Wednesday, July 3, 2013

My Dad has Cancer

Somewhere back in January of this year (when we were visiting for Christmas), my dad started having some urinary tract symptoms.  I don't want to go into too much detail for his privacy, but I want to point out that this didn't exactly happen over night.  My dad was planning to come visit in Texas immediately after we left and bring back Callaway.  His symptoms prevented him from coming.  He said he was going to get better, then come down later.  

Weeks go by and I start urging him to go to the doctor.  He's always been healthy (as far as we can tell), so he has managed to avoid seeing a doctor for decades.  I'd bet he hasn't seen one since he and my mom were married (prior to 1996).  My dad's a "don't worry about it" kind of guy so I don't know the details on his health.  He lives alone, so I've kind of always worried something would happen to him at home and no one would know about it.  I always figured it would be a heart problem since those seem to run in his family.

About a month ago, his texting dwindled down to nothing.  He used to message me at least five times a day so when he stopped, I got suspicious.  The week of my wedding anniversary I called him to see how he was doing and he sounded horrible.  His voice was weak and he complained about being so tired that he had to sleep every afternoon.  There were several new symptoms, all of them worth a visit to the doctor.  He'd told me he'd been to the doctor a month prior.  Obviously, the medication wasn't working so I urged him to go again.  He seemed really out of it.  The next day, my sister called after having a similar phone conversation with him.  

In fear, I decided to go behind his back and call his good friends to see if they would go check on him.  When I talked with the wife, she admitted that he hadn't been out for Whiskey Wednesday with her husband in over a month.  They used to meet every Wednesday to try out fancy whiskeys at one of the bars in town.  My dad is the poster child for 'social butterfly', so this news scared me even more.  That night (Friday), she called me back to give me the update.

I was on the road to Austin to visit friends for the weekend.  She recounted her husband's visit and it was horrible.  She said my dad was pale and had no energy to stand.  He had told me he hasn't been eating much lately so I asked if he looked like he'd lost weight.  She said he was so swollen, she couldn't tell if he'd lost weight.  I called Ariel and that's when we decided to drive to Illinois (I looked into plane tickets, but the last-minute cost was outrageous.)  Unfortunately, I was almost to Austin by this point.  We opted to use the weekend to make arrangements for our jobs and my family, then leave first thing Monday morning.

We got a late start on Monday, so we didn't get in until 4 am Tuesday.  We didn't tell our dad we were coming and went straight to our mom's.  In the morning, we went to the store and bought some easy to prepare foods and drinks, then headed over to his job site.  We didn't know where he was, so we were discussing which way to go in when we heard a weak, "You're not supposed to be here..."  It took me a moment to find where my dad was sitting.  He was slumped on a bench between two trees not moving at all.  He looked horrible.  Exactly as his friend has described.

He asked what we were doing there and we told him it was a Father's Day surprise.  We know how much he has fought going to the doctor so we didn't want to scare him away immediately.  But then he said he felt bad because he didn't have the energy to do the fun stuff we probably wanted to do.  I told him we just wanted to go to his house and make him lunch.  He immediately refused and said he'd rather go out for pizza.  At this point, I knew he was avoiding us going to his house.  Our college-aged brother had gone by to bring him food a couple weeks prior and said our dad had apologized constantly about the smell and mess.  He hadn't had the energy to clean the house and Callaway was having accidents inside.  

It took some coaxing, but we convinced him to let us come over.  Ariel drove his car and I played chauffeur.  The house was dusty, but I didn't notice any odor.  Alex had come over the weekend before to take Callaway for him.  He must have cleaned up that mess.  The one thing I did notice is how hot it was.  He complained about being so cold all the time.  

Dad obviously did not want us in the house, so he announced we were going to the pool.  He was in no state to walk anywhere.  To appease him I said, "Sure, go get changed."  It took him HALF AN HOUR to change clothes.  He was wiped out so I told him to go take a nap.  While he was sleeping we cleaned his house and did some laundry.  When he woke up I listed off all his symptoms together and explained he was going to the doctor and we weren't leaving until he did.  Hoping he would take the bait, I gave him three options: his previous doctor, urgent care or the ER.  He said he didn't like his doctor, "so I guess take me to urgent care."  It was weak annoyance on his part.  He honestly didn't have the energy to fight us.

The urgent care doctor took a blood and urine sample and said he had a mass in his abdomen.  Go to the ER immediately.

We hobbled back to the car and headed to the ER (where I wanted to go from the start).  They brought him in back immediately.  I am seriously impressed with the efficiency, cleanliness and friendliness of that hospital and all it's employees when compared to ours in Texas.  No wonder it's a Magnet hospital.

The doctors announced the mass was his entirely-too-full bladder.  Something was blocking the proper flow of things and it caused renal failure.  His kidney values were through the roof.  They worked their magic to relieve his immediate discomfort and admitted him that night.  We were back at my mom's by midnight.  

A week after he was admitted, the doctor was finally able to do a cystoscopy and found a large tumor in his bladder.  He removed two thirds of what he could see.  The pathology report stated it was malignant bladder cancer.  The next step is to do a CT scan to determine the extent of the tumor.  They use iodine (a dye) in that procedure, but it is renal toxic.  After his kidneys recover, they will do the scan.

Ariel and I spent as much of our time as possible in the hospital with him for two weeks.  I needed to come home to attend to my family and get back to work, but Ariel chose to put her job on hold and stay with our dad.  I'm going to try to get back on here and give some more details about what happened during those two weeks soon.

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