My dad loved his family, travelling and his country. He served in the Vietnam War shortly after high school in the 82nd Airborne. After retirement he grew a beard and would dress up as Santa with the suit my mom the seamstress made him. The year before he passed I had pictures of him and my 1 year old professionally done as a recommendation by my photographer. I’m so grateful for them because I never in a million years would have known that was our last Christmas with him.
My dad seemed to have a not so great lifestyle with his diet choices all my life but after he had retired at 65 it was only 3 years later that things took a turn for the worse. My father was misdiagnosed with a hiatal hernia after losing around 40lbs in a couple months and ended up having surgery to correct it July 19th 2016. By August 4th, he hadn’t improved so he went to the ER and after blood work (just two days after he had a general physical that turned out normal) his pancreatic levels were elevated. He then had a CT scan which revealed a 4cm tumour on his pancreas that was inoperable. He was then diagnosed with stage 3 possibly stage 4 pancreatic cancer with the possibility that it metastasized to his liver. After his first round of chemo he called me up to tell me he decided he was going to shave his beard off. I was devastated but knew it was the right thing for him to do. He saved it for me knowing how much him being Santa meant to me. On September 7th (the day before my birthday) my dad had a round of chemo that almost cost him his life.
At this point he had lost around 60lbs since May and was growing weaker by the day. That night he blacked out and woke up on the floor next to his bed unable to physically pull himself back up. He tried calling for my mom down the hall but couldn’t reach out to her loud enough. He laid there for hours. We visited him the next day for my birthday and that’s when I saw the bruising all over his face and arms. It was after that fall that they decided to change his treatment plan to a lesser dosage of chemo. Around two weeks later I found out I was pregnant. Approximately 2 weeks. Now not only did I need to focus on my dad but I needed to focus on me and my unborn child. I felt physically nauseous for the next couple of months, anticipating every bad call I could get. The next time he went in for chemo his white blood count was so low they had to give him a blood transfusion.
He couldn’t eat without either feeling like he was choking on his food or feeling like he was going to throw it all back up. He had asked his doctor about food port options which were disregarded. I’m not even sure that was ever an option. During his treatment he had always been so hopeful and optimistic. After he passed, I found out that one of his last doctors he talked to finally brought clarity to the situation, and told him this was going to kill him. On October 31st mom called my brothers and me for us to come over because dad had something he wanted to tell us. We got there and were surprised to find out that he decided to discontinue all treatment (he was already done with chemo and about to start radiation) along with stopping his other medications he took (blood thinners, blood pressure etc) and he was no longer going to eat or drink. I was a mess on the inside but I could tell how confident he was in his decision and that he was actually at peace with it. It was the happiest I had seen him in months! He had already discussed it with his doctor and was told it would only be a matter of days (5 to 7 at the most). Days went buy and I become more and more of a mess. I’d go to visit him at home as he did hospice at home and I would hold it together just long enough until I would get out the door and cry the 20 minute drive home to my husband and then 2 year old daughter.
Days turned into weeks and we made it to my anniversary which was November 11th as well as my mom and dad’s anniversary which was 3 days later on November 14th (46 years of marriage). We even made it to thanksgiving and that’s when things started to get worse. The hospice nurses were some of the absolute nicest people I have ever met in my life. They sat there and explained everything that was happening and going to happen during his final stages of life. My husband wasn’t able to come to thanksgiving so we went out again that Saturday. Little did we know (and thankfully) that would be the last time my dad would be awake. Dad went to bed that night and never woke the next morning.
My brothers didn’t end up telling me until Monday for fear of worrying me during my pregnancy. I went out Tuesday because I found out so late Monday that I couldn’t visit him. I then spent a lot of my time there Wednesday. The next morning as I got ready for work I went to grab my phone seeing that I had 4 missed calls from my brother and husband. I called my brother back and heard the exact words I had been dreading all along.
Dad passed away 17 weeks to the day on December 1st 2016. To me the story ends up with a happy ending though. The next day I had my first doctor appointment and we got to hear our baby’s heartbeat for the first time which was probably the most bittersweet moments in my entire life. I had up until this point lost 16lbs myself due to the stress of what was going on around me. Once he passed I felt relieved to know he was no longer suffering and allowed me to focus more on my health. 6 months to the day of his passing I welcomed a beautiful baby girl on June 1st.