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.

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