Image Credits: Courtesy of the author
In the summer of 2017, my mom called one evening right as I got home from getting dinner with one of my best friends. “Hanna, can you hear me?” she asked my sister. I soon realized we were on a conference call. I knew something was wrong if she had my sister and I on a conference call. She explained our dad was in the hospital in Dallas for coughing up blood frequently. They proceeded with doing an scope and found a blood clot and a nodule in his lungs. The scans said the nodule was not cancer. My dad stopped coughing up blood so we went home.
Fast forward 8 months later and after follow up scans of his lungs, my mom calls. Once again I hear “Hanna, can you hear me?” Another conference call. My parents explained the nodule from last summer was a carcinoid tumor. It was originally so small it did not show up as cancer. They explained my dad would have approximately one third of his lung removed and recovery would be 2-3 weeks long. Devastated, I crawled into my boyfriend’s arms. He cancelled his plans as I finished up some work. We went to bed as he held me crying and we began praying for peace and guidance for his medical team.
I never expected I would face the difficulty of a parent having cancer. I never expected I would sit in a waiting room with my mom and boyfriend waiting for call from his surgery team. I never expected I would sit in the critical care room with my mom as a chest tube and other monitors were connected to my dad’s chest.
Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned throughout this process and how my family has became stronger than ever.
Giving up your fear to God in these situations is harder than you think.
As I talked with my boyfriend following this news, we prayed for my dad, his medical team, my family and myself. Praying for yourself is not selfish but a form of self-care. Knowing one of your parents has cancer is hard. I was overwhelmed with worry and anxiety. I then remembered after Barbara Bush died, it was talked about how she did not fear death as her faith in God was strong and she knew was going to Heaven. I strived to have a faith like Barbara’s and give my fear to God. After many conversations with my boyfriend and God, I finally reached that point. It is hard to get to this point, but it will make the process easier on you if you are able to give your fear, worry and anxiety to God.
It is okay to be mad.
The night I found out my dad had cancer, I was mad at one point. How can this happen to him? How did the doctors not know this last summer? How am I supposed to handle this while working full time, being a Ph.D. student, teaching and working to be a survivor and not a victim of sexual assault? I came down from those emotions and realized we would tackle this battle just as had other battles. It is okay to be mad about the situation but it is even better to face the situation with strength to preserver.
It is okay not to cry.
I thought I would cry often following the news. I thought I would be weeping for hours. I wasn’t. I thought my mom would be crying for hours. She wasn’t. When your faith is so big and your friends and family are so supportive, it gives you a sense of security. Value and lean on that, it will do wonders.
You will lean on your significant other, or friends, more than you realize.
Having a boyfriend, especially when living together, was a godsend in this situation. He comforted me when my dad was in the hospital coughing up blood and during my dad’s cancer treatment. He knew and understood every emotion I was feeling. It worked out that he would be at the hospital the day of the surgery. Having him there gave me peace. It gave me even more peace during the surgery, he left my side and went by my mom. Seeing him watch movies and comfort her while my dad was in surgery is a sight I will always remember and will share with our children one day.
It might scary at times.
It is scary knowing a parent is having to stay in a critical care room. The chest tube and the other monitors can be scary too. Seeing a parent struggle to breathe, sit up and even walk can be scary. Having faith in medicine, the healing process and his medical teams allowed me to have some peace.
Cancer is not a death sentence but it can call for yearly scans.
When I first found out my dad had cancer, I immediately thought of what would happen if he did not make it. Once again, it is okay to be scared. Knowing the recovery and side effects of the surgery gave me an idea of what we would soon experience. The surgery removed the cancer entirely. He will have yearly scans but cancer is not a death sentence. It can be treated and medicine is always evolving to better treat these conditions.
Remain positive even when it gets hard.
It is hard to see a parent struggle. Hearing my dad wince at the pain when trying to sit up in his hospital bed was hard but I am grateful he was able to sit up in bed. Knowing my dad had cancer is hard but knowing he is in recovery is such a blessing. The chest tube was scary and looked painful but I am so thankful the tube removed the extra fluid from around his lungs. Remaining positive made the experience will not be as hard as it could be.
Appreciate the medical team and be as nice as possible to them.
My dad was a pretty easy patient. Breathing exercises, bandage changes, medicine and help getting out of and back in bed to walk is what he needed. His medical team was so attentive and always willing to help us in any way possible. Being nice and appreciating his medical team made him a better patient in their eyes and potentially, increased how well they treated him and us.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Cancer is scary. Cancer is even scarier when you have questions and find answers on WebMD. The doctors were there to treat my dad but they are also there to answer our questions. “What does his chest tube do?” “How likely is it that the cancer is gone?” “What does this medicine do and what are the side effects?” The medical team and the doctors are trained to answer these questions and give comfort to the patient and their family. Take advantage of this and ask your questions.
Be open with your employer.
One of the greatest blessings through this is that my employer allowed me to work remotely for two weeks. I was able to not work if I felt as though I could not and I was able to work if I wanted to and could work. Knowing that my boss and her bosses understood my situation gave me peace. If you are reading this Cyndy, Ashley, Marcie or Kendra, my family is forever grateful for your understanding during this time.