June 3 was one of those days it seemed the world had stopped spinning. It was the day I found out my father had lung cancer.
The week prior had been a flurry of tests, IV fluids, pills and doctors. The months leading up to that were a downward spiral — drinking too much, smoking too much, eating next to nothing. Every time one of our family members would bring up a visit to the doctor, he had a ready excuse, anything from downplaying his sickness to complaining about the amount doctor’s offices charge to grumbling over making a 45-minute drive from his rural home to sit in a waiting room for hours. His most common argument: The roofing business he owned couldn’t manage without him.
The last time I saw him before he entered the hospital, I told him I was worried. He’d obviously lost weight. My mother, who had exhausted her down-home cooking knowledge trying to find anything he would actually eat, told me she’d been trying to get him in at the VA.
By the time he finally went to the doctor, he was down to 105 lbs.
After running the gamut of emotions and racking up a number of miles on my car visiting while he was in the hospital two hours away, the sensation of finally finding out what was wrong — “The biopsy came back positive for lung cancer,” my oldest sister told me — was almost too much.
I thought of Christmases in the future, without him. I thought of my sister’s children, all under the age of 11, who wouldn’t understand what had happened to Papa if it ended up being terminal. I raged that he spent so many years paying for the benefit of inhaling the very thing that would likely kill him — that killed his father when I was just 7 years old.
Most of all, I wondered why it had come to this. Why didn’t he go to the doctor sooner?
We have since found out that the cancer has not spread, which is a major positive, especially where lung cancer is concerned. As I’m writing this, he is awaiting surgery to remove the cancerous cells from his lungs. He’s already lit at least one more cigarette since he left the hospital.
I love him because he is my father. But I am incredibly hurt by the idea that he might not care enough about living, about being a grandfather to my sister’s kids and, hopefully, eventually to mine, that he won’t find a way to quit.
As a daughter and someone who is face to face with the mortality of a loved one, I implore you: Please, if you are sick, go to a doctor. Try to take care of yourself. I know the life of a trucker isn’t an easy one, but do what you can to stay healthy on the road. If it’s a matter of your life or the job, make the right choice, and don’t leave your loved ones wondering why.
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