Oncology? Where is that located in the body?

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic
My father had been diagnosed with cancer and I was a sixteen year old boy! What did that all mean?

Submitted: September 20, 2012

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Submitted: September 20, 2012



Earlier in the year my dad had been off-colour for a while and he told me he needed to go to see a specialist in the city for a consultation. He never told me what was he was suffering from or what his symptoms were; only that he wasn’t feeling well. He asked if I would go with him for this first consultation and for me, as it was a day of school, I obliged.

Although a heavy smoker my dad was fairly active. He never drove a car but loved to walk everywhere. It wasn’t unknown for my dad to walk from the bayside suburb he lived in to the city for shopping and walk home again ignoring the buses driving constantly passed him. It was after all only 10 miles there and 10 miles back.

Instead of sleeping in until 7.00am and catching a bus to his work in a nearby suburb, he’d get up daily at 5.00am and walk to work and then walk home, usually passed one of his favourite establishments for a quick chat and cold beer.

One year when I was nine years old we walked from Middle Park to the Showgrounds at Flemington for me to go to the Royal Show. It was a ten mile walk but I enjoyed it because I was with my dad and we got to talk.

After spending the day at the show he did however relent to allowing me to catch a train home when he saw that I had worn holes in my socks at the heels, which were a bloodied weeping mess from burst blisters and that I could hardly walk.

Another time on one of his walks he accidentally entered a Charity Walk-a-thon that was happening around the local lake. That he finished within the top twenty placings was no surprise to any of us.

That’s why I should have known something was wrong, seriously wrong.

On the day of his appointment in the city we caught a bus. We were deposited outside Flinders Street Station whereupon we walked up Flinders Street turning left into Russell and continued along until we stood in front of the huge 52 storey building.

Taking on the continuous revolving door, we timed our run and entered the building and went to a bank of elevators. Up we went to a sterile set of offices, which housed a number of Oncology Specialists. I had no idea what an oncology specialist did or where in the human body the oncology was located.

We sat in silence the whole time as we waited for dad to be called into the consultation room. Finally he was motioned to go in and he asked me to wait outside. It seemed to take ages before my dad reappeared and walked to the receptionist. He told the receptionist he needed to make another appointment for a follow up visit.

Dad looked as though he had shrunk about 3 inches in height. He was slumped over and not his normal self as we left that office tower.

He walked without direction seemingly in a daze and wasn’t aware we were heading in the wrong direction until I told him. He wanted to sit down so we entered a café and he asked me if I wanted something to eat and drink. I remember having a hamburger with the lot and a chocolate milkshake and I devoured them without leaving a crumb or drop of milk.

My dad sat opposite me however not eating or drinking at all. He was quiet, which was not unusual for my dad, but he was not smoking which was. In fact as we sat it dawned on me that I couldn’t remember him having a smoke at all that day.

The bus trip home was another quiet ride with dad not saying much at all. We finally got to his home and my mum turned up.

I got the hint they wanted to talk so I went outside. I heard my dad raise his voice during their conversation which was very unusual. I heard him say “I’m not going to let the bastard win”.

Who that ‘bastard’ was I wasn’t certain of but my dad was obviously angry with him. I wondered if it was the doctor he’d seen.

After awhile mum came out red eyed and said we had to go home. She had obviously been crying and I wondered what the hell was going on. I said goodbye to my dad, but he never turned around to look at me and I walked off to the car with mum.

We got in and mum drove away from my dad’s place.

Not far down the road, I noticed mum was crying and I only realised because she was dabbing her eyes with a tissue. She then told me that dad had been told he had cancer and needed to begin chemotherapy if he was to have a chance at beating it. The specialist had found a lump in his throat, which was the result of his smoking.

I then had some idea what was going on. My sister had had cancer and she ended up having a leg amputated. Christ! If my dad had it in his throat what were they going to cut out?

I was stunned not really knowing what to say or do. I looked at mum and tears formed in my eyes and I started crying. I hadn’t comprehended what the reality of it all would mean but I didn’t like seeing mum upset so I cried for her and with her. I also cried for my dad.

A few weeks later my dad had his first round of chemotherapy and he didn’t want me to see him in a distressed state. It was many weeks later that he finally allowed me to visit him.

Finally when I saw my father I took a step back. He looked like he had lost about half his body weight. He was drawn and pale. His hair colour had turned from the normal greying salt and pepper it had been to an almost pure white.

I was speechless and didn’t know what to say to him.

This time the conversation between him and mum was not hidden from me or perhaps he was beyond caring who heard what was said.

Dad had been told that they needed to operate on the cancer and this meant a tracheotomy as the cancer was aggressive and destroying his larynx and thyroid. Again it was a lot of words that I didn’t understand or ultimately what it all meant.

Once again dad had to go to the city office tower for a consultation with the specialist and again I went along to support him.

This time as I sat in the waiting room looking at other patients I realised then that they all had this grey ashen skin tone and a foreboding look on their faces similar to what my dad had.

I’d seen this look on the patients the last time I was there but didn’t know what it meant then, but now I did.

Dad once again reappeared and shuffled out from the meeting with the doctor. I waited for him to go to the receptionist but he bypassed her and he made no appointment for another visit.

As we walked to the elevator he screwed some paper up and tossed it in the bin in the hallway. I was too naïve then to put two and two together.

In the end though, even after his bravado and fighting words spoken earlier to my mother that he wouldn’t let the bastard win, my dad at age 56 had given up his fight and in fact the ‘bastard’ had seemingly won.

I hadn’t seen my dad for some time as I was studying for school mid-year exams which I completed and then we had school holidays.

For the break I’d been away with a friend to his family’s holiday house for the whole of the two weeks that we’d had off. When I got home mum said we had to go and see my dad, as there had been some trouble.

On the way to my dad’s place, mum told me that a rent collector had come around and was confronted by my dad who had apparently threatened to shoot him if he came back. The rent collector had contacted the owner of the bungalow my dad rented, who in turn contacted mum as next-of-kin to see what was going on.

When we turned up at his bungalow there were no lights on and it appeared that no one was home. I knocked on the door and there was no answer. I tried again and a gruff voice from inside yelled to bugger off.

I yelled out that it was me and I wanted to see him.

After some time I heard movement in the bungalow and the door opened. My dad stood before me for only a second before he turned and went back to his bedroom.

The smell that emanated from the bungalow was horrid. I pushed the door wide open and turned on a light but didn’t enter because of the smell. I waited and mum impatiently pushed passed me.

I eventually followed and saw dirty dishes on the table, empty cans of food that had been opened, eaten and left and an overflowing bin.

I walked into the bedroom and my dad was in a heavily stained pair of pyjamas. The room smelled of a mixture of sweat and urine.

Beside the bed almost full to the top was a plastic bucket filled with urine. Mum took it out to the laundry emptied it and washed the bucket. She made my dad have a shower, put on a clean pair of pyjamas and she made the bed with fresh sheets.

I helped my dad and all the time we were together he was talking angrily. He continually talked about people coming to the door who wanted to kill him and having to defend himself. He was just ranting and raving and making no sense at all.

He had lost more weight and his arms were skin and bone. He asked mum if she would go and buy some drinks; such as coca-cola or fanta, as he was thirsty. He pulled money from his wallet and said to get lots of each. Mum left and went to do his shopping.

I sat with dad and left the door and window open to air the place. We talked about my holiday and what I had been doing but dad was still not making much sense. In between sensible conversation he would begin rambling on and telling me how they “all wanted to kill me”.

He got me to look in his wardrobe and I found a loaded .22 rifle which I didn’t know he had. I was frightened and took the clip out of the .22 without my dad knowing. I put the now unloaded .22 back into the wardrobe and hid the clip of bullets.

In his ramblings dad talked about being visited by his mum and dad and they were angry with him. He told me I had to see them and tell them that he was fine. The trouble was I had never met my grandmother and grandfather as they had both passed away before I was born.

I held his hand in mine and he was very weak with no strength at all. The man I loved more than anyone in the world was sick and dying. He needed help and I didn’t know what to do.

Mum returned and put the drinks and food in the fridge. She made him something to eat which he had a small amount of and then pushed the rest aside.

A number of his neighbours saw the light on and came to ask how he was doing. When my dad heard unfamiliar voices he wanted me to get the gun out and shoot them. Mum wondered what he was talking about but I changed the subject.

After being with dad for about six hours; doing his washing and cleaning up we eventually had to go and told him we’d be back in a couple of days to see how he was doing and that if he wasn’t any better we’d be calling the doctor.

Two days later when we returned, by evidence of the empty cans in his room and the untouched food in his fridge; since our last visit he had only had eight cans of drink and nothing to eat at all.

He was wasting away and I was almost at the stage where I couldn’t look at him without crying and mum said she was going to call the doctor. On hearing this dad threatened mum and they argued. He was in another world but she couldn’t see it.

Finally he struggled out of bed and went to the wardrobe. He took out the .22 and pointed it at mum. Mum freaked out.

She was yelling at dad and I told her I had taken the bullets away.

Mum said she wasn’t staying around to be threatened when she was only helping him and walked out. I grabbed the gun off dad and I easily forced him back into bed. He looked up at me and said to turn the lights out and lock the door when I went and not to come back.

I was distraught.

When I got to the car with the rifle, mum was furious at me for knowing about the gun and not telling her about it. What made her the angriest was that he had brandished it at her.

After I got into the car mum let out a tirade of swear words that I never expected to hear from her that made me blush and would have left a truck driver blushing, we traveled home in silence.

It took a couple of days for her to calm down and finally after three or four days she took me to go and see him.

She banged on his front door but there was no sound or noise from inside. She kept screaming for him to open the door. Finally one of neighbours came over who happened to have a spare key and we opened the door and went in.

We found dad on the floor covered in his own mess. He was lapsing in and out of consciousness. As I cradled his head, mum left to call for an ambulance.

I felt helpless and was actually grateful when the ambulance came and took my father away. As I watched him secured to the trolley and slowly placed into the ambulance I was crying uncontrollably.

After mum cleaned up the mess and made sure everything was right at the bungalow, we locked up and went to the hospital.

It seemed we waited an eternity but we were finally allowed into to see him. In the bright lights of the hospital he was gaunt and ashen and a shadow of his former self. My dad was propped up on some pillows and to assist his breathing he had an oxygen mask on.

When I entered the room he dragged the oxygen mask away off his face and the elastic band around the back of his neck securing the mask dragged over his head. As it did so his hair just fell out and left a streak of skin where the hair had just been.

A tear rolled down his face and he held his hand out to me. I sat on the bed and held his hand. He was cold, trembling and very weak.

The nurse tried in vain to keep putting the oxygen mask back on him and he kept dragging it off. Each time it went on, he would pull it off and more white hair would fall out.

Finally I held one hand and mum held the other and we talked to him to stop him from trying to take his oxygen mask off.

A doctor came in and was talking to mum. I overheard the questioning as the doctor asked how we could let him get to this state? Why hadn’t a nurse been visiting to monitor his situation? Why hadn’t we called a doctor earlier? Why hadn’t we called an ambulance to get him into care sooner?

It was a very heavy conversation and mum didn’t have the answers or had probably decided not to tell the doctor that my father had obviously just given up and wanted to die and we had basically been letting him.

After the doctor left we stayed a while longer. We listened to my dad’s laboured breathing and mum said that what I could hear was what they called the “Death Rattle”. She said to me matter-of-factly that it wasn’t a matter of if my dad was going to die, but when.

It got to about 10.00pm and we were virtually just sitting there listening to this death rattle. A slow rumble breath in followed by a laboured exhale out.

Sometimes he stopped breathing all together for what seemed minutes but was in fact only seconds until he would gasp for another breath and continue with the rumble.

A nurse entered the room to take his ‘vitals’ and this upset my dad. He stirred a little and then there was an awful smell as he had soiled himself. The nurse said we had to leave the room and that there wasn’t much we could do so why didn’t we go home.

Mum thought it was for the best and she took me home. I was in bed by 11.00pm and so drained I fell asleep almost immediately. What I didn’t know was my mum, after dropping me off, returned to the hospital to stay with my father.

I am not sure how long I had been asleep but my brother woke me in the middle of the night and hugged me. Mum had called to tell say my dad had just passed away.

I couldn’t sleep and I didn’t want to. I cried for my father, I wanted to hold my father, I wanted him to tell me everything was going to be all right. But he was gone.

The next morning I was sad and angry.

I saw mum and she hugged me. She said she had gone back to the hospital and stayed with my father until the end. I yelled at her that I shouldn’t have left the hospital; that I needed to be with dad.

After I had calmed down she said there was not much that I could have done. He had lingered on for three hours.

Just before he passed away he had a brief moment of lucidity.

She told me he had opened his eyes and had asked where I was. When mum told him it was very late and I was home he had told her to tell me that he was very proud of me and that he loved me.

Shortly afterwards, his rattling laboured breathing stopped for the last time that night.

I burst into tears and mum hugged me. She said we both loved him very much.

From the time my father was first diagnosed with cancer to my dad’s death in October, it was all of six months.

And now almost thirty-five years has passed since that day he died and although I am a fifty-two year old man, I still cryto myself when I am sad and alone, that I never got to hear his last words and I never got to say goodbye to the man that I loved.

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