When cancer has metastasized to sites beyond its origin, they call it “stage 4”. In my dad’s case that means that the tumor in his lungs has either grown into the heart muscle or aorta or that the size of it and the effusion it has caused warrant the dire level.
In any case, he is 81 years old and already suffering from pulmonary disease and severe osteoporosis. He would not survive cancer treatment. They are discharging him from the hospital tonight.
When I talked to my mother, the lung specialist had just left, and the nurses were getting Dad ready for discharge. They don’t waste time. Mom sounded very matter of fact. I remember that tone. I used that tone a lot myself. I still use that tone when I talk about Will’s illness or death. I have cultivated it and it can be a very useful barrier.
I have tried to remember what it felt like that day, the one nearly five years ago now, when the doctors gathered in that tiny exam room just off the lobby of the neurology waiting area in Iowa City and told me that Will was going to die.
Only that is not what they tell you.
They give you the name of the disease. They tell you that it has no treatment. They tell you that things will progress. Sometimes they have a time-line. Mostly they try to exit the room as soon as they can.
The day they told me that my husband was going to die, my Dad was in the waiting area watching BabyD, who was truly a baby then – just fifteen months old. I was too angry to cry. Angry with the doctors for not knowing more about what was wrong so they could answer my questions. Angry with Will for hiding so many of the early symptoms of his illness from me. Angry that I was alone and too grown up to just throw us all in Dad’s car and go home with him.
And my Dad said nothing. He didn’t chastise me for my reaction that day. He didn’t judge me like so many people would in the care-giving and widow years to come. He just helped me get Will and BabyD to the next waiting room for more tests and then to the parking lot and our vehicles for the trip back to our house in Des Moines that would never be our home.
Aside from my Auntie, Dad probably was the most consistent supporter I had during that time.
I asked Mom how he was doing, but I could hear him joking with the nurses in the background. He is quite the flirt when he is in the hospital.
I wonder what it feels like to be told you are dying when you were dying already. It’s like double-secret probation in a way.
Later when I talked with Rob, I told him that I feel worse knowing he has cancer and is dying then I did knowing he was just dying of the pulmonary fibrosis. And it doesn’t make sense because we all knew he didn’t have much time left anyway.
The doctors say a year or less which is nonsense. Even Mom saw through that evasion. And the doctor balked at hospice. What is it with doctors and hospice? Why do they wait so long?
I called my Auntie. I left a message for CB. DNOS called me, and we talked a bit. Mom told me not to come yet, but I think she is still in shock. DNOS agreed and is going to use her professional connections to get the real scoop on Dad’s condition. It pays to have a social butterfly sister who used to work at the hospital lab.
I asked her how she was.
She said, “Fine.”
But she choked on it a bit and when I asked again, she told me she would call me later after she knew more.
DNOS would have made a pretty good NOS.