Updated: Jun 15, 2020
I know it's been a while since I posted, so I'll catch you up on the insanity of the last eight months. My father was diagnosed with extensive-stage small cell lung cancer, a type of cancer so aggressive that they don't use traditional staging to describe how bad it is. Limited means one tumor, extensive means multiple tumors in multiple places. It grows fast and travels faster. Very few treatments exist for this particular cancer due to very little research being done on it. It moves so quickly that most drug companies don't bother, as there wouldn't be enough of a profit to be made. Less than 5% of patients are around after 24 months, even after treatment.
At Death's Door
My father went from pretty healthy to being on his deathbed in less than a month. On new years eve at around 10 pm, as the realization came that I wouldn't see him again because we live in Michigan and he was in a hospital in Florida, I broke down. We didn't have money for an expensive last-minute plane ticket and no one to care for the kids while I was one. I didn't even know if my anxiety would let me do that, even if we did scrape together the money. Kallo then realized that, as of the next day, January 1st, his vacation days would be refilled. We could all pile in the truck and drive down. It would be slower, but we could all go. I called my eldest brother and while tearfully telling him what was happening, Kallo and I shoved clothes and supplies into bags. I shoved anything that would spoil and all leftovers, along with frozen bags of veggies and fruits into two coolers for food on the road. We tried to be quiet, as to not wake the littles, and loaded the truck up. Around 3 I finally stopped to rest as much as I could, and we left around 6 am, unable to wait.
My father's children and their families, mine included, raced from the 3 corners of the country to get to Florida to see him. My eldest brother had only recently been reunited with our family, having been estranged from us for 30 years until only a year prior to this. My family met his north of the Georgia border and then traveled together the rest of the distance to central Florida. My little brother managed to arrive ahead of us, driving through the night with the help of his father-in-law. It was a long 2 days and 1300 miles for us, with all three kids and our dog shoved into a Silverado crew cab, and we weren't sure we would make it in time to say goodbye despite our haste.
We did thankfully make it in time. It was the first time since I was 5 that we were all together with my dad. Despite the horrible situation, it was nice to have us all together. My dad couldn't sit up, even with assistance, so we took pictures together with him laying in the hospital bed, skin yellow from liver failure, and all the accouterments of being in the hospital surrounding us. The arrival of his children did a lot to lift his heart, and it was obvious, despite the fact he was always a stoic man.
My mom had not left his side and had slept in folding chairs next to his bed, so we sent her to get some rest and real food, while we took turns staying by his side. In the week he had been bed-bound, he had lost many pounds of muscle and could barely speak, much less lift his head. A few whispered words were the extent of his activity. They started him on chemo, using the phrase "to make him more comfortable", leading us to believe that it was the end, and the chemo might help ease symptoms.
No doctor had stood still long enough to tell him his prognosis, or even verify what kind of cancer he had, at this point. So, when his oncologist's partner stepped into the room to check on him, I pleaded with him to stay long enough to tell my dad what was going on. The doctor explained the type of cancer and said that, with treatment, he could possibly have 12-24 months if the cancer responded, without treatment, it would likely be less than a week. It doesn't sound like much, less than 2 years, but to a stubborn man who wasn't ready to go - it was enough to kick start the fight.
The chemo treatments were in 3-day groups, every 21 days, for 6 rounds. He also needed physical therapy to regain strength enough to sit up, then stand, and finally walk. It took months to be able to get up and walk again, but he did it! All while going through chemo treatments that would knock him back down, cause him to need blood transfusions, and multiple ER trips. He kept pushing and trying.
In the midst of all this, my parents had to find someplace to live, as he couldn't get in and out of the RV that was their home. An old friend had a condo that she usually rented out that was empty, and let them rent it on a month-by-month basis. It had steep steps up to the front door that required the help of the fire department to get him in and out for treatments, as he was still too weak to walk down the 3 steps.
Through all of this, and abuse suffered at the hands of hospital doctors (I'll save that for another post), all my parents wanted to do was get home to Michigan, where both of them were born but hadn't lived in decades. They wanted to be near family, most of whom live up here, spread across the mitten state. With Kallo's blessing (thank the gods for such a wonderful husband!) we started house shopping. At first, we looked at apartments and small homes for my parents to move into, hopefully within a few miles of our home. That search turned up nothing that would work, since we assumed he would need a wheelchair accessible home. So we moved onto looking at houses big enough for us plus my parents.
I feel that our real estate agent put up with a lot of confusion from us since we were trying to find a home to fit the needs of so many people. We needed enough yard for kids to play, and hopefully enough room for a garden and meat rabbits. We needed enough living areas for my parents to be able to have their own space, in addition to their own bedroom that he could get to. The list grew as we looked and realized what would and wouldn't work. The house hunt went on for 6 intense weeks of me viewing 72 houses, usually with all three kids in tow.
Meanwhile, In the south.
My dad's treatments continued and, despite the setbacks, and the PTSD over the nightmare ER trips, my dad's cancer shrank. He got much of his strength back. By the last chemo treatment, he was able to get down the condo steps under his own leg power, and was even able to climb back into their RV a few weeks later. He rested and recovered and was able to drive their RV the 1300 miles north, to finally come home. A miracle, if there ever was one.
Happily ever now!
Now for the happy ending! In mid-may, we finally closed on a house that seemed to fit everyone's criteria pretty well, with some bonuses added in. Everyone has enough space in the house. Bigger bedrooms, 2 bathrooms instead of 1, my parents have a bedroom and living room slightly separated from the rest of our living area; so a little privacy when they wish it. The area is much safer and the town we live in much more homesteading friendly; including specifically allowing backyard chickens! Our 2.5 acres will soon have a garden, meat rabbits, and chickens, in addition to wild little boys and the scruffy terrier.
My dad's door wall has an awesome view of the section of yard we cleared of thorns. Soon enough he can watch the kids run around the back yard and play in the snow, from the comfort of his recliner. We still have a lot of work to do to get settled, like finishing part of the basement to use as office and play area, but it's all coming along beautifully. All made better because dad has, for now, beaten back this horrible cancer.