When my father was diagnosed with cancer, it wasn’t dismal or disbelieving, it was somewhat expected. Already having a numerous amounts of health complications—many associated with one another, acting like codependent factors of a possibly violent, internal time bomb— it seemed inevitable for it to come at one point or another, as disheartening as it sounds. Of course, it was heartbreaking, discouraging and worrisome, but its presence didn’t bring on a state of shock. It was like the impending, whirling tornado had finally touched ground.
My father goes to dialysis due to a halting function of his kidney and liver, has diabetes, among a few other health complications. They have all been monitored and controlled for many years, so he has maintained as much of a normal life as possible, but it isn’t like any of the procedures and medications provided a clean slate. Instead, they continuously refilled the plate or added a portion of something else. Upon receiving the news, it was as if cancer had now replaced the previous main entree.
My family and I, of course, gave encouraging words, asking for his own courage and bravery needed to take on the disease. We guaranteed him a support network, that he wouldn’t face this on his own. Already feeling distraught and defeated, he reluctantly accepted radiation as form of recovery. It must be taken into account that many cancer patients initially feel already defeated when the diagnosis is given. He was no different, only he was already weary from years of an ongoing battle with his existing conditions. This was a call to a much larger battle.
Already attending necessary dialysis, he now had to undergo radiation treatment every day for three months. I wondered how I would handle that kind of reality. I could barely handle a normal, healthy lifestyle. I couldn’t imagine having to be treated for cancer everyday and still attend vital dialysis appointments. I applauded him for accepting the treatment and even more so when he would come home with no complaints. My father is the less-optimistic, more fickle of my parental duo, more realistic than anything else. But he seemed rather determined to be positive, to be optimistic and to be a fighter, which was uncustomary.
My father was always a quiet man who kept to himself. As a child, I remember him picking me up from school in his Camaro, which he was dearly infatuated him, listening to classic rock on his CD player. His favorite was Santana. I know the Santana song catalog through him. We’d cruise the streets of El Paso listening to the music of his time and barely speaking, him sipping on his beer and I snacking away at whatever treat he would buy me. I thank him now for those days because it was mainly through him that I obtained a much more distinctive taste in music. We’d go to the park where I would play with the ducks and he’d read the newspaper. Even now, he reads the newspaper daily. Reserved, quiet, and rather odd is how my dad was as a child. Sometimes even not present. A few years back, when I was even younger, his brother—and also best friend—had been killed in an accident involving a drunk driver. I know this broke him into pieces, but he never showed it much. Whatever it was that was going on inside, he kept to himself. At least that’s how I saw it as a kid. But I never thought of him as weak. To the contrary, he was rather bold. Quiet and reserved, but bold. That man was long gone when the doctors told us he had cancer. That wasn’t the man I was looking at. Instead, I saw a wounded, deteriorating version of the man who picked me up from school in a Camaro listening to classic rock jams.
But he handled it well enough that he now is cancer-free. I got the news while at work in Washington, D.C. and, if I could miraculously have had one wish granted, I would have wished to have been there in person simply to give him not only a congratulatory hug, but an embrace that conveyed the joy it brought to me that he believed enough in himself to find the inner-strength and power to do what he had to do. When I spoke to him on the phone and expressed how grateful and glad I was that his cancer had gone away, he said “thank you for your words that day, it was because of you and my other children that I believed I could do it.”
And so this post is not only to express how much joy it brings me to see him surpass this phase of his already difficult life, but to act as an example of the power of believing. We all believe in different things, in different dogmas, in different existences, realities and idioms, but we all, as humans, believe. It is in that encompassed energy we put into believing where we can derive and source our strength when such overwhelming circumstances embed themselves on our path. The man I spoke to on the phone whose smile transcended distance and years of difficulty, who triumphed over such a tragic and heartbreaking disease is a different man that I knew from before. It just goes to show that we can all evolve, all become better versions of ourselves and, most importantly, all survive. As bleak as our inner-strength might seem, it turns out we can all be fighters in the end.