Getting Through the Darkest Days

by Anne CoursoMetastatic Breast CancerDecember 19, 2019View more posts from Anne Courso

Dear Cancer,

It was right between chemo number five and six. Against everything that you read on the Internet I was going home to visit my dad. This meant one week of airplanes and hospitals, the two places filled with the most germs. As I prepared myself to go home, I packed my steroid pills, paracetamol, ibuprofen, more pain killers, eye drops, Vaseline, mouth rinse, special toothpaste, anti-nausea medication, special face cream, body lotion, medical masks and antibacterial gel. I was going to be over prepared, but I needed to be. By chemo number six I was bald, bloated from the steroids, felt like I had lost all control, was ready to give up, and every time I looked at myself in the mirror I cried. I had hit the low point of my chemo journey and I was about to travel halfway across the world. Oh yes, I lived in Barcelona and my family was in Bangkok.

Of course everything was going great until it wasn’t. Fast forward to April and my dad is now in an ICU no longer able to speak, walk, or eat on his own. For lack of better terms, a hospital machine was keeping him alive. At this point he was running out of treatment options and there was one more treatment that the doctors wanted to try. My dad had been diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease called CIDP.

I’m daddy’s little girl. I always have been. Tears filled his eyes when I arrived at the hospital looking like a cancer patient. I was a cancer patient, one who only four months earlier had found out that she had stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. I was going to die from cancer. I didn’t know when, but it was much sooner than my 35-year-old self-had thought.

Just before being diagnosed I was offered my dream job. I was going to move to Bangkok to be there for my family. But then cancer happened and suddenly, I was fighting for my own life. Weeks before coming home I went to see a therapist, she was going to help me decide whether I would move home to be with my family or whether I would stay in Barcelona and continue to get treatment at one of the best cancer research hospitals in the world. I wish I could say that this decision was a hard one, but after my father’s private insurance refused to pay for his last line of treatment because it was too experimental, I knew I had to stay in Barcelona where my doctor was working on clinical trials and new medication was available if needed; on top of it would be free. Around the time I made my decision to not move home my father took a turn for the worst and so we decided not to tell him yet.

I remember my last days with him so well. At the beginning he didn’t like seeing me with no hair, I would show up to the hospital with my many scarves. One day I asked him if he wanted to see my bald head and he said no. He wasn’t ready. As the week went on and he started becoming more comfortable with my cancer patient look, I showed up rocking a wig. It was a long beautiful wig and anytime I wore it it would give me Kardashian vibes, something the two of us giggled about. Once we were able to laugh about my wig, I asked him if he was ready to see my bald head. He nodded his head yes. I showed him my most frail self and he smiled. Through it all he still saw his daughter standing in front of him. He did prefer me looking at me with a scarf or wig, but he knew that I was still his little girl.

The last few days were busy ones, as family was flying into town to say their goodbyes and we were all preparing for the worst. On one of these days when my mom and brothers went to pick up my uncle from the airport I stayed at the hospital with my dad. At this point he was on a lot of pain medication and he was sleeping a lot. As I sat next to him, I knew I had to tell him the truth, and so as he woke up from one of his many naps, I took his hand and told him my last truth.

I was not going to be moving home. I was going to stay in Barcelona. I was about to finish chemo and my oncologist had found a very promising clinical trial for me. Just like my dad I was fighting to stay alive and the best chance for that was going to be in Barcelona. As much as it hurt me not to be able to be in Bangkok with him, I needed to keep fighting for us. As I said these words, he continued to squeeze my hand. He was listening and he understood. He mouthed to the best of his abilities “I love you”, and we both burst into tears as I told him I loved him just as much. As I wiped the tears from his and my eyes, we made eye contact and he fell back asleep. I sat there listening to his favorite songs knowing that I had given him what he needed to hear.

That day was the last time my dad was lucid. I returned to Barcelona a couple of days after with my brother. I was about to go through chemo number six knowing that my dad would die at any moment. And he did. I had chemo on Friday and my father passed away on Saturday. We waited to ease my post chemo symptoms and on Wednesday my brother and I boarded a plane back to Bangkok for my father’s funeral.

Yes, I hate cancer because I wish my dad could have died knowing that I was happy, I was maybe someday going to have a family and that even though he wouldn’t be around for all of it he would always be on my mind. Instead my dad died knowing that I was going through chemo, that I had stage 4 cancer and that I was going to live the rest of my life on treatment.

At the same time I do not think I would have been as strong as I was if it hadn’t been for cancer. When my father passed, I cried the tears I needed to cry, but deep down inside I knew that I would need to keep fighting. I wasn’t allowed to give up now. I would need to keep moving forward, because that was the only way I was going to stay alive. For myself and for my family.

Cancer you have turned my life upside down. I hate you for so many reasons, yet I don’t know if I would have made it through my darkest days without you.

Anne

 


All of the posts written for Elephants and Tea are contributed by patients, survivors, caregivers and loved ones dealing with cancer.  If you have a story or experience you would like to share with the cancer community we would love to hear from you!  Please submit your idea at https://www.elephantsandtea.com/contact/submissions/.

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