The second week of my freshman year of college, a Wednesday at that, I decided to take a nap when I got home. I woke up to both of my parents standing over me. I immediately knew something was wrong. It too closely resembled a crisp Sunday in January just the year before that my mom came in and woke me up to tell me one of my friends had committed suicide.
I sat up and asked them what was going on. They said they didn't know much, but that my dad had been diagnosed with cancer. Cancer. It's one of those words nobody likes, but you don't truly understand the sting of the word on your tongue until it happens to someone you love. We cried and cried and did what any family should never do when receiving bad medical news- we turned to Google. We found statistics that only made us cry more. I cried for days. My eyes were practically swollen shut and I walked around with a constant headache. I processed it for a few weeks before I would even admit it to people because admitting it meant it was true. It couldn't have been true, could it? Unfortunately, it was. Not only did he have cancer, he had two types of cancer, and one of them was extremely rare.
I never had the "typical" college experience. I never went to parties or lived in a dorm or interacted with sororities or fraternities (although I did make fun of some sorority girls at one point, and one of them ended up becoming one of my best friends! Funny how life works!). I stayed home and took my dad to endless doctors appointments and chemo appointments and took care of him when he was too sick to get out of bed. I also took care of my grandmother who lived with us. She just celebrated her 89th birthday! But she also required multiple doctors visits, trips to the hair salon, and always had a grocery list. But none of this ever bothered me. I did it with a smile because nothing makes me happier than helping others, and I was just happy to have them around to be able to help.
The following summer, my parents had my best friend’s parents come pick me up and take me to their house. They sat me down and told me that my dad had been taken back to the hospital and they found out he had 6 brain tumors. We weren’t sure he would come back home after that weekend. But he did. He was so strong and prevailed so well. The doctors never gave us any kind of timeline. That is, until the end. By then, his organs were shutting down and it was just a matter of days. It was a matter of days before my dad lost consciousness and I got to hear the last words out of his mouth to me- “I love you.” Those three words have never and will never mean more. Then it was just a few more days after that of just waiting. There is nothing more painful than sitting, watching, waiting for your loved one to take their last breath. On Monday, February 23, 2009 he did. My mom and I were finally able to get some sleep the night before and my brother stayed up with my dad. As soon as we got up, we went over to say good morning to my dad. My mom gave him a kiss and I went to go brush my teeth. When I came out of the bathroom, my mom and brother called me over to his bedside. It was time. We sat with him and held him and told him we loved him and promised him we would all be okay. He took his last breath on this beautiful earth lying in our arms. It was the most painful moment of my life, but strangely also one of the most peaceful. My dad was no longer in pain. An eerie calm came over the room; we all felt it.
I never intended to share such a heavy-hearted post so soon, but something happened last night at work that made my heart ache and brought that painful waiting back. I work in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Fortunately, we don't see too many deaths relative to the number of babies we see. When we do, it is always emotional. Last night I had the honor of sitting with a family while they went through that same heartache my family I did when we just sat, watched, and waited for my dad to take his last breath. Was it hard? Absolutely. But there is nowhere I would have rather been at that moment!
I always knew I wanted to be a nurse, but it was my dad's nurses in his final days that really solidified that idea for me. Without even trying, they did so much not only for him, but for me and for my family that I will never forget. Their kindness and compassion, and true love of what they did made me realize I wanted to be just like that. I wanted to make the difference for my patients and their families in the most difficult times of their lives.
So here I am. I happened to land my dream job straight out of school and I couldn't be more excited to see where it takes me!
I promised my dad I'd be okay. I work hard every day in every aspect of my life to make him proud and make sure I keep my promise to him. So far, I think I'm doing pretty well!
With laughter and love,