Watching a father fight cancer.


Its 11:30 PM on a Thursday night, my father is to my right in bed scared about one thing, drowning. He’s not afraid of dying; he made peace with the concept of what happens next long ago. He’s more concerned about drowning in whatever is pooling inside his chest due to the cancer aggressively growing inside of him. The doctors have said plain and to the point, that what will eventually take my father from this earth will be via drowning on his own internal chest fluids (among other things).

In order to defeat this, he has decided to cheat his fears and up the dosage of morphine and another drug that I can never recall. This will let him pass in a peaceful sleep, much like those ones you have after pulling an all-nighter and crashing at the end of it (Deep dreamless sleep).

I’m not one for talking about death, for me it’s one of those subjects I like to keep at the dark corners of one’s mind, tucked behind the bad memories and stupid mistakes I often make. I don’t seek this subject out; it often seeks me in the form of a friend or relative of some sort dying.

The last time I saw someone die was on a train station platform, this overweight man was slumped on the ground with a railway staff worker performing CPR on his chest and for me it was the most unsettling sight of all. With each compression, his stomach would inflate like a bull frog croaking and what made me stare with shock wasn’t the sight of CPR. It was the scary and most profound thought of a man dying on his own, on a random train platform in the middle of the day with a stranger fighting to keep him alive.

Once the ambulance came and went with his still body, I gathered my thoughts and boarded the next train. I went to work and thought “well, that’s how life goes I guess?” hoping that this new found event in my life wouldn’t fester. Watching that man die has always stayed with me though, I did want to find out his name and offer some comfort to his family, telling them something positive about their loved ones last moments on this earth.

I didn’t, I chickened out and put it down to lack of information to follow up.  That’s a lie though, I could have found out as my old boss from many jobs ago is now the CEO of the Rail Company and I went to School with one of the cops that attended the scene, so getting that information was easy, all I had to do was ask.

I didn’t move, I just sat there staring at others fight to keep someone alive they have never met and put it all behind me.

Tonight, my father lies beside me in a hospital bed, fighting with each breathe to buy one more day, as that’s what his life has now come to – fighting for a day or hour from now.

Dad has put up a fight, he can be stubborn like that, as he was told he had hours to live before, and I think that pissed him off. So much so, he decided to rally, live a few more weeks, probably out of spite or his dislike at being told what to do?

This time, he’s exhausted, it’s the 10th round in a long and brutal battle with cancer, he’s weak and mentally he’s ready. He’s made his peace with god, he’s told his children and loved ones repeatedly how much he loves them and why he’s proud of us all.

Punching out though isn’t still something he will yield on, as despite his exhaustion and all the conditions for a peaceful death are before him, he won’t go. It’s like he needs to go around that corner just one more time to see what’s next, read that next chapter to get closure on the plot or wait to see what happens after the credits in a new Marvel movie for that last nugget of “what’s next”. Curiosity is what I think keeps him alive the most – what happens next?

This is what my dad does, he fights. When the odds are against him, he always seems to dig deep, hunker down and duke it out with whatever is front of him.

My dad all my life has been the guy who refused to let a bully push him/loved ones around him around. The amount of times I’ve seen him push back on this has always left me with a sense of pride. He has always taught my brother & sister that you fight for those who can’t fight for themselves and thinking about all my child hood fights, turns out we did. I did get into a lot of trouble growing up, mostly for being a spoiled know it all brat but also for not letting someone push others around (teachers, school yard bullies etc.).

Yet again, dad sees a bully before him, its name is cancer and he’s simply saying “knock it off”. If he’s going to die, it’s now on his terms and despite the overwhelming amount of force cancer has over him, he’s still throwing some punches.

It’s hard to watch him fade like this, it’s not like the movies and it’s a lot more painful than hearing about a colleague or friend dying. Those are events to people that you are fond of but this is personal, this is your father.

It’s painful for a lot of reasons, as it feels like you’re the one who’s been given the diagnosis of an untimely end which would be easier as that means you’re in control. This however isn’t fair, as it’s the same feelings but you’re not in control, you can’t help them, all you can do is sit beside them, hoping for some Hollywood / Disney moment of a miracle to shine forth.

It won’t come, I get that and I’m not a religious guy to assume this is some “master plan”  - fuck that, there is no plan, there is just existence.

My father will die in the next few hours/days/weeks (hopefully), but he will die with his wife and children beside him, all in agreement that our lives where richer and thankful for his existence.

He won’t die like that stranger on a train platform, he will die on his own terms and surrounded by his loved ones and that for me is a rare gift. Not many of us can get that opportunity in life, to pass away with some forward notice whilst being surrounded by those you love the most.

Watching my father die is more of a gift than I had original realized. I get to say goodbye and tell him how proud and loved he will be..

Cancer you may have won the battle, but like all bullies you will eventually lose.

Filed under personal.

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  • Hilary Bridel

    Thoughts are with you and yours Scott.

  • Best wishes at this tough time; and beyond.

  • Sorry to hear about what you are going through. This was well written.

  • Kevmcdonk

    My father in law has recently been diagnosed with having cancer that has metastisised onto his lungs and so it’s now a case of when not if. I know I will have to deal with my emotions and support and comfort my wife and this post has hit so many thoughts that I know we’ll have to deal with. Thank you and I truly hope that you and your families pain isn’t dragged out.

  • Pete Brown

    Well written, from the heart. I understand what you’re likely going through. and appreciate that you could put it down here and share some of it with us. My thoughts will be with you.

  • Very well written. I didn’t have the opportunity to be near my mom and dad when they passed away. Glad to know you and family are all together and this is definitely a gift.

  • stimul8d

    You’re a brave man for sharing Scott. Best wishes in a tough time.

  • Håkan Reis

    I understand the pain you are going through neeing throgh a similar experience a few years ago. Well written.

  • Cancer is a terrible disease that strikes indiscriminately, without heed of race, creed or colour.  It causes grief to the families concerned.  I played basketball with your dad & his younger brother back in the ’70’s in Cunnamulla.  I haven’t seen him since your family left.  My thoughts & prayers are with you & your family. A hard post to write, but very well written.

  • matt bourke

    my thoughts are with you and your family scott

  • Don

    My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family during this difficult time.  Hang in there.

  • Robert

    Today is the one-year mark since my father passed from cancer, and I end up findind your post looking at a comment on a WP7 dev page. Mine was nearly the same situation. Part of you rather he would go now, so he doesn’t suffer. Part of you hates yourself for thinking it. And I had to be the grounded on since everyone was looking to me. My suggestion, enjoy what you can during the “better” moments, and leave out the outside world.

    There is little good that comes from this. We’ll, I’m closer with my mom now. Unfortunately it doesn’t end.  All I can say is it gets easier as time goes on. I know we don’t know each other but feel free to contact me.

  • Jelena

    Time heals all. Your father will always be a part of you and will know it in your actions, words, thoughts, and you will know when he is proud of you. I went throughall this. Life is short, the sooner you realize, you will be better.
     We should not complain for something that did not, need to remember the good things and remember only the good things.

  • This is a very brave post, Scott. All I can offer is my
    thoughts for you, your father and your family. It certainly sounds preferable
    to be surrounded by those you love most, than having to face that next step all
    alone. Best wishes, Catherine

  • Thank you all for those who have emailed me direct, facebook messaged or left comments here regarding this post. Sadly on 15th May at 4:00 PM AEST my father lost his battle with cancer and passed away.

    He read this post and was proud of the way I expressed what my family was feeling into words like the ones I have, even with the grammatical errors.

  • Ferret

    Given that I’m not particularly old, have no children, and don’t have any kind of serious illness let alone cancer, I’m not exactly speaking from a position of authority here… but I think your father being able to read what you have posted would have been an invaluable gift. You’ve given him an undeniably honest and heart-felt confirmation that he doesn’t have to endure unspeakable agony any longer out of any possible fear of letting his family down, looking like a coward etc… allowed him to make the best decision for himself without any misplaced shame or conflict… not that these would necessarily be foremost in his mind, but in an impossible situation like that where your choices are leaving your loved ones or a painful and tiring fight against inevitability, the more you can do to allow someone to be at peace that they’ve made the ‘right’ decision, the better for everyone.

  • Ericwatkins

    My deepest condolences to you and your family. May your father rest in peace and you and yours find peace in his passing.