The Day You Find Out Your Dad Has Cancer

J Scott Rakozy
J Scott Rakozy

You will be fifteen. High school is still relatively new to you. You’re navigating your way. It’s a lot of hormones and hoping someone is going to notice you, but wanting to be invisible at the same time. You haven’t kissed anyone yet. You’re still waiting for someone you like to like you back. For some reason, you get stuck on the boys with girlfriends. Maybe it’s easier that way. Fall in love with people who will never be yours. That way, you’re never hurt. That way, it’s just a daydream.

In real life, Dad has been coughing a lot, but no one thinks it’s a really big deal. Mom suggests he go to the doctor, just in case. He is still teaching his classes and making you breakfast and singing his silly songs. You’ve never known anyone quite as sturdy as him. He biked his way throughout Europe! He went back to teaching after retiring! He’s Superman, in your eyes. He’s everything you hope you’ll eventually be.

You think maybe an infection or pneumonia, something to explain his sudden wheezing. The doctor says he has a fully collapsed lung. And that’s weird. And that’s not normal. But still, he teaches his classes. He does everything he normally does.

So he’s going to be fine, right?

You are in the locker room changing. Physical Education is your 5th period. You have one more before the day is done, Spanish. But right now, you’re a goofball in the locker room. You want to make everyone laugh. You dance in your underwear. You make up characters. Whatever you can do to make people giggle.

There’s a missed call. It’s from your mom. Part of you doesn’t want to call back. Part of you wants to pretend it never happened. You know she got results today. You know if it was fine, she would have texted you. She wouldn’t have called. But there it is, a reminder.

So, you call her back. You’re still in the locker room. Your locker mate, Christina, is still getting changed. And there it is. Your mother’s voice trembles in a way you’ve never heard before.

“It’s…it’s cancer.”

And you drop to your knees.

And you forget how to breathe.

And you don’t know how you’re supposed to be okay in front of all your peers.

Your friends ask what’s wrong and you do not remember how to form words. How do you repeat that news? How do you say it out loud?

How do you tell your teacher in the next class your worst fears have just been confirmed? That right now feels like the moment before the wave swallows you whole and you forget how to swim back to shore?

You have never been good at this stuff, the hard parts. The stuff that doesn’t fit neatly in the pages of your diary. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

Ari Eastman

✨ real(ly not) chill. poet. writer. mental health activist. mama shark. ✨

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