I have often said that I feel like I must have been a cat in my prior life. And if I was indeed reincarnated from a feline, that I hope it was at least from either of the two mighty big cats pictured above. That would certainly explain the “fight” I possess in my character.
One of the most difficult conversations to have with a child, as a parent, is when that parent faces a difficult crisis, especially one that involves health. The only thing more painful for a child to experience than the loss of a parent, is to watch one suffer.
So, the conversation in my many circles of cancer patients and survivors is, “when do you tell them, and what do you tell them?”
To be honest, it is going to be an individual decision each time. But it should always be age appropriate. One story I recall my father telling me, was that he was told his mother went into the hospital for gall bladder surgery, only to die from gall bladder cancer. He had been lied to.
This would come back to haunt him later in his life, when I would be diagnosed with cancer, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The images that were permanently etched in his memory, were of his mother, suffering, in pain, and dead. Years later after my battle, my father would have a conversation that haunted him for years, explaining to me, why he could not bring himself to visit me following my diagnosis and during my treatment. I may not have understood originally, but over my decades of survivorship, I definitely get it.
I have two daughters, both teenagers currently. They were not even of this planet when I dealt with my cancer, but halfway into my survivorship, they have been witness to the many issues that I face, resulting from late effects caused by my radiation and chemotherapy treatments. Fortunately, for most of these events, they were too young to really remember what had been happening.
As they will soon be adults, too soon for my comfort, they will end up being my medical proxies as well as my legal representatives should something happen to me. And in order for that to happen, and work, they will need to learn what I have gone through, understand the seriousness, and most importantly, know what I want.
Like I titled the post, 9 Lives, during a recent visit with my daughters I began the conversation referring to nine lives, the mythical belief that cats somehow get nine swings at life. It was a lighthearted method to introduce the serious events in my life, but in a way that showed I have a lot of fight in me, and the will I have to get through those things.
I have not gone into great detail about my experience with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. But they get the seriousness and odds of fighting cancer. If there is one thing my daughters are not shy about, it is inspiring others who may face cancer, “our dad beat cancer 30 years ago. You can do it too.”
My daughters were not even in school yet, when I faced my fate for the second time in my life, this time with something referred to as a “widowmaker,” a blockage of the main artery to the heart. I was dying.
They know I had heart surgery. But to this day, they do not know how serious it was.
Four years after that surgery, another event would happen, also courtesy of my late effects, and another potential silent killer. This time, I would be taken out of my house, at 4am, on an ambulance stretcher (I will go into this detail in another post, it deserved its own). One of the few memories I have of that evening, is seeing the faces of fear and confusion on the faces of my young daughters as I was wheeled passed them. During their last visit with me, I asked them what they remembered of that night, again, fortunately not much, except one could not wait to get back to sleep, the other surprised by all of the police officers in the house to help.
I had something called “aspiration pneumonia,” and I was septic. In fact, blood tests would reveal I was septic for 48 hours. Unbelievably, I was unaware that this was happening when I went to bed that evening. Simply put, sepsis kills. Time is important.
I would have a repeat of the aspiration pneumonia nine months later, this time in both of my lungs.
Lives #5 and #6
Not medical, but both events that could have turned out way differently.
I had been through several hurricanes in my life. But Irma was the first one that I actually experienced going through the eye. Unable to evacuate for many reasons, all I could do was stay sheltered as best as I could.
The other event, a major car accident. One thing I take pride in, is my safe driving record, no accidents in over 40 plus years. Until one night, someone went through a red light, coming straight at me, head on. I made a last second maneuver to avoid the head-on impact, instead to get t-boned (crashed into the side of my car). Fortunately, I was not hurt. The car was a total loss.
Both times could have turned out way differently.
Just passing mid-life a few years ago, clearly I have been using up these “lives” at too quick a pace, and another issue with my heart came up that I was not expecting. Because I am being followed by a specialist with my late effects, I was already aware that I do have other heart issues. We are all watching them. This one I did not expect.
A test that had not been done in nearly a decade showed that I had another major blockage.
So, back when my original “widowmaker” was corrected, I was told I would have a triple bypass. When I came to, I was told only two were done. The RCA artery, was not considered bad enough to bypass, unlike the LAD. Only one problem, the damage to the LAD, was just taking longer to develop in the RCA. So, since they did not fix the RCA when they had the chance, guess what got fixed eleven years later, along with another lecture on letting things go. You see, doctors assumed with the blockage, I should have been experiencing symptoms. Truth is, I know what I felt like originally, I did not have those symptoms this time.
My older daughter has developed an interesting sense of humor and has not been shy about this fact that I have apparently used up, seven of my nine lives at this point.
Yep. I need to somehow slow this process down. But if there is one thing my daughters have learned about me, a past life as a cat or not, my younger daughter describes me as one of the strongest people she will ever know. I wish I felt like she describes me, there is no doubt what I have gone through has been difficult. But I have so much more to do, that involves both of them, a deal that my doctors have all agreed to do their part to make sure I get to see those days… graduations, weddings, grandchildren. I want to be clear, while I am looking forward to those last two things especially… there is no rush to get there.