I Guess I Can’t Avoid This Forever, Part I…

Ok…..here goes. I haven’t blogged in a long, long time, about a year actually. I tweet and am on Facebook almost daily, but I’ve avoided this act- the act of writing and the introspection it usually requires. Obviously, I’ve done this for a reason. Frankly, I’m tired of my life. The act of writing for me is one of continually telling my story- in one way or another- again and again. There was a time when doing so was extremely cathartic for me, and it also served to build community among me and my hearers. My vulnerability, though eventually practiced and scripted, gave others “permission” to themselves be vulnerable, and I think everyone benefited. Now, though, I’m just not sure that I can do it anymore, though obviously this post serves as some kind of attempt at it. My problem is that I’m just so…..tired. I’m tired of all of it. I’m tired of me. A decade ago my “story” was long and traumatic. That was after the parent deaths but before our return to Philly, our brief experience living in “community,” and Samuel’s birth and its aftermath, including our self-imposed exile from Philly again and everything it represented. And of course all of that was before the events of the past year, which I suppose I should get to now.

So, the big elephant in the room is my Dad’s terminal prostate cancer diagnosis. In some ways I suppose this should almost be anticlimactic. My Dad, at 78, has lived much, much longer than anyone had any right to think that he would. His body has been through so much with all the hip and blood clot issues and all the years that he abused it through lack of sleep and overwork, etc., that I think most of us who know him thought he would have been gone some time ago. Still, when I learned in February that his end, it seemed, was in fact finally near, I suppose I took it a little harder than I thought I would have. He went into the hospital in December for some chest pain, and wound up staying for a little while during which his cancer was diagnosed. His PSA score was over 6,000 at that point, which I’ve learned is extremely high (the normal range for his age is 0-6.8). Prostate cancer is an interesting disease, as apparently most men will finally get it if you live long enough, and I guess my Dad has. Many men will get it late enough in life and it will progress slowly enough that they’ll quite possibly die of something else before the cancer can finally kill them. Not so with my Dad, though, or so it seems. As I began talking with his doctors from a distance upon initial diagnosis, the prognosis was not good. With a PSA score that high, it was quite likely that he had been living with the cancer for some time, in which case it had likely metastasized and would be resistant to most forms of treatment.

Nonetheless, his doctors began treating it all the same. In the meantime, believing (based on the best guess of his doctor at that time) that he probably only had months to live, we began frantically trying to move down here to TX to be with him. It was a sudden decision, to be sure, but not one that wasn’t carefully considered. What few readers of this blog I may have will recall previous posts in which I talked about wanting to move back here for lots of hopefully good reasons, and that was long before knowing my Dad was quickly dying. I won’t rehash those reasons here as you can read those other posts to find them, if interested.

What had dissuaded us from making the move prior to this point was the reality of the housing market and our likely inability to even break even on the sale of our Ohio house. Quite simply, we couldn’t afford to come up with the thousands it would cost to close on a sale, plus pay for a move, etc. I guess it’s interesting then what a little motivation can do for such decisions. When faced with the prospect of likely missing his death and having to deal with it and the very complicated aftermath from a distance, we decided to get ourselves down here as fast as we could. We put the house on the market, hoping to sell by late Spring and knowing we’d have to take a loss but trying to hard to limit what it would be not out of unwillingness to lose money but again simply because we didn’t have the money we’d have to come up with at closing. In the meantime, Samuel and I drove down here to visit in January so that we’d have a chance to see him again and spend a little time in case we couldn’t move before his death.

After our visit, Sam and I came back and we all waited- for the house to sell, for my Dad to die, for this next phase in our life to begin. So January stretched into February, and by the end of it we weren’t willing to wait any longer. The house was generating some interest, but not enough to convince a buyer to take it at our lowest, not-even-breaking-even-but-still-at-a-level-where-we-could-somehow-come-up with-the-funds-to-close price. As the house had been on the market, though, I began connecting a neighbor who eventually put me in touch with some friends of his who were in a bit of a rough situation and were looking to rent a new place. One thing led to another, and eventually we took the house off the market and rented it to these folks.

Unfortunately, our tenants were in no way able to afford what we might have gotten at market price to rent the house. In fact, their rent payment to us only covers half the mortgage, but that half was just enough to make it possible for us to go ahead and move; so we did, thanks be to God. That being said, there were several other near miracles of love, hospitality, and grace that needed to come into play in order to get us down here as quickly as we came, and chief among them was finding temporary, cheap or free housing in the short term while we got established here in jobs and were able to begin constructing a new life here. Fortunately, a dear, old friend came through in a big way in this regard, and so we had a place to stay rent free for a couple of months as Kirsten started working and we figured out where we wanted to live, at least temporarily, including figuring out school and childcare for Samuel, etc.

The point is we were able to quite suddenly move to TX within just a couple of months of hearing of Dad’s diagnosis. Meanwhile, Dad’s doctors had begun treatment. First they tried hormone therapy, which worked for a few months to reduce his PSA, and then stopped working. Next up was chemotherapy, which he is still undergoing now. The chemo began a few months ago and some consideration went into the decision to start it. First of all, it’s quite costly, and my Dad simply can’t afford it. Fortunately, though, we were able to secure services for him that so far have enabled him to offset much of the cost. The question, though, regarding this or any treatment, is always one of balancing quality of life vs. quantity of life. That is, we always have to ask if the treatment will prolong his life but make him so miserable that the extra time can’t justify the suffering it causes- perhaps both for him and those of us who have to watch him slowly die.

I kind of have to wonder if that’s not a place we’ll be getting to soon. The chemo Dad’s now getting has, it seems, been effective in “leveling off” his PSA- at somewhere around 3,000! It’s not rising at present, which is good, but it’s still very, very high. Meanwhile, some of the side effects of chemo have been fairly minor due to some good meds. However, one of the major side effects is that it knocks out his immune system, thus making him very vulnerable to infection and causing him to need blood transfusions every few weeks. When his blood count is at its lowest prior to a transfusion, he’s extremely weak, lethargic, etc. Oh, and after stubbornly holding onto most of hair through age 78, he’s now lost most of it, which was disconcerting to see at first.

Anyway, the good news is that a full 7 months after Dad’s doctors told me he probably only had a few months to live, thus prompting our rapid move, Dad’s still here. I’ve been able to participate in this process with him, however it finally winds up, and I’m very grateful for that. It’s been hard, though, and not just for the simple fact that my Dad is dying, but I’ll say more about that in part II of this post.

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