When a Father has Cancer

    April 2010            
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The Choice to Fight

By Jeannette Katzir

On December 31, 2009 my father was diagnosed with cancer. Sadly, almost all of us will be touched by this horrible disease in one fashion or another. I have had friends, both male and female, come down with the dreaded disease, but they were younger and stronger . . . my dad, or Tatinke (Dad in Yiddish), is 84.

Today I drove my father to his chemotherapy treatment, and here are a few of my thoughts:

A flurry of nurses carried heavy armfuls of red folders to and fro. Johnson, Goldsmith, Hurley, Poltzer . . . the names were endless. At the reception desk, patient after patient arrived. Many of them, including my Tatinke, were bald. They wore baseball caps, scarves, and ski caps of all colors to hide their now bare heads.

As we took a seat in the waiting room, I noticed how the grey carpeting matched the baggy grey sweater and pants my father was wearing. I also noticed that, even though this was a place of sadness, most of the people were upbeat. As one of many support persons, I think we sported the sadder faces.

Dad was anxious to begin, and after asking a passing nurse, we were told that there wasn’t a chair available yet. So many people were there fighting valiantly for their lives.

“One has become available,” a nurse hurried back to tell us.

We walked into a massive room, where the entire floor space was covered with curtained cubicle after curtained cubicle. Inside each was a comfy easy chair sporting a cheerful pattern. Piles of pillows sat on the chairs and individual television sets were just a quick pull over. But off on the side was the reminder of why we were there. It was a monitoring machine, with all the lights, beeps, and hardware designed to hold up the plastic baggies of medications.

Tatinke took a seat, and we waited for IT to begin. I watched as patients occupied themselves while they were being filled to the brim with chemo and other medications. Some were playing cards, some were sleeping, and others were watching television or listening to music on their headphones.

Then Bill arrived. He was a large man, but ever so kind. He was from New York and engaged my Dad in discussion about “remember when.” As we chatted, he nonchalantly prepared a hypodermic needle and the selection of medications to be poured into my dad. He looked over my father’s arms. “Only in the vein, or we won’t be happy people,” he said. It took two tries, and then Dad was ready.

Drip . . Drip . . Drip—the medication slowly found it’s way through the tube, into the needle, and then into my Tatinke.

It would take almost two hours for him to receive his therapy. During that time, I fed him chips and water. And we talked, first about nothing in particular, and then about more heartfelt matters. “I’m sorry for how I behaved when Mom died,” he said.

He didn’t need to apologize, that was old history. I wanted to talk about the future. About his returning to his love for traveling. About the upcoming Passover holidays, in which the entire (formally estranged) family would be reunited, if only for the holiday. Then he fell asleep and I sat there looking at him. Six months ago he was fine, and now he was fighting for his life. For anything. His hair was gone. He was thin, and his memory was dodgy.

When we left the facility, he was weak. The treatment, as I have often heard, is almost as bad as the disease. But without it . . .

Even though I sat by and will probably go again to sit beside my Tatinke I could not help but think of something a friend said to me.

“Don’t make him go through that,” she said. But the idea of not supporting his fight for life, even if this will only keep him alive for another year or two, is unacceptable.

I understand the chance of getting cancer or having someone you care about get some kind of cancer is very high, but being this close showed me how far we have come, but sadly how far we have yet to go.

Jeannette Katzir is the author of Broken Birds, The Story of My Momila. To learn more about Katzir and her work, visit: www.BrokenBirds.com


from the April 2010 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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