Postscript before the post: this is completely unedited and was written between 12am and 1am.
I'm pretty sure anyone who reads this blog (when it is randomly updated) will already know that my dad has a cancerous tumor in his leg. He had one last December and got it removed and has another one on the other side now and is getting chemo (if you don't know and need more details, you won't find them here).
It's been interesting...no, interesting is a nothing word. It's been...illuminating. Yeah, illuminating. It's been illuminating to see my parents through this process. And the other people who care about me. Anyways, I figured some of the things I've learned are worth remembering, so they're recorded here, for whoever feels like they should read them (hi, future me!).
1. Dad knows how to put a bright face on
One of the big problems I had with this whole cancer thing was how much my Dad posted about it on Facebook. I know, crazy, right? Of all the things that could bother me, Facebook drove me bonkers. Part of this was that I didn't like being reminded of it (and thanks to algorithms, Dad's hugely popular updates were always at the top of my news feed). Part of it was that I didn't like seeing the comments on the updates (more on that later). Anyways, I approached Dad about it, and he was a little surprised, I think, but he explained to me that a large part of why he was updating was to keep other people's spirits up. At our church, it seems like a lot of cancer has been going around, and Dad is working on keeping people positive. His updates are always about putting an upside to chemo - heading to the Orioles game with my siblings with a bald head, or watching Ravens games in a hospital room, or still trucking along at what I'm learning really is his number one job - being our dad (i.e. taking my sister on college visits, showing up for family video chats, making it to the dinner table even when he's tired). Most recently (which partly inspired this post), he used the hashtag, #living_with_chemo, and #still_living (PS Dad - cool kids use camel case, like this: #livingWithChemo #stillLiving).
2. Dad lives the "everywhere is a mission field" idea
This past summer, when my Dad's second cancer tumor was discovered and the whole chemo process started, I was interning at the same place where my Dad works. As a result, I got to see how his employees and co-workers took the news, and how Dad presented it. I don't have the exact words that he used when emailing them with updates, but I do recall driving home in the car with him and getting all the details on how carefully he crafted his emails. Dad's former boss (who has retired) wasn't at all religious, but my dad wasn't afraid to admit that we are Christians. He acknowledged the people at work who were praying for him while being careful to not alienate those who don't follow Christ. I'm not saying it was easy for Dad to do all of this, but he was really thinking about it - something that I'm not convinced I would do in the same situation. I know people always say that anywhere is a place to be a missionary, and they will "know you by your actions" but this summer with cancer was the clearest picture I've had of that.
3. Mom never loses her head
This may not be exactly true - I know that my mom has had her share of dealing with this and figuring out what it means and being worried. But seriously, Mom can call me and say "hey, took Dad to urgent care, can you watch the kids?" without batting an eyelash. And then while I am going crazy (because I tend to fall apart) she's just calmly setting things up, driving from Columbia to Baltimore whenever Dad's at JHH (Johns Hopkins Hospital). She's matter of fact about it too - she remarked to me the other day that "Dad and I don't stick our heads in the sand and just pretend something's not happening, but we also don't imagine him with one foot in the grave - we just take the news as we get it and go on grace" (or something along those lines, it's a paraphrase). Does that come with growing up? Being a mom? or is it a unique thing to my mom? Because whatever it is I don't have it and I don't imagine I'll ever get it.
4. Mom and Dad both are trying to treat me like a grown-up
Mom always asks, not tells, me to come watch the kids. Dad always thanks me for watching them afterwards. It's kind of weird. And of course at the same time they're both still trying to protect me some (see below - I tend to freak out), but it's been interesting to see that and realize that yeah, I am a grown-up, so it's time to start acting like one.
5. Ryan is pretty good at dealing with me when I fall apart
I don't want to talk a lot about how I've been doing - people always ask and for the most part at this point, I'm good - it's become the normal and I'm making this HUGE effort to be better than I was the first time around. But even when I'm trying to be better, I still have a very over-active imagination and can let things freak me out (not like my nursing student sister who probably has a way better grasp on this whole thing). And Ryan (my boyfriend, if you don't know, but if you're reading this you probably know) is always OK with taking my calls at that point. When I first heard my Dad had a second cancer, I flipped, and he was there. Every time I've gone to the hospital to visit Dad, Ryan's been there with me (because I hate hospitals, and I always have, even when I was visiting new younger siblings). I'm sure if I didn't have Ryan, I would have gotten through some other way, but I'm sure glad I have him to put back together the pieces when I fall apart.
6. Friends can actually be trusted
This relates to the part about Facebook. Most of the comments on my Dad's post consist of "praying for you" comments, and I have a big problem with this. Because I really don't believe them. And it makes me angry. It feels like it's easy for people to say stuff they don't mean online and that bugs me. But then people prove to me that they actually remember and care. Like my friend Christina asks whenever I see her and texts me occasionally for updates - not annoyingly because she knows it's annoying but just cause she always wants to make sure I'm OK. My friend Julie took me to dinner and helped point me towards God in all of this, and to stop trying so hard to "juggle all the balls in the air". My friend Beverly Twitter messaged me and asked how I was doing, really, and she made dinner for my family (while having two kids of her own) to help us out. My friend Lindsey always answers my texts and brings lightness and normalcy to my updates (i.e. she suggested podcasts for Dad to listen to in the hospital). I don't know all of Dad's friends, but if they're like mine, then they aren't lying about praying, and I'm the one with trust issues.
So yep. Those are some of the things I've been seeing around me while we "live with cancer". If you want to know how I'm doing, this is the post that talks about it. Probably not what you wanted, but it's the real answer. I'm not home day-to-day, so I can't tell you what it's like for Dad. Ask him. What it's like for me is seeing my Dad and Mom rise to the challenge and having God send all kind of people to show me that he's still around and somehow this is part of the plan. I realize this was sappy, and I know I didn't talk about my sisters and brother, but that's because I'm me. I'm not my sisters so I can't tell you how they are. And ask any of my sisters, I've always been kind of sappy.
PS - as mentioned in #6, I kind of have problems trusting people's comments that say "we love you" and "praying for you" so if you're gonna leave a comment, leave a "real" one. ;)