On the 20th of December we were told my Dad’s cancer has spread from his oesophagus into his left shoulder and right hip. He can’t be operated on so will begin palliative chemotherapy next week. Tomorrow he has radiation therapy on his shoulder to try to relieve the pain in it.
I didn’t know much about the oesophagus before this. I knew it was in the body, somewhere in the torso. Oesophageal cancer is very aggressive and because symptoms don’t often show up until it’s too late (or they’re dismissed earlier as something less sinister) the prognosis rate is very poor. There’s not much awareness about it, but from what I’ve read (sorry, not sourced) it’s one of the fastest growing in cancer rates. So I’m going to put the symptoms here that my Dad experienced in the hope that it might help someone else.
* Indigestion. My Dad suffered from this terribly for years. If you suffer from it (I don’t mean every now and then, but often) go see your GP. If the antacids etc prescribed aren’t working, go back. Do not leave it, ask to be referred to a gastroenterologist, get a scope down your throat, get it checked regularly.
* Weight loss. My Dad was a big bloke, not overly fat, but solid. He dropped weight rapidly over a few months, we could all see it, but his diet/exercise had not changed for him to be losing weight so quickly. Not only did he lose weight, but has lost muscle as well. He is wasting, which is a sign of advanced cancer.
* Fatigue. My Dad started getting a lot more tired than usual. He’s an active farmer and would fall asleep on the lounge chair for hours. He wasn’t doing anything more strenuous than before but it took its toll a lot quicker.
* Swallowing. Whilst this hasn’t been an issue for Dad, he’s said it’s starting to feel ‘funny’ when he swallows. Pain and/or trouble when swallowing is a usual symptom of this cancer.
Dad’s oesophageal cancer is classed as Adenocarcinoma, which is at the base of the oesophagus, between it and the stomach. He asked the doctor what would happen if he did nothing (no treatment) and the doctor told him he would have a couple of months left to live. With the treatment, he’s not going to be cured, it’s basically the beginning of the end, he will have it until he can’t take it any more. I told him I don’t want him suffering so not to prolong the chemo if it’s unbearable. I’d rather him have quality of life than quantity of life – I don’t know how to let someone go but I’m not so selfish that I want someone to stay in misery.
A friend asked me how my Dad’s coping with it and I said, “he’s actually being really nice!” I told Mum about this conversation and she laughed and told me Dad had said the same thing about me. Funny, isn’t it? How you can be so similar to someone that you’re either best friends or enemies but something like this just changes everything. I’ve always been close with my Dad, I’ve always admired his brain and all the things he knows, and that he’d help anyone in need. He’s my intellectual conversation buddy and my Mum is my emotional conversation regulator. But geez we’ve clashed over the years. If you have two black and white thinkers, and one thinks something is black and the other thinks it’s white, well, you get the picture. I do have Aspergers, and whilst he’s never been assessed, he certainly has plenty of traits.
We’ve spoken about death and he’s been really open with me about his thoughts and feelings and I’ve been able to do the same with him. We’ve never really been able to do that. Better late than never I suppose. Whilst delayed processing can be a curse it’s also been a blessing, I’m able to get answers to the hard questions, and cry about the reality of those answers later for which I’m grateful.
I’ve never really been someone who cries, but now I am. Someone told me to not hold it in, so I don’t anymore, and even happy things like having all the family together made me cry. I’m human after all – who knew? The best advice I got was from my Aunty who said “if someone tells you to be strong you tell them to shove it up their arse, you don’t have to be strong at all, let it out”. There is no one to blame for this cancer, there is nothing to direct anger at, so I’m letting myself be sad about it. I’m letting myself feel it. Unlike the years past, I’m not numbing it with medication or alcohol. How can I teach my son that it’s ok to cry and be sad if I don’t allow myself to be it? That’s probably been one of the hardest parts, and will be the hardest part when Dad passes – explaining it to my son, who is nearly 5, and claims his Poppy as his best friend. My Dad has been his male role model/father figure in his life since day one. Ahh, the tears again.
I’m going to try and blog some of my thoughts and feelings as we go along this journey. Not for attention, but simply for anyone else going through it or something similar, you’re not alone. Cancer fucking sucks.