Tara’s most successful year was 1996. In June I hired a knowledgeable and responsible self-starter, Jeanne, to help with the workload. That October, just when Tara was doing so well, Dad developed a persistent dry cough. He saw a doctor who quickly referred Dad to a thoracic surgeon to perform a bronchoscopy. Dad was admitted to McKellar General Hospital the night before his bronchoscopy.
Bronchoscopy: A surgical technique where a bronchoscope is inserted through an incision in the trachea (tracheotomy) to visualize the trachea and lungs to examine them for tumours, bleeding and inflammation.
Mom, Catharine and I went to see him that evening. It struck me as soon as I saw Dad sitting in bed that he had always been the one who watched me in bed. We stood around his bed trying not to say what was on all our minds – what would the surgeon find?
Dad asked me, “What does a general anesthetic feel like?” It hadn’t occurred to me that Dad had never had an anesthetic. I’d had more than I cared to count.
“You go to sleep and when it’s over you wake up,” I replied. I couldn’t think of how else to describe it.
The next day Mom and Catharine stayed at the hospital while Dad had his bronchoscopy. Jeanne and I ran the lab. At 4:00 that afternoon Catharine showed up at Tara.
“Has Dad had his bronchoscopy?” I asked her.
“Yes,” she replied.
“What did the surgeon say?”
“Go home and see Mom,” Catharine said, “Jeanne and I will lock up.”
When I got home Mom rose from the kitchen table. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she threw her arms around me.
“Dad has cancer,” Mom said as her voice cracked, “What will we do without Dad?”
Mom, Catharine and I saw Dad in the hospital that evening. All of us knew the gravity of this diagnosis. It was the beginning of good-bye. We looked at each other as we searched for the right words to say.
Dad spoke, “They want me to start chemotherapy within the week. I’m seeing an oncologist tomorrow morning.”
I asked Dad what the surgeon told him.
“The cancer started in my trachea and spread into my upper right lung. He felt chemotherapy would be effective.”
That night I lay in bed wide awake with my hands behind my head as I stared into the dark. The only thought that echoed through my head was, “Dad has cancer.” If ever in my life I had prayed fervently it was then.
“Please God, I need my Dad.”
Not until I heard those three words – Dad has cancer – had I seriously considered what my life would be like without Dad. I couldn’t even begin to contemplate living without him.
The dawn came up but I hadn’t slept.
Dad was discharged after the oncologist saw him. At 10:00 AM when I arrived at McKellar Dad was dressed and sitting in a wheelchair beside his bed.
“Hi Dad,” I said trying to sound as upbeat as I could, “Ready to go?”
I wheeled Dad past the nurse’s station to the elevator and out to the patient pick-up area. Arm-in-arm I helped Dad into my car. As I did I couldn’t help but think of how Dad had done the same for me in December, 1973, in this very spot. I wrestled to quell the lump in my throat as I fought back tears. It was my turn to be strong. We drove home in an awkward silence. What did the future hold for us? When we got home I helped Dad into the house and to the kitchen table where Mom was waiting. I saw by the way Mom and Dad looked at each other they wanted to talk so I said, “See you later Dad,” as cheerfully as I could and left.
The tables were turned. I went to work and worried about Dad just as he must have been distracted in his work as he worried about me. When I arrived at Tara Jeanne asked how Dad was.
“Fairly good,” I said.
Then she asked how I was. I looked at her and sighed as I said, “Okay.”
Tara soon had me busy with the day’s work.
Six days after Dad had his bronchoscopy he started chemotherapy treatments. Dad’s chemotherapy made him so sick that he hardly ate for a month. He spent most of the time lying in bed. About the only time he got up was to go for his treatments. In all my years I never saw Dad throw up until then. Dad and I never discussed his cancer. Although he confided in me once that in all the years he taught his students about cancer he never thought he would get it. The chemotherapy worked well on his lung cancer.
Dad didn’t return to Tara until his chemotherapy finished three months later. During Dad’s absence Jeanne and I ran the lab. We developed a good working rapport. She kept a level head for me. I wasn’t thinking clearly during those stressful months. When Dad returned to Tara in January of 1997 I looked to the future again.