Sunday, September 07, 2008

Cancer, Death, and Dad

(I posted this on a forum I frequent, hence the introductory stuff you've already seen)

My dad has cancer of the colon. It's been about 1.5 years now. It's his second go-round with cancer. The first was lymphoma cancer (non-Hodgkin's variety) and he got past that with chemo.

This time around, he's not so keen on trying traditional treatments. Instead, he's been talking to his Si Fu (spiritual master) as well as pursuing alternative means.

Over the past month or so, he's gotten worse. He and my mom traveled to Houston, TX recently, where they own a second home. I'm told that while Dad was at a casino, he, in his words, "almost died". Even with those words, he played it down. However, my uncle, who was with him at the time, mentioned to my brother and I that it might be a good idea for one of us to head to TX.

About 2 weeks ago, my bro flew to TX and spent 4 days there with my parents. He said Dad was doing better, but weak, and short of breath. He couldn't talk without pausing between words/sentences to catch his breath. He's refused to go to the doctor or seek any help besides what he can do on his own (eat well, rest, etc). It was bad enough that Dad sent my uncle to China to pick up some herbal medicine. Uncle Bob did the TX to China, back to TX round trip in 3 days. Pretty damn incredible, if you ask me. So, with this new medicine (placebo, anyone?), Dad was optimistic. He seemed to be doing better, even after one day on the meds, and my brother had to come back home, so he left my folks in TX. They were scheduled to come back a few days later anyway, so we thought things were improving.

A few days later I hear through the grapevine that Dad is doing worse. My bro and I determine this time that I will fly back to TX just to get on a plane with them the following day to bring them home. Kind of a security blanket, if you will. My mom is very soft-spoken and not so confident in her English skills and we worried what she would do if my dad was unable to speak or something worse.

Anyway, TX was fairly uneventful for me. It was great to see M&D's house, as well as my uncle and where they go to meditate. We flew home the next day and everything was fine.

Which, finally, brings me to my point.

I'm pretty sure my dad is dying. We're not sure if the cancer has spread to his lungs (hence the shortness of breath?) or what, but it's pretty clear he's not getting any better. Dad's Si Fu gave me directions on what my dad could and couldn't do (no meat, control temper, rest, etc). Dad has medicine that we went and picked up today, from an apothecary in Chinatown (dried seahorses FTW!). He still refuses to seek "regular" treatment. We would all love it if he'd go get an MRI so we can see what the heck is wrong with him.

He says he will live, that he's almost a Buddha, that he's wise. We think he's in denial. I have two trains of thought on this.

  • Respect his wishes. We let Dad live as he wants, meaning we're not badgering him to get checked, etc. We let him pursue what he wants for treatment and respect that. Simple enough, right? The trouble is, he's going downhill. We don't think he's in pain (he hasn't let on if he is or not), and if he is, well that would make it that much tougher. But, if we let him go as he wants, we're not constantly nagging him about something he wants nothing do to with. He's happier, we're not so happy, but I suppose we're supporting his wishes.
  • Nag him until he complies. My brothers and I, our wives, our other family members, we all want him to get checked out. We want him to be able to do something that is proven to work. We want something more concrete (even though it's never 100%) than what he's doing. At least if we know, we can plan accordingly, right? In addition, I've been on his case about updating his will, something he hasn't done for probably 20+ years. If/when he goes, we need to know that Mom will not be saddled with trying to figure all that stuff out.

Part of me is ready to follow #1. The way Dad's attitude is, it's not so much that he's resigned to death or living sick forever (at least not publicly), it's that he simply doesn't want anything to do with Western medicine. It's almost like he's cutting off his nose to spite his face. Try as we might, he's not willing to budge.

Part of me wants to follow #2. FFS, he's 67 and, if he was healthy, he could live at least another 20 years or so. With treatment of his cancer it may not be that long, but let's hypothetically say he gets 5-10 more years. Wouldn't that be worth it?

Now, playing Devil's Advocate for a sec. Let's say he does do chemo/radiation/surgery, who's to say he's not in constant care for issues related? It's pretty clear that a lot of people still suffer despite undergoing treatment. So, would we be prolonging his suffering for another hypothetical 5-10 years?

And I feel selfish, too, wanting him to stick around. I mean, who doesn't want a loved one to be around as long as they can? But, if he's suffering and he wants to be let alone? What then? How the heck am I supposed to feel?

Today I told Dad that we (the bros and fams) would be willing to let him be, provided he got his legal affairs (will) in order. I asked him what he wanted us to do exactly. He said for us to help him when he needed help (re: driving around, running errands, etc). I told him we could do that; we have been already.

I just don't know what else we can do. I know there's people out there that would say, "Are you freakin' crazy? He's your dad! You take his ass into the hospital and get him checked. His life is at stake!" I get that. Like an intervention. But who is that serving? Him or me? Or am I being a puss for not manning up and just doing it anyway?

I'm just here to vent. I'm not emotional (re: crybaby) yet, but it'll come eventually, I think. I guess I'm just looking for some insight from those of you who may have lost a loved one too soon.

Thanks for listening.