3 to 11 Months

October 20, 2013

It started out subtle, but eventually my family could tell that something was seriously wrong. For months my father had been acting differently. It began with a lack of motivation. He would lie on the couch late at night, and I would try to tell him to get up and go to bed. He always replied with “okay, I’m getting up”, but couldn’t force his body to obey his words. He would sleep through his alarm, usually getting to work late or even skipping it altogether. At this point my family thought that it was just depression as his symptoms seemed to indicate. However, his condition quickly began to worsen. He often became nauseas, throwing up nearly every morning. He experienced chronic headaches, double vision, and an extreme lack of emotion. At this point, the doctors realized that this was something much more severe than depression.
It was a beautiful April day, and I had just gotten home from a high school tennis match. I saw my mother pacing back and forth on the front porch, and I approached her curiously. She looked me in the eyes and said, with difficulty, “we just found out. Your father has a brain tumor.” I quickly hugged her as she began to cry. The breath was forced out of my lungs, and I can honestly say that it was the scariest moment of my life. The next day my dad, mom, brother, sister, and I traveled to the hospital for the official diagnosis from an oncologist. It was an awfully quiet car ride. At the hospital we all crowded into a checkup room, and soon a doctor walked in, closing the door behind. The news wasn’t good. My dad was diagnosed with a Glioblastoma muliforme stage 4 brain tumor- the worst kind. The tumor, as big as a tangerine, had formed directly in the center of his brain and surgery wasn’t an option. The oncologist explained how there is no cure for this type of cancer, and that my dad could expect to live 3 to 11 months with radiation and chemotherapy treatments. The worst thing was that my dad displayed no emotion while we were told all these dreadful things. While we were all crying and scared, he sat still in his chair with a blank look on his face. We later learned that the tumor had been pressing against the part of his brain responsible for emotions.
For two days after initially hearing the news from my mother I couldn’t bring myself to eat anything. I only told my best friend, Jake, about my dad’s cancer. My previous concerns: advanced placement chemistry and European History exams, quickly became meaningless to me. I experienced insomnia and had trouble focusing in school. It was difficult to accept the fact that in less than a year, my dad would likely be gone. It was sad that he wouldn’t live long enough to see me graduate from high school or become an Eagle Scout.
Within a week my dad had started taking steroids to reduce the swelling in his brain. I was responsible for driving him to and from the hospital for regular radiation treatments which, over time, caused his hair to fall out. The Chemotherapy made his face swell up like a balloon, and after a few months he lost most of the muscle in his arms and legs. My dad who, less than a year earlier had hiked with me on a 50 mile backpacking trip through the Cascade Mountains, was now physically unable to walk up a single flight of stairs.
Soon the news of my dad’s cancer spread throughout our local community of Liberty Lake, WA. The amount of support that we received from the community was tremendous. Friends began cooking meals for us, and our neighbors even built a raised garden in our yard complete with a fireplace. My dad has always enjoyed planting flowers and growing vegetables, so the garden was a source of therapy for him. His coworkers pitched in for a garden shed and a new flat screen television so that he could relax and enjoy watching sports. Fundraisers were organized at the local Athletic Club where my mom works to help pay for some of the medical costs not covered by his medical insurance. Letters from all our distant relatives came pouring in, and people would drop off flowers on the front porch. My dad often joked about the influx saying, “Look at all these flowers people are giving me! It might as well be my funeral!”
It is now 12 months after the original diagnosis, and my father has outlived the 3 to 11 month life expectancy. My family has begun to settle into a new “normal”. Dealing with cancer is now a regular, everyday thing. My dad has started going back to work part time after initially taking several months off to “get things in order.” He is unable to drive because of the high risk of seizure, so I drop him off and pick him up from work before and after school. Along with Chemotherapy, he takes monthly MRI scans and visits with oncologists and cancer specialists. So far the treatments have held back the tumor’s growth, but the doctors have explained that soon the Chemo will stop working. I’m grateful that my dad has survived for so long (he should be able to attend my graduation in June). So far he has managed to beat the odds, but after each MRI the oncologist still gives the same life expectancy: “3 to 11 months.”
Josiah Brubaker