People keep asking me how I’m doing. For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been avoiding the answer.
But here it is.
For the first month of Covid, it seemed as though we were just floating along in a surreal world. Nothing in our lives had REALLY changed……….and I was incredibly grateful for that.
We live apart from all of our extended family, so we are very used to using video chats to stay in touch.
Being early retiree’s, we are generally homebodies most days. Sure, we like to get out for walks, and run’s to stay active, but we also have a home gym that we regularly use, so our exercise routines have seen little change.
And with two young kids, and no readily available childcare, it’s a rare occasion that we go out for meals or to the movies anyways.
Aside from the unexpected shove into the world of home schooling, eating take-out MORE, while simultaneously hiring local companies to work on the exterior of our home, as we try and support our local businesses, not a WHOLE lot else had truly changed for us.
At times, it felt like we were witnessing this pandemic as isolated spectators, more so than actual participants. Which was a weird feeling all on its own.
But then, shit got real.
The Curve Ball
We had been out for a drive when my Dad sent me a message asking me to call when I was free to talk.
I don’t know about you, but whenever one of my parents sends me a message like that, my immediate thought process goes like this: What’s wrong? Has something happened to Mom? Is something going on with Dad? What’s happening?
Given current times, there was also that additional thought of: Did one of them get Covid?
My logical brain, as it always does, evaluated my emotional reaction with annoyance and a mild lip curl of disgust.
I could almost feel my cerebral cortex condescendingly patting my limbic system as it tried to convince me to chill my boots.
My parents have asked me to call them lots of times, and generally speaking nothing is wrong. And yet…… my stomach was still turning uncomfortably, and my temperature suddenly elevating.
Really? Fight or flight response? That’s what you elect to deliver here Limbic System? How incredibly unhelpful and immature. My cerebral cortex made zero attempt to mask an exaggerated eye roll.
At the time, I was out for a drive with Mike and our toddler for a brief escape the confines of home, but of course, I called my Dad immediately.
Within minutes I found myself standing at the front of our car, doubled over as though I had just been sucker punched in the gut by Dwayne Johnson. I unsuccessfully tried to catch my breath, calm my reeling mind, and see beyond the silent flood of tears.
From what felt like a million miles away, I felt Mike’s hand on my shoulder, steadying me.
My Dad had called to tell me he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
If you’re not familiar with pancreatic cancer, suffice to say, it’s not a good one.
As a child, a close family friend had suffered from pancreatic cancer, and I remember it distinctly. My brain filled my head with memories of how that had gone, and it wasn’t painting me a pretty picture.
To categorize this news as unexpected would be the understatement of the year.
My Dad is just 60 years old, in good shape, and by all previous accounts, pretty darn healthy. Not to mention, my Grandma, his Mom, still lives on her own, gardens, cans pickles, dehydrates food, and takes the bus, at the ripe old age of 92.
Critical Illness During Covid
I’ve read stories in the news about people with critically ill family members, who they can’t see because of Covid.
Stories of despair and anguish of not being able to comfort loved ones. Those stories invoke such strong feelings of empathy and sorrow, and yet reading about them simply doesn’t do those feelings justice.
Nothing prepares you for those emotions. Particularly when they suddenly and unexpectedly arrive on your front door step.
The inability to exercise our natural instinct to GO to our family members in need, to give them a hug, and lend the support of human touch and presence, is……unnatural.
My family was suddenly feeling the very real effects of how this virus was impacting our societies ability to engage in the empathic, humane habits we so frequently take for granted.
Covid very rapidly became a hurdle for my family that made me falter. It made me question my engrained instincts of what to do, and how to do it in the midst of a crises.
But it didn’t stop there.
Coronavirus Surprise #2
As my family worked to gain it’s footing, we were hit with another blow. My Dad was deemed eligible for a very complex surgery (despite the risks – this news was a huge win for Team Dad), BUT he would have to be dropped off at the hospital, and spend a minimum of 7 days in recovery.
Not a single visitor allowed. Not even my Mom.
Imagine. Being told you need to have a lengthy and complex surgery. One that, all on it’s own, carries a high morbidity rate. One that, if you wake-up, will leave you immobilized, unable to eat, or generally care for yourself for day’s after the fact, AND you need to show up at the hospital by yourself.
No advocate asking questions on your behalf. No one there to talk with the medical staff during recovery, no one to just BE there, by your side.
I couldn’t imagine how this weighed on my Dad’s mind. I know how it weighed on mine.
Making the Best of What We’ve Got
Once I got over my initial reactions to this news, I knew we had to figure out ways to work within these Covid parameters. In way’s that kept us connected, and allowed us to support my Dad and also be there for my Mom. Maybe we couldn’t jump this hurdle in traditional fashion, but there had to be a way to go around it, or maybe just plain old slam through it.
My siblings and I brainstormed and conferenced called. Devising plans that allowed us to be close, while minimizing the risks to my Dad. We visited via video chats, phone calls, and social distancing, we made it work.
But we all just wanted to be there. Letting him know, you’ve got this. We are here for you. We’ve got your back.
And most importantly – we love you.
We counted the days, even the hours, until the surgery. Then had to jump another unexpected hurdle 3 days before hand, when he was unsympathetically informed that his surgery had been postponed an additional 5 days.
With a disease as aggressive as pancreatic cancer, every day lost felt like a major blow. His eligibility for the surgery was already precipitous. It was hard not to question the efficacy of our health care system as the hours crawled past.
The sole upside? The postponement gave us enough time to finish our quarantine, so we could see my Dad in person, and give him a hug before he went for the surgery.
The End of The Beginning
I’ve seen a lot of content out there contemplating and analyzing what stage of Covid we might be at, how everyone is coping, and how much further we have to go.
Many have surmised that perhaps we are just at the end of the beginning of this whole experience.
But I’m looking at life through a very different lens right now. My family is only just at the end of the beginning of my Dad’s fight with cancer. Covid is now merely a background factor we’ll have to consider as we move forward.
Unfortunately, the surgery didn’t go as we’d hoped. The cancer has progressed further than anticipated, and we will have to pivot and respond to this seemingly ever shifting landscape that is cancer.
While I don’t know what exactly we’ll encounter as we push on, I do know that my Dad will fight this with everything he’s got. That’s the kind of person he is. Full of grit, strong work ethic, unwavering resolve, dedication and determination.
I also know my Mom will be by his side in lockstep. She is a person full of compassion, a natural caregiver, feisty advocate, and powerful motivator.
I’m incredibly proud to be their daughter.
I know that together, they will rise to this challenge life has thrown them. And that my siblings and I will be right beside them one step at a time.
The vast majority of you don’t know me personally, or know my family at all. But today my call to action is asking each and everyone of you to send good thoughts, positive vibes, prayers, and well wishes my Dad’s way.
As we navigate this hurdle, we’ll gladly and gratefully accept all the positive energy we can get.