A serious note on my blog absence

Some of you may have noticed that I haven’t been keeping up with the blog posting much these last couple of months. I try not to get too personal on this blog, but every now and then something personal comes up that I feel i’d like to talk about. Maybe I am doing this because i just need to get it out there and off my chest more than anything else.
My dad who Mia calls “Papa Jon” is 55 years old and just retired from his job last March. He worked at that job since he was 18 years old. He was a hardworking blue-collar father, the only time i  can remember him calling in sick was when we had a bad ice storm here in Rochester when I was in 3rd grade and he literally could not drive to work because trees and powerlines were laying all over the roads. He was always up at 5am and off to work by 6:30am, and he’d come home in his dirty workboots and workclothes and it always amazed me how he could keep trucking on, everyday rain or shine, 90 degree heat or below 0 windchill, whatever the weather, he was outside working in it even in his 50’s. His perseverence always showed me how strong he is and how much he must have cared about his family in order to stay at the same job almost his entire life, despite how much he hated it. He put food on the table and we had a small cape cod roof over our head. The bills would get paid, and he always drove a jalopy of a car to save money. Our idea of a vacation was to go tent camping for 2 weeks in the 1000 islands. We never went on planes or visited other states, or went out to fancy restaurants, I wore mostly hand-me-downs. My dad always made sure that me and my brother were taken care of, but never spoiled us. He was a good father.
All his life he was looking forward to his retirement, when he could finally rest and enjoy his little house and beautifully groomed backyard and hang out at the lake and fish. So when he finally retired 8 months ago, I was so happy for him, I felt relief to know that he would not be outside working in our harsh winters anymore. But then came the first problem, at first the retirement checks that he was counting on, weren’t coming. Unfortunately my dad hadn’t saved any money on his own for his retirement, he was depending on his retirement checks from the job he’d worked at all his life, to live off of. He still has a mortgage on his house to pay every month and yet his money was being delayed. Finally after a month or two he started getting checks but they were only a 3rd of what they should be. His money was being held by the retirement system. Apparently what they don’t tell you is that when you retire you are going to have to wait a good 8 or 9 months before you start getting your full retirement checks and you should be prepared to fend for yourself in the meantime. Well, my dad wasn’t prepared for that, so for the last 8 months he’s been living off of a 3rd of his retirement income. So it’s been a struggle financially. He had to cancel his life insurance because he couldn’t afford it.
Then comes the truly tragic part. Sometime after he retired he started noticing that it was hard to swallow certain foods, especially chicken. He didnt really think anything of it until about 6 months later, which would be mid-August. He went to the doctor for something else and mentioned to the doctor, the difficulty swallowing. After some tests, the doctor concluded that my dad has Esophageal cancer. The day that I got the phonecall from my dad, my little world kind of crashed down around me as he told me “i have the bad thing.” and I said “what bad thing.” and he said “cancer.” Then he got more specific and told me what kind of cancer and I immediately assumed it was from smoking cigarettes and wanted to blame him for smoking (because i’m always telling him not to smoke)…but it wasn’t. Apparently there is a thing called Barrett’s Esophagus which is like acid reflux and he has had that for a long time and not known it. Over time, the acid from his stomach has been eating away at the lower portion of his esophagus and caused the cells to mutate and become cancerous.
So for the first few weeks we had no idea what stage the cancer was in or if it had metastasized (spread to other areas) or not. He had to wait for a couple more tests to be done in order to know the specifics. During this time, I cried a lot and just generally didn’t feel like blogging, I love my dad and him and Mia are extremely close…I think she loves her Papa more than she loves me. She spends a lot of time with him and i’ve never really seen a more loving grandpa. It was killing me to not know how much time we’d have left with him. For all I knew it could be a few months or a few years or maybe 10 or 15…. all I had heard about Esophageal cancer is that it’s one of the more rare types and that it’s very hard to beat and the surgery for it is very serious and could result in death. So, I neglected blogging and much of my regular daily activities to spend more time with my father and take long drives and nature walks and do all of the things that he enjoys doing these past 2 months. We did eventually find out what stage it’s in at the beginning of October. It was very good news, somewhere between stage zero and stage 1 and it hadn’t metastasized yet. So I think we all took a big temporary sigh of relief to know that his chances were much better than everyone had initially thought. So he was given a course of action. Chemotherapy once every 3 weeks for 3 times, and to take chemo pills daily during those 9 weeks. Then he will have surgery which is the scariest part that we haven’t gotten to quite yet. Tomorrow is Halloween and also his second round of chemotherapy. During all of this he has stayed really strong and hasn’t stopped doing the things he loves doing and I’ve realized that to put everything in my life on hold like i had been doing wasn’t the best course of action. Life must go on and I promise that I will be blogging a lot more from now on.
As far as the surgery goes, it’s going to be a really big deal. It’s going to be 6-8 hours long. They will be opening up his chest to remove the lower half of his esophagus and take his stomach and bring it upward and use one end of it to form a new esophagus. It’s a very serious surgery and the recovery is long. He will have to eat through a feeding tube for a while, once he can eat again, his meals will have to be like baby sized portions because the stomach will be more like a tube and very small. He will lose a lot of weight and he will never be able to sleep laying down again. He will always have to sleep elevated like in a hospital bed. I know that my father is scared of the surgery and so am I. So we have a big hurdle ahead of us, financially, mentally and physically. And it does feel good to talk about this, because i’ve been keeping it kind of bottled up since I found out about the whole thing. So if anyone has any words of wisdom or has gone through or knows somebody who’s gone through esophageal cancer i’d appreciate the comments. If you have any success stories i’d love to pass them along to my dad as well…he needs the positive outlook that they bring.
Thank you for listening, or reading rather and I promise i’ll blog more from now on.

3 Comments

  • Anonymous says:

    Hi Jonelle,
    I stumbled on to your blog while vintage blog surfing and the post about your dad was the first one that I read. I'm so sorry that your family's facing this ordeal. I just wanted you to know that I'm sending good vibes your way….keep the faith and cherish every moment with your dad.

    "hugs"

  • Jules M says:

    I also just found your blog and happened to click on this post. It is all too similar to the past 2 weeks I've lived. I found out 2 weeks ago today that my lovely mom has stage 4 colon cancer. She's only 48 and has no symptoms. It was also found by mistake when she went in for another test. I've felt sick to my stomach since I received the news but am trying really hard to stay positive. My mom's first surgery is next week. How is your dad doing?

    http://creativelystylish.wordpress.com/

  • Jonelle says:

    jules- i feel ya and can totally relate. you just have to stay positive and hope for the best as well as spend as much time together as possible doing fun things to keep her mind off of it. my dad did 9 weeks of chemo and had his surgery recently, they removed his entire esophagus and replaced it with his stomach which now looks kind of like a deflated balloon shape and he is recovering nicely. They think they got all the cancer out but only time will really tell. for now we feel like he passed the biggest hurdle and we feel much better. good luck to you and just try to have faith.

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