One year ago this month, on May 16, 2014, my dad uttered the “C” word to me. We had tip-toed around that word- cancer- and hoped for the best. He had been sick and coughing for several months. His doctor diagnosed him with allergies and told him his shortness of breath was normal. It wasn’t until he could barely breathe at all that he went to a different doctor. He was diagnosed with pneumonia, but two weeks later, the spot was still there. A tumor. The next week we met with his oncologist. I took notes on my iPhone and then at the end, I held the oncology report and willed myself not to cry. The oncologist was optimistic- he needed a biopsy to be sure of what we were dealing with and there was a 10% chance it could be something other than cancer. The report I held in my hand made it clear that the biopsy was just a step closer toward adding the “T” word to the “C” word- terminal cancer. I’ll never forget the words I read in the back seat of Dad’s truck as we were headed home from that appointment- “innumerable lesions” on his liver. Those countless lesions in addition to the 3 inch tumor on his lung told me that he was dying. I had researched enough to know that small cell lung cancer was not one of those cancers you survive. I knew he was dying before he did. He sat that report down on the kitchen table and there it was left ignored while they scheduled his biopsy.
A few days later was the biopsy. He received the news that the cancer was also in his liver. Bryson had a t-ball game that evening and I knew it would be one of the last games my dad ever watched. He wondered how to break the news to me- that the cancer had spread- and that’s when my mom told him that I already knew. It was in the report that he hadn’t read. I remember seeing them pull up at the t-ball game and wondering what to say. There was nothing to say. He lingered at the car for far longer than usual. I’m still not sure why.. I’m guessing that he also didn’t know what to say. He was the person who always took care of me and now he was going to responsible to breaking my heart, shattering me into pieces as the earth crumbled under my feet.
The thing about having a critically ill child like Brynlee and then adding in a dying dad on top of that is that it feels like the world should stop spinning. But it doesn’t. It didn’t. There were still mouths to feed, baths to give, trachs to change, t-ball games to attend, appointments and surgeries- life goes on. It doesn’t stop for anyone.
We were unloading the van at a t-ball game just days after Dad’s diagnosis. In the beginning, I could not eat and I vomited often. I was completely defeated. I was pushed to the breaking point- I’m still there a lot of days. Anyways, we unloaded our huge double stroller that held Bella and Brynlee as well as Brynlee’s suction machine, her feeding pump, meds, etc. I went through the motions and we began our trek through the parking lot. The defeat must have been written all over my face as we herded our family toward their fields. A woman nearby noticed that I didn’t look happy enough to have my cute little family of three, ready to watch our oldest play t-ball. So she let me know it. She said something to the extent of “It can’t be that bad, hunny. Say “roll tide!” and you’ll feel better.”
I looked at Justin and muttered “If she only knew.” She had no way of knowing that I was a broken mother of a sick child. That the newborn in that stroller was only kept alive thanks to tubes and modern medicine. She had no way of knowing that my dad and best friend in the entire world had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer and that this would be one of our final t-ball games together. He would never see my 3 year old or my newborn take the field. He would never hold my daughter’s hand as she dragged him to the concession stand for snacks again. This was it for us. “Roll Tide!” couldn’t fix everything going wrong in my life. It couldn’t heal my child and save my dad.
This long, rambling post to say this: The next time you see a mother who has defeat written on her face, don’t assume it can’t be “that bad.” Don’t assume that she should just be a little more thankful, that she should slap on some lipstick and smile, and pick herself up. Just like that woman in the parking lot didn’t know that I had a sick child and a dying dad- we cannot know why someone looks miserable. Maybe they are just having a bad day or maybe their entire life is falling to pieces and it is completely out of their control. So what are some things you can do? Offer a smile. If she has her hands full, offer to help. Say a prayer- ask God to comfort her, to help her through whatever trials she may be facing. Reach out to her. Sit by her at the game. Talk to her even if you’ve never met her before. You could be exactly what she needs.
You never know what someone is facing. Always choose kindness.