On December 31, 2009, my father was diagnosed with cancer. Sadly, almost everyone will be touched by this horrible disease in one fashion or another. I have had many friends who have been affected by cancer, but they were younger and stronger than my dad, or Tatinke, who is 84.
I recently drove my father to his chemotherapy treatment.
A flurry of nurses carried armfuls of red folders to and fro. I scanned the names on the binders: Johnson, Goldsmith, Hurley, Poltzer, etc. Patient after patient arrived at the reception desk. Many of them, including my Tatinke, were bald. They wore baseball caps, scarves, and ski caps to hide their bare heads.
As we took a seat in the waiting room, I noticed how the gray carpeting matched my father’s baggy gray sweater and pants. I also noticed that even though this was a place of sadness, most of the patients were upbeat. The support persons seemed to have the sadder faces.
Dad was anxious to begin the treatment, and a nurse led us into a massive room covered with curtained cubicles. Inside each cubicle was a comfortable easy chair sporting a cheerful pattern, covered with piles of pillows. Off on the side were monitoring machines, with lights, beeps and hardware designed to hold the plastic medication bags.
Tatinke took a seat, as we waited for the treatment to begin. I watched as patients occupied themselves while they were being injected with chemo and other medications. Some were playing cards, some were sleeping, and others were watching television or listening to music.
Then Bill arrived. Bill, a nurse, was a large man, but ever so kind. He was from New York, and engaged my dad in discussion about “remember when.” As we chatted, he nonchalantly prepared a hypodermic needle and the selection of medications to be injected into my dad. He looked over my father’s arms. “Only in the vein, or we won’t be happy campers,” he said. It took two tries, and then Dad was ready.
Drip, drip, drip; the medication slowly found its way through the tube.
It would take almost two hours for the therapy to be completed. During that time, I fed Dad chips and water. We talked, first about nothing in particular, and then about more heartfelt matters. “I’m sorry for how I behaved when Mom died,” he said.
He didn’t need to apologize. That was history. I wanted to talk about the future, about his love for traveling, about the upcoming Passover holiday when the entire estranged family would be reunited.
Then he fell asleep and I sat there looking at him. Six months ago he was fine, and now he was fighting for his life. His hair was gone, he was thin, and his memory was less sharp.
When we left the facility, he was weak. The treatment, as I have often heard, is almost as bad as the disease. But without it…
Even though I sat by and will probably go again to sit beside my Tatinke, I could not help but think of something a friend said to me.
“Don’t make him go through that,” she said. But the idea of not supporting his fight for life, even if this would only keep him alive for another year or two, was unacceptable.
I understand that the chance of getting cancer is very high, but being this close showed me how far we have come – and sadly, how far we have yet to go.
Jeannette Katziris the author of Broken Birds, The Story of My Momila. Formore about Katzir and her work, visit www.BrokenBirds.com.