Wednesday, October 10, 2018

On The Sidelines


When my dad told my brother and me that he had been diagnosed with skin cancer, I admittedly thought it wasn't going to be a big deal.

Tons of people we knew had experienced skin cancer. It was just little things you got cut off or out of your skin, right? We would soon discover that although cancer comes in many shapes and sizes, it all sucks.

My dad went in for a biopsy and the net thing we knew he was scheduling surgery to get the tumor removed. Malignant Melanoma. The bad kind. Nodular Melanoma, 5.5 mm deep.

I had already been experiencing a lot of emotionally draining news having been dumped within a ten-day time frame.

My dad was still positive and it still seemed minor. So many people had this procedure. He would have had that surgery that Wednesday and we would head up to northern Wisconsin for the Labor Day weekend. Easy, breezy right?

The surgery was put off until the next day so the doctor's could be 100% sure my dad's body could handle it. The surgery went well-they removed the tumor and biopsied three lymph nodes to check the spread. But the post-operation complications were so troubling we ended up calling our Labor Day trip off to stay in Milwaukee. It was nice to be with my grandmother, aunt and uncle, but it was still a very stressful time.

My dad wasn't getting enough oxygen into his body on his own so he was hooked up to a bi-bap respirator machine that was pumping 100% oxygen into his lungs. He was in great hands in the Respiratory ICU. Even when I was my most upset and scared, I knew we were probably the luckiest people in there. My dad's room was right by the entrance and I could see all the people coming through the doors. Many of them were being briefed that they had to say goodbye to their granddaughter, their friend or the love of their life. I felt guilty for being scared and sad. How could I be so upset when I knew the people walking past our door were in a much tougher spot?


As we get older we see other sides of our parents. But sitting there and seeing how helpless he was...was something very hard to swallow. I felt exhausted from speaking with nurses and doctors and calling my family with what felt like just sitting and waiting for the other shoe to drop––how could this be happening? It was such a weird feeling like my mind was burning out of my body.
My dad was discharged a few days later when they knew he could breathe on his own. I felt we were out of the woods. But then we got some more news.

My dad’s biopsy revealed 50 melanoma cells in his sentinel lymph node. It could have been worse but it was still very scary. It was one lymph node. He had stage 3C Melanoma. Even now typing that out seems surreal.

As I was updating friends and family, I kept repeating the same medical terms (that I didn’t even know how to spell), the same story line and the same fears. I felt numb to it. One of my friends asked -- “How’re you doing with all of this?”, “I’m really okay, it’s going to be okay, I’m not the one fighting.” And she responded, “Hannah, it’s okay not to be okay.”

 Upon doing a little soul searching, I realized maybe I wasn’t okay. But with all of the emotionally tolling situations, I had kind of shut off. I was running on autopilot to avoid completely having a meltdown. Which is something I feel like I’m still doing.

I am not a doctor. I am not an expert. I am not the one fighting cancer right now. This is very much a new experience and feeling for my family. What I figured out though are two very important things. Number 1: We have to take it one day at a time. Number 2: We have to maintain an overall positive attitude.
I think it’s also important to remember it’s okay to not be okay...like my friend said. There are good days and bad days. Since my dad lives in Wisconsin it can be really hard. Hard to communicate..hard to feel like we’re being supportive...hard to feel like we’re helping. I feel like I push it down a lot. I don’t want to unleash all these terrible feelings of sadness because it’s not my cancer. I know being scared won’t change the outcome and it doesn’t help my dad when he’s the one dealing with these treatment plans head on.

Once we knew he had stage 3C Melanoma there were more tests to be done. We did find out his PET scan and brain MRI came back clear which was amazing, uplifting news.

For now, my dad is going through immunotherapy every two weeks for the next year. Unlike regular chemotherapy drugs, immunotherapy drugs make your immune system go into overdrive and attack cancer cells with your immune system. The biggest benefit of immunotherapy is you do not have all the normal side effects from chemotherapy. It was the best option for my dad and so far he has been following all the steps and doing everything he’s supposed to do.



I went back and forth a lot of times trying to decide if I should share this. If it was too personal–too personal for me to share that my readers wouldn’t be able to relate? But just like many things in life, cancer affects more than just the person fighting it. I know so many of you who have supported me through this hard time have had similar experiences. If I can help one person going through a similar experience then I’ve accomplished something. My dad always talks about how he could never get through this without the love and support of his family and friends. Watching someone you love go through something so unthinkable affects you––whether I wanted to admit it or not in the heat of the tests and the back and forth.

I want people who are supporting loved ones battling unimaginable hardships to know that it’s okay to feel emotional. It’s okay to feel beaten down. It’s okay to take it personally. You’re not alone and never feel like you can’t share.

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