March 19

I mentioned the other day that I had gotten some disturbing news. My dad had been admitted to the hospital because of dangerously low potassium levels. Once there, they determined some other things weren’t quite right, like white blood cell count and EKG. All things that pointed toward an infection of some kind, but given my dad’s history with cancer, it could also indicate a return of that dreaded disease. I’m thankful today that he was released and sent home. They got levels returned to a normal range, but they didn’t determine the reason things got off-track to begin with. I guess he now has some follow-up visits with his doctor. Of course, I’m thinking positively.

I had written a bit about my dad’s stomach cancer before. Did you know that if you lose your stomach like my dad did, they create a small pouch out of your small intestine and attach that directly to your esophagus? It makes eating a whole new experience. There’s no place, really, for food to be stored, so my dad has to eat very small amounts at a time. And can’t drink and eat much together. We started kidding him a little at family gatherings by giving him the smallest plates and cups we could find. I’d hand him a juice glass about 1/3 filled and ask him if it were too much. He’d laugh and say it was perfect, actually, thank you very much. Apparently, there is also no real separation between the new stomach and esophagus, so he would complain about the taste of things lingering and decided rather early on that what didn’t bother him as much was sweets. And he was never really one for candy and confections. Now he lives on fruit juices and a limited amount of snacks that my mom keeps stocked by his recliner. That’s not to say he doesn’t eat regular food anymore, but this is the guy who loved meat and potatoes and weighed over 200 pounds at 5’9″. Now he’s about 130 on a good day and my mom has to force him to eat a sandwich. It’s crazy to me the drastic changes one fateful thing can bring about in someone’s life. Now something as simple as an infection can mean serious complications for my dad.

I had a retired friend who used to tell me that every day he was vertical was a good day. It always made me laugh. But it’s really true. Today my dad was fine. So was everyone else important in my life. It was a good day.

Feb 3

A friend of mine asked me if I’d like to help out with a fundraiser she’s in charge of planning for an organization in town called Healing Pathways. It’s dedicated to providing free psycho-social services to cancer patients and survivors. The fundraiser is an annual Bow Tie March/5K run for men’s cancer awareness. I went today to the committee’s monthly meeting to get an overview of what they’re doing and how I may be able to help out. Of course, I knew by simply going, I was dedicating myself to the cause. But I wanted to. I wrote previously about my sister’s battle with breast cancer and mentioned briefly that my dad was also diagnosed with cancer. Two months prior to my sister’s diagnosis. His was in his stomach.

According to my friend, one reason they are doing a specific event for men’s cancer is because a lot of men put off seeking medical advice, even when they suspect something is wrong. And as we know, when it comes to cancer, early detection is crucial. Women have been told for years to do self-checks and mammograms; who hasn’t seen or heard of the pink ribbon campaign? It’s hard to miss. What are men told? Get a yearly exam? And how many really do? Let’s face it. There is one gender stereotype that has a lot of basis in fact. Men typically don’t discuss problems, especially health-related concerns, with their buddies. And often not even their family members. Women, on the other had, typically do. I have four sisters. We’ve had group discussions of aches and pains, menstrual issues, childbirth, mood swings, bathroom habits…you name it, we’ve discussed it. And with women, the discussions aren’t always limited to family members. It’s not at all out of the ordinary for a phone call from a girlfriend to start with, Can I ask you a personal question? followed by Have you ever experienced (xyz issue)? By this difference alone, women are more prone to make appointments with their doctor to check out something that doesn’t seem normal.

My dad’s cancer diagnosis was a shock. He got the confirmation just weeks before Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, stomach cancer doesn’t always have early warning signs. But we all wondered. He suffered from heartburn for years. He’d drink Pepto Bismal and Alka Seltzer on an almost nightly basis. I remember my mother telling my dad more than once that he should go to his doctor. And I’m sure he did go at some point. But I’m also sure he wasn’t really persistent about issues, nor was he willing to go for every thing that may have felt strange. Like most men I’ve come across, that wasn’t his thing. But he’s one of the strongest men I know. And like my sister, he met his fate head on. Mayo clinic doctors are probably still talking about him. He had his stomach taken out and left the hospital ahead of schedule, in time to eat Thanksgiving dinner with us. In a wonderful, unexpected stroke of luck, his cancer had not spread, like a lot of stomach cancers do. He was blessed in that regard. But, of course, cancer has left an indelible mark on my dad. He’s literally almost half the size he used to be. Life has been drastically different for him. But he’s a survivor of a long, hard battle. Again, another courageous role model I look up to in my family.

I’m thankful today that I have the opportunity to help out with this fundraiser. It’s important. This one’s for my dad.