Sunday, April 5, 2009

Happy Birthday

Today is my dad's birthday. He would have been 68 years old. Unfortunately not only did he not get to see the 60's, he never even got to see the 50's. He died of pancreatic cancer at 48. His death was the only cancer death I had ever known until recently. It is his experience that shaped some of my own actions with my cancer diagnosis.

My dad was "follicly challenged" and didn't have a lot of hair to begin with, but I remember watching him pull it out by the handfuls after beginning chemo. It was for this reason that I decided to shave my head instead of waiting for my hair to fall out. I didn't think I could emotionally handle the devastation of seeing my hair come out in my hands or on my pillow. Even though shaving my head was extremely difficult, it was the right decision for me. It gave me a certain amount of control of a situation that I would have rather not been in.

Pancreatic cancer can sometimes be related to ovarian and/or breast cancer. It can also be somewhat related to lifestyle and my dad was not a very healthy specimen. My dad's brother passed away of brain cancer last year and his son (my cousin) currently has throat cancer. This was enough cancer risk in my family for me to decide to be tested for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations which I thankfully do not have.

My dad died on my mother's birthday when I was 24 years old. I had seen him the day before his death and knew without a shadow of a doubt that he was not going to make it. It was a devastating blow to me and my first experience with mortality. It was his death that made me realize that people really, truly die and don't live forever. That same year, his mother (my grandmother) died as well cementing that realization for me.

It is unfortunate that many of the things that I remember about my dad have to do with his death and the impact that it had on me. There are plenty of other things I remember as well; making him the biggest sandwich I could fathom, his ability to paint a holiday scene on our windows, the way he smelled, the tattoo on his forearm, his all-consuming love of his children, his belly laugh, his absolute refusal to drink coffee, the proprietary way he felt about Mt. Rainier. I wish, wish, wish he would have been alive to see his grandchildren. I think he would have been so proud that he would have nearly burst.

There are so many moments that he missed so here is one for him. The first day of school for both girls when we moved to our new house. Happy birthday dad....from two of your 5 beautiful grandaughters. We love you.

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