Monday, December 31, 2012

Life Changing

These last few months have been difficult to say the least. I'm not really sure how to begin here... 

About 2 1/2 years ago, just 3 weeks before my wedding, I found out that my Dad had been diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. Just 10 months prior to this, they originally found that he had colon cancer but it was only stage 1, they did surgery, and they said he was fine. No chemo necessary. 

Well, he wasn't fine. There were very very small cells still in his body and they his liver and lungs and that's what we discovered 3 weeks before my wedding.  It was devastating to say the least, but my whole family and I knew that he'd get through this.  He was an incredibly strong man--he'd already had Hotchkins Lymphoma TWICE and beat that and he had multiple episodes of congestive heart failure and made it through that.  This was just another bump in the road, right?

It took me a while to finally realize that this was going to be terminal for my Dad. I think I realized this earlier than any of my siblings, mainly due to the fact that my husband is in medical school and while he tried to tip toe around the subject with me, it was an unavoidable conversation.  It was very difficult for Doc to know just how serious my Dad's illness was and not be able to talk about it with me or anyone in my family.  We all were of the belief that he would be able to beat cancer once again or at least go into remission, and for Doc....he knew what the statistics were and they weren't good, but how was he going to say that to me or anyone else in my family?

Needless to say, about a year into my Dad's illness, my outlook on the situation changed.  I didn't know if my Dad would live 1 year or 10 years but I knew in the end, the cancer was just too strong and it would end up taking him.  So I made a conscious effort to appreciate every moment with him, make more phone calls to him instead of just talking to my mom, etc. Slowly, there was a big change in my family and you could tell everyone had sort of gotten to the same place and were appreciating every moment as well....even though at the same time there was a big sense of denial in all of us that he'd still be okay...

For over 2 years, my Mom and Dad traveled constantly back and forth to Houston, TX because of all the treatments my Dad was getting at MD Anderson. At one point, he had to live in Houston for a month because of the trial he was a part of.  It was a long road, filled with many ups and downs and those trials were the epitome of ups and downs--you're so hopeful that this is going to be the trial that works and then 3 weeks later, my Dad has kidney failure and you realize it only did more harm than good.

Back in September, you may remember my post (here) about unexpectedly flying out to Houston when my Dad ended up in the ICU.  That was a very scary time, but we were all so thankful he came out of there and was able to fly home soon after.  Little did I know it would be all downhill from there.

In mid October I got a call from one of my brothers telling me the doctors just gave my Dad "a few weeks" to live and that I should probably plan on coming home soon. I was thinking I'd wait a week and get some work things done before heading down to Miami for who knows how long (luckily my company was soooo nice about it all and allowed me to go down there and work remotely so I didn't have to take a ton of time off). While I was trying to figure this all out, I got a call from another one of my brothers who is going to be getting married in April.  Since all the rest of my siblings would be down in Miami that coming weekend (remember there are 6 of us...), my brother was thinking about getting married that weekend, but only if I was going to be there too. Well, how could I say no! This was a wonderful idea, so I was like okay I'll buy a ticket to fly down tomorrow and let's plan a wedding!

I flew down Saturday and Sunday my brother, Brian, and his new wife, Alexina, got married! It was a beautiful ceremony in our backyard.  We threw it all together in just 24 hours--they got the same guy who married me to marry them, each of us took on some duty...decorations, food, flowers, etc. It was such an beautiful, intimate moment and all of us will never forget it. Click here to view some of the pictures from the wedding on the photographer's blog. Here is a peak from our camera:

I'm so happy that my brother decided to do this and that I flew down on that Saturday because on the following Thursday, my Dad passed away.

I was actually out of town in Washington D.C. for a work conference when it happened.  I had this conference planned for months and when we found out my Dad had little time left, I was like well I'll still go to this was only 2 days and who knows how long this could go on with my Dad.  They said weeks and you just never know with this kind of stuff, so I figured still attending this conference would be fine.  I left on Wednesday morning and was supposed to come back Friday morning, but I woke up at 6:00 AM on Thursday to phone call from my husband telling me my Dad's heart stopped that morning.

Doc was down in Miami because he was interviewing for residency and was also going to stay the week to spend time with my Dad, like we all were.  My Dad woke up early that morning in a ton of pain....more pain then  he'd ever been in so my Mom woke my sister up to help.  They just couldn't get him comfortable and didn't know what to do so my sister was like let's wake up Doc.  It all happened very quickly but my Dad knew this was it and kept telling them to just let him go, he was ready... Doc did CPR on him until the paramedics arrived and they worked on him for about 30 minutes and couldn't revive him. He passed away on my Mom's side of the bed, a side he never rolled to in the 40 years they were married, so my Mom finds this very special....I would too.

I cannot tell you how happy I am that Doc was there at the time of my Dad's passing.  It was only my Mom, my sister, and him and if he had not been Mom and sister would always wonder if there was something more they could have done but being that Doc is pretty much a doctor at this point....that gave them immense comfort. Unfortunately, Doc is left with the burden of wondering if he did everything he could....and he did. There was nothing else anyone could have Dad's heart gave out and at least it was quick. Had we waited for weeks for him to slowly die from the cancer...that would have been awful!

So we ended up planning a wedding, a funeral, and a memorial service all in the span of 10 days! It was completely exhausting but everything turned out well. The out pour of support from friends and family was just amazing. So many people sent food, flowers, cards, donations, etc. It was truly touching to see and hear from people who you haven't talked to in years.

This is definitely the hardest thing I've been through.  You just grow up and assume your parents will always be there. You expect them to get sick and die when they're super old, but not when your just starting out your life. Not when you haven't even had children of your own yet. Not when there are still so many more memories to make.  Life is just different now.  Not only is my Dad gone, but my Mom is now alone after 40 years of marriage. There is nothing that can be said to take the pain away that she is feeling....just time I guess. We just have to be thankful for all the time that we did get with him.  Glass half full. And oddly, we all have agreed that we feel my Dad very strongly in our hearts. I'm not a religious person but I do believe that he is still around, watching and hearing us and that brings me a lot of comfort.

Dad, I miss you everyday but I'm so thankful that you are not in pain any longer. You may be gone from this Earth but you'll never be gone from my heart or my will live on in all the memories that we share with you and for each and every one of them, I'm grateful. I love you.


April of A. Liz Adventures said...

Oh Ashley ... I appreciate you sharing this with us. I can't imagine what the past few months have been like you (and even longer) and I know the holidays must have been a challenge. The part about your mom's side of the bed -- my goodness, I couldn't help but to completely tear up. Thank goodness for such a good soul like Doc that is obviously a very special part of the family. I will be thinking of you all and hoping that you take joy in sweet memories, like the beautiful dancing picture from your wedding day. Hugs.

Nat said...

Ashley thank you so much sharing, I can't imagine what a trying time this has been for you and your family but wow your Dad was a fighter! Your story had me in tears by the end and I truly believe that people that have passed are watching over you and taking care of you every day

Hilliary@Brunch and Cupcakes said...

Ashley this is beautifully written, it brought tears to my eyes! Your Dad was a wonderful man, and I know he is still watching over you! Love you and miss you!

LicensedtoPill said...

Recently the hospital I work at got affiliated with MD Anderson. Every time I pass the sign in the lobby, I think of you and your family. Because I knew you guys did so much to help your dad and be together as a family.

So glad you got to go home and have your brother's wedding. That's very special. What a beautiful post.

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