodes. Genetic studies were undertaken, mutant genes found, family members tested. At least we now understood a bit more behind the history of cancer in our family and dad felt that whilst his situation was not a good one, if someone could benefit from the research being done then something good was counteracting the radio therapy treatment that was frying him to a crisp.
Next stop on the cancer train; lung cancer and early stages of emphysema. This one was to be expected as he had been a smoker since 15.
A fall and a broken rib led to the next finding, cancer in the bones. Secondary cancer, from either the breast or lungs. Not long after, a tumour in the brain. More radiation localised on the brain tumour and then another round of chemo to slow the growth in the lungs.
Nearly seven years of fighting, and as he put it many times, the love for his grandchildren was keeping him alive.
So here we are in the present and its a scary place to be.
Following on from a series of headaches and frequent bouts of vomiting he was admitted to hospital just under two weeks ago. I received a call saying he was going in, not to worry and there was no need to take him; he would catch the tram (!!). He stopped in for a coffee with friends and then it went downhill fast.
Within two weeks between MRI scans, the cancer has spread to the lining of the brain and spinal fluid (Carcinomatous Meningitis). He can no longer walk, shower or dress himself. He struggles to speak or to express his thoughts. He struggles to comprehend. My father who was even at the worst of the worst times, not someone who ever looked terminally ill, is now dying before my eyes.
In all my 35 years I have never felt so scared. The fear of what will come and the unknown future is nothing to seeing this take hold.
I already miss him so much that my heart aches.
I cannot call him as I would many times a day. I cannot take away his physical pain or frustration at not being able to communicate. I cannot share mundane or silly details of my day to make him forget some of his darker moments.
And today I cannot force him to eat birthday cake, even though he was 'never really one to enjoy cake' at all.
Cancer Council NSW would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we live and work.We would also like to pay respect to elders past and present and extend that respect to all other Aboriginal people.