A story of fear and despair that turned into a beautiful miracle and the gift of my father’s life.
What are three words you never want to hear come out of a loved one’s mouth? “I have cancer.”
In mid-April of 2018 I received a call that forever changed my life. I was in my apartment in Paris studying for my upcoming final exams when I received a text from my dad asking if I was available to talk — he said he had a miracle he wanted to share with me. He called me and I thought the miracle he was going to tell me about had something to with work or closing a big deal, never in my wildest imagination did I ever expect to hear the words “I had cancer.”
Fortunately, my dad’s story is one of strength and hope with a happy ending. But it didn’t always seem that way.
My dad went to the hospital because of a stomach pain that the doctors diagnosed as gallbladder stones. They gave him two options: 1. leave them there and take anti-inflammatory and pain medication, or 2: have them surgically removed. He opted for surgery and what should have been a simple hour long procedure turned into a grueling 6-hour operation as the doctors found the stones to be cancerous tumors. My dad was extraordinarily lucky to have the tumors found early — gallbladder cancer is one of the deadliest because it hardly has symptoms and is usually caught too late. That operation was just the beginning.
After more tests and procedures, it seemed that my dad had also developed lung cancer in addition to the gallbladder cancer, which had been taken care of. The doctors said he needed to start chemo as soon as possible, but they also needed to determine whether the lung cancer was separate from the gallbladder cancer or if it was a product of it. Weeks went by, countless more tests were performed, and somehow something always prevented the chemo from being started whether it was inconclusive biopsy results or rejection of treatment coverage from his insurance. We like to think of it as divine intervention.
One of the scariest parts of cancer is the unknown — not knowing if you’re going to live or how long you have left, not knowing if the treatments will work, not knowing how your family will take the news, and not knowing if a miracle will happen.
As my dad explained what he had been through the last six months, my heart completely shattered because I had absolutely no idea about any of it and I felt terrible for not having been able to be by his side for strength, support, and love. My parents have always taught me that family sticks together through the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows. But, even though I hadn’t been able to be with him, I found great comfort in knowing that he had been with my uncle and grandma and no one could’ve taken better care of him than they did. There were several times they thought my dad was only going to live a few more months, but through the fear and sadness they stayed strong, persevered, maintained hope, pushed forward and tried to live life to the fullest. Thank you Tata, Tio Marco, Tia Janeth, and Mr. Gooding. I love you and am forever grateful for you, your love, and your care for daddy.
Just as my dad’s journey began as a nightmare of gallbladder stones turning out to be cancer, it ended being a miracle with what seemed to be lung cancer turning out to be an infection. While my uncle was waiting for my dad to get out of his third and last operation, he was praying and reading the message on a pendant he wears every day that reads, “O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” As he read that message he received the call from the surgeon telling him my dad didn’t have lung cancer and he was going to live. The divine intervention I mentioned earlier that kept stopping him from receiving the chemo saved his life — had he started the chemo he would’ve died. It was the best news he could’ve ever received, especially after so many months of uncertainty. The worst was over.
I will never forget the chills down my spine and the numbness in my body as my dad recounted everything he, my uncles, my grandma, my aunt, and a few other close loved ones who also knew had been through. Also, the fact that he had managed to keep it a secret from my brother, my mom, and me for so long since we all live in different places around the world. When I asked him why he hadn’t told us anything, he said he was being a father and trying to protect us — he didn’t want to tell us anything until he knew for sure whether or not he was going to be okay. He was being strong for us.
I’ve always known my dad is a strong man and he’s someone I look up to. He has a larger than life personality, is one of the most generous people I have ever known, and he puts a smile on the face of every person he meets. Even through everything he endured, he still maintained his funny and lovable personality and supported the people who knew what was happening at the time, just as they supported him. He took every day he had as a gift and continued to fight through the ups and downs. At one point he said to me, “it’s amazing how I see the beauty in everything now that I didn’t before — I even cried when I saw a tree after being in the hospital for days.”
Every day that passes my dad continues to recover and get stronger. He has adopted a completely new lifestyle — he stopped drinking, smoking, and eats a healthy diet. Everything that happened was a wake up call not only for him, but for our whole family about the importance of our health and being grateful for all of our blessings and for each day we have.
My dad and my family are extremely lucky for the medical miracles that happened. Cancer is a horrible disease that can and does destroy lives and families. It’s easier said than done, but it’s so incredibly important to keep your faith, maintain hope, and try to find the silver lining in even the darkest of circumstances.
“God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.”
Whether you’re religious or not, trusting and believing in something greater than yourself can bring a sense of peace and a boost of strength. After all, there’s only so much we can do as humans and not everything is always in our control, whether we like it or not.
These experiences also bonded our family in a completely different way. The gratefulness we carry in our hearts that my dad survived and is healthier now than he’s been in decades is a beautiful feeling beyond words. I’ll never forget crying of happiness with my dad on the phone after he explained everything to me and told me he was going to be okay, and then crying with my uncle who was with him at the hospital, or visiting them with my brother and giving them the biggest hugs a couple of months later. I’ll also never forget the sense of protection and love I felt going to church with my aunt in Paris when she visited a couple of weeks after my dad had shared the news.
Always hold the people you love close and never let a day go by without telling them that you love them.
We all experience hardships and we never know what life has in store. But, it’s up to us to decide how we handle the circumstances we’re given. Sometimes it might feel like the easiest thing to do is crawl up in a ball and cry for the rest of eternity, but that’s not always the answer. We’re given one life to live, and each day we have, whether good, bad or ugly, should be lived to its fullest.
As my mom says, “Keep going onward.”