Cancer might not have destroyed my childhood, but I sure grew up faster. I knew from the time that I was six that my dad was going to die. My family never hid Daddy’s sickness. Even though my parents were divorced and my dad went on to remarry when I was seven, we were always very close. I have great memories of my dad and he will forever be the one I compare all men to.
Nobody will ever be better than my own dad.
My dad was diagnosed with cancer when he was sixteen. It started in his jaw and he went through countless surgeries, had many teeth removed, radiation and chemo (all beginning in 1966 when cancer was very hush-hush and nobody talked about it).
Eventually my dad wound up having half his jaw removed. The cancer showed up again, this time in his lungs. Over the years my dad underwent countless surgeries, radiation, and chemotherapy treatments.
My dad didn’t have “Lung Cancer” and to be honest, I don’t know what he had, but he would get tumors that would grow in the pulmonary artery. Chemo would shrink it, but the bitch kept coming back. My dad never quit smoking though, and he made me promise I would never pick the habit up (which I have stood by and have made my own kid promise to never smoke either).
According to my aunt, my family believes that my dad got the cancer after cleaning up some land for some extra money. Years later, that land was found to be a toxic waste site. To this day there are efforts to clean up that land to make it profitable for the city where my dad grew up.
My dad worked hard even though he wasn’t supposed to do physical labor and when he would get sick he would be down for days, sometimes weeks. That didn’t stop him from moving back to NY when I was ten and buying a house on three acres in upstate NY, building a barn and putting up fence so he could have his own little farm. Nope. Nobody stopped my daddy. I’m fairly certain that if his doctors had known what he was up to, they would have committed him. My dad became a farmer when he was thirty-six. He raised cows, pigs, goats, chickens, ducks, rabbits, a horse named Rusty, and had an enormous vegetable garden.
I remember going with him to a chemo treatment when I was eleven or twelve. His chemo treatments were done seventy miles away in Cooperstown at the hospital there, so my dad, the trooper, made a day of it like it was just another day in his life. He had his chemo and then we walked around Cooperstown and then drove the seventy miles back home. Just another day.
I remember the last summer I spent with my dad. My stepmom took the kids to the store or something and my dad was watching TV. He called me into the living room and wanted me to sit with him. He looked at me and told me he was dying. It broke my heart. In my heart I had always known Daddy was sick but I will always remember that day. We sat there crying together. It was very emotional.
My dad died on February 25, 1991. He was forty-one.
I was fourteen.
Daddy died of pneumonia in the hospital. I had spoken with him two days earlier on the phone for our weekly Sunday afternoon call. My grandma, aunt, uncle and my dad’s cousin had gotten the call late at night to get to the hospital because he was fading fast, but they didn’t want me to see my dad in that condition. They didn’t want me to remember him that way so I wasn’t told anything until 6:00 the next morning when the call came.
I fell apart.
I knew it was going to happen one day. I had expected to have my daddy longer, not to lose him just as I was learning about life.
Nobody at home understood what I was going through. Most of my friends took off, not knowing what to say or do. My best friend, the girl I knew I could count on for anything, was the one who stayed… the only one. The one who I am still best friends with to this very day.
My gram, Dad’s mom, died five weeks later of colon cancer that was diagnosed not six months earlier. I think she just gave up after she lost her youngest son.
After my dad died, my stepmom deeded their house back to the bank, took their three kids and moved to California to be with her oldest daughter.
Without telling me.
I will never forget calling on Christmas morning to wish them Merry Christmas and getting the this number has been disconnected message. I sat and sobbed. I frantically called my dad’s cousin who couldn’t believe that this woman didn’t have the guts to tell me she was moving. She didn’t have an address or a phone number for her because she hadn’t contacted her.
I didn’t hear from my stepmom until 3 ½ years later when my mom passed away unexpectedly. She wanted to play mother-figure to me and at the time we got along fine, cordially. I didn’t see my siblings for eight whole years. My sister would call now and again to say hi, but we never got the chance to be close. My brothers don’t talk to me at all.
I don’t speak to my stepmom.
My kid has my dad’s middle name as his first. I wanted to name him after my dad outright, but my stepsister went and did that first. He wasn’t even her dad. I tried the reverse, but it just didn’t sound right.
I miss my dad every day. It never gets easier. The pain changes but it never goes away. I see my dad in my own son every day, in his mannerisms and his kindness… in his temper, too.
He lives through my son, yet I still miss him so much.