The Things My Dad Has Said

There’s no easy way to say this, so let’s do it like tearing off a band-aid.

My dad is dying.

And now, having written the simple truth of it down, some part of me feels the need to clarify what I mean. Over the last decade, I’ve become increasingly familiar with the different ways in which a person can be dying. The different velocities and meanderings in which dying can occur.

I started learning this ten years ago, when my mom was having trouble breathing. She couldn’t figure it out. The doctors couldn’t figure it out. Then she went in for some tests….

Then we got the news. It was cancer, and it was everywhere. There was really nothing to be done.

“Well,” my dad said dryly. “None of us are getting out of here alive.”

As I type this out, I realize his statement might seem callous or heartless. But it wasn’t any such thing in that moment. It was calming. It was funny and comforting and kind.

It remains one of the truest things I’ve ever known anyone to say.

None of us are getting out of here alive.

*     *     *

So. As I said. My dad is dying. But I still haven’t really been clear about what what means.

He’s not dying in the general way that we all are, slowly moving toward a time when we’ll no longer be alive. (See above anecdote.) Neither is he dying in the more specific way he has been for the last ten years, ever since he was diagnosed with Stage Four Lung cancer. He’s not even dying in more immediate, persistent way that he has been since January, when they discovered he has Leukemia, too.

He’s dying right now. He might have weeks, but probably not. He might have a week. But probably not.

*     *     *

Interesting story. Back in the early part of the year he was planning on getting more treatment for his lung cancer. But when they were getting ready, doing blood tests and scans, they discovered something wasn’t right. So more tests. More scans.

Finally he went in for another meeting with the oncologist. We’ve had many of these over the last decade. Many, many of these. We’ve had scans and meetings with oncologists. Biopsies and meetings with oncologists. Surgeries and meetings with oncologists.

For this one, I couldn’t be there in person, so my dad had me on speaker phone. It’s always better to have a second set of ears on these meetings. There’s a lot of information, and it’s easy to mishear something. We always try to have at least two or three people at a meeting, so that afterwords we can all compare notes and make sure we heard the same thing. It’s easy, sometimes, to listen with your heart instead of your head. To be too hopeful. It’s hard, sometimes, not to listen through a thick fog of dread.

So I’m listening through the speakerphone as the doctor explains. It’s Leukemia. Effectively you’ve won the suck lottery and you have double cancer now. And, unfortunately, they can’t treat his lung current lung cancer trouble with the Leukemia going on. And, unfortunately, it’s not a great kind of Leukemia, either. And, unfortunately, my dad is getting on in years. And, unfortunately, he’s had both his adrenal glands removed, too.

The upshot, the doctor explains, is that this really isn’t a great scene, you see. Regular cancer is bad. Double cancer, kinda double bad, plus some extra because of synergy.

Eventually the doctor runs out of steam, and I hear my dad make this little chuckling noise over the phone. And even though I’m not there, I can see him in my head, smiling a little bit and shaking his head.

And he says to the doctor, “Your job must be really hard.”

That’s the first thing he says, hearing the news. And here’s the thing, he meant it. He really meant it. That’s the sort of guy my dad is.

And you know what? He’s right. Those doctors. That’s a hard job. I would not have that job for all the money in the world.

*      *      *

As I write about his here, I realize my matter-of-fact tone might strike many of you as odd. What’s odd to me is that this has been such a big part of my life for so long, but most of you don’t know anything about it. If you read my blog or follow me in various places on social media, you know a *lot* about my life. You know about my relationship, my children, my mood disorder, my struggles with professionalism and writing, politics, religion, philosophy. I talk about pretty much everything pretty openly.

So why haven’t I talked about this before?

Well…. I have, here and there. I think I wrote a blog or two about this over the years. Though I can’t care enough to dig around for links at this point. Maybe Amanda will dig them up and tuck them in here later on.

[FAQ: Why havne’t you been posting on your blog?] [The unhappy announcement]

And I’ve mentioned it occasionally in interviews, too. But honestly, I think most of the interviews where I do mention it, they just leave those parts out. It’s not what people want to focus on. It’s depressing.

But mostly, I don’t talk about it. And a big part of that is pure superstition. My mom went from diagnosis to death in five months. Every time we could have caught a lucky break, we caught a bad one instead. It was like falling down an endless flight of stairs. For years was cancer free. Then *just* before he was about to hit the big five-year milestone, the cancer showed up again.

This time it was in his adrenal gland. So. Back into the breach. Many meetings. Many oncologists. New diagnosis. They gave him 18 months again. If he was lucky. And they warned us that they probably wouldn’t be great months….

(This was five years ago, for those of you keeping score at home.)

But we rolled the dice and did surgery again. Though conventional logic says that’s the wrong way to handle it when cancer starts metastasizing. But again, we came up sixes…. And he went another two years before it showed up in his other adrenal, so we removed that one too…

He’s been bulletproof. A statistical anomaly. The treatments haven’t phased him. Not a lot of nausea. He lost his hair. But then it came back, on his arms it wasn’t white anymore, it was dark.

And through all of this, he kept landscaping and hosting guests and playing golf. He’s traveled the country, come to my booksignings, and, generally speaking, lived a much more active life than I ever have.

That’s why I don’t talk about him a lot. It’s pure superstition. I know it’s trans-rational, but part of me simply didn’t want to draw too much attention. You don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, and you don’t brag about good luck. I didn’t want to write a celebratory tweet, then have Death to suddenly look up from his newspaper and say something like, “Who’s that? Jim Rotfuse? Wait, RothFUSS? Oh shit, I forgot. I had an appointment with him, didn’t I?”

But now my dad is in Hospice. Those of you with experience in these matters know what this means. Those of you who don’t… well… it means that Death has put down his paper, stood up, and is glancing at his watch in a meaningful way…

*     *     *

I’ve been down here in Madison for more than a week now, taking care of him. Doing what I can to make him comfortable. This leads to interesting situations, as my dad is someone who takes care of other people, as a rule. He’s not used to being taken care of.

The other day, as I was putting on his socks for him, he said, “I don’t know how I can repay you for all of this.”

I laughed, and explained to him that I was pretty sure he put on my socks more than a few times over the years. I left it at that, but what I wanted to say was that I was the one who was paying him back, really. He’s put up with my bullshit for more than 40 years. I remember waking up in a hospital bed on more than one occasion to see him sitting there patiently keeping an eye on me, making sure I was okay…

I wish you guys had the chance to know him better.

*     *     *

Why am I writing this blog?

Well, partly because that’s what I do when something big happens in my life. That’s just how I interact with the world. I tell stories about what’s happening in my life.

I also feel like I owe some of you a bit of an explanation. My dad’s health issues have been occupying the lion’s share of my time and brainspace lately. I wasn’t able to do as much with the kickstarter in the final weeks as I hoped to. And I’ve missed some events recently (most notably at PAX West, where I showed up late and left early.) And I’m going to miss more in the future. (Most notably at Salt Lake City ComicCon happening this weekend.)

I’m sorry if you were hoping to catch me at those places. Please note that I can’t really say, “I wish I was there,” because that would be the same as saying, “I wish my dad was dead so I could go to a convention.”

How about this? “I wish the world were other than it is.” That seems to sum it up pretty well.

That said, we’re living in *this* world right now. And in this world, my dad needs me. So I’m staying here for the duration. I’m pretty sure my book tour will still happen in early October. But I can’t say with absolute certainty. After all, my dad has surprised us with his longevity before…

*     *     *

I don’t know if this blog will make much sense. It’s the furthest thing from cohesive, as I’ve been writing it in bits and pieces in hospitals an hotel rooms. And tonight has been a long, long night.

The only thing I know for sure is that it’s too long, and I feel like I haven’t really said all I wanted to say.

I’ll sign off for now though. Sorry for those of you I’m missing at SLCC.

Be good to each other,

pat

P.S. I’m disabling comments here. I won’t have time to read or monitor them, and I didn’t write this looking for advice or sympathy. Just wanted to let y’all know what’s going on.

P.P.S. If you’re a friend or family member and you’re finding out about this now, on the blog. I’m sorry. But if you know me at all, you know I’m a shit correspondent under the best of circumstances. And these are far from ideal circumstances right now.

*     *     *

Later Edit: Just so y’all know. My dad passed away a couple days after I posted this.

This entry was posted in Fuck Cancer. By PatComments closed
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