As a photographer, and self proclaimed artist (smile) my biggest coping mechanism has been taking pictures. Even as a child, I would stock up on disposable cameras and drive my grandparents crazy to get them developed for me.
I documented everything about my father's cancer journey in pictures. From the day of the diagnosis, to the emergency hospital stays, the treatment, the rehabilitation, the home hospice, and his death.
It's hard for me not to be emotional seeing these pictures. So many different thoughts and feelings that I experianced these last days. His last month of life.
My dad had gotten a cold that winter and it just would not go away. He was stubborn and would not let my sister or myself know just how bad he felt.
For a while his cold symptoms had even seemed to clear up. But by early spring he had developed a terrible cough again. A lump in his lymph nodes on his neck had began to form. He believed they were just swollen because of his cold, so he did not say anything to us.
My father was never the type of person to see a doctor. I was never fully sure if it was fear, or trying to avoid the financial burdens of medical care. He was always like this. As long as I can remember. Stubborn single father who always tried to put everyone's needs above his own.
When he finally let us know what was going on, his lump was as big as my fist. I was terrified, but I tried so very hard not to let it show as I knew it was my turn to be strong for my father.
We went to the ER and left with a recommendation for a cancer specialist. I remember before the official diagnosis feeling so hopeful. I had done a lot of reading online, and originally doctors believed he had hodgkin's lymphoma. A very scary cancer indeed, but it had really good survival statistics. We were ready to fight.
When my father went in for the biopsy he had a lot of trouble breathing and was admitted to the hospital. We waited a week for the results of that test. Rapid test showed he indeed had cancer, and doctors began to discuss chemotherapy with us. But we had to wait for the official diagnosis with the cancer type.
I was still very hopeful. I got to know his oncologist very well over this week. His nurse too. I was bugging them every day to see if they had results as the hospital we were in seemed to know nothing.
This week seemed to last a year. The wait. It was terrible.
I remember getting the call. The call. The life altering call. I was sitting in my friends car outside the hospital. I had been doing over night stays with my dad and was getting ready to go home, eat and shower. For whatever reason, the phone did not ring and went straight to voice mail. I played it on speaker. Right away I knew by my father's oncologist's tone that things were really bad. I had never heard sadness in a doctor's voice before. And he said he was sorry. So so sorry.
Up until this moment we never heard the words Lung Cancer. And I never in my life had heard of Extensive Staged Small Cell Lung Cancer. I knew nothing.
I later learned the 5-year relative survival rate for stage III SCLC is about 8%. SCLC that has spread to other parts of the body is often hard to treat. Stage IV SCLC has a relative 5-year survival rate of about 2%. My father discovered his in stage 4. Some doctors classify anything that has spread past the lungs as "Extensive Stage Small Cell Lung Cancer". It's a terminal cancer with very little treatment options.
I hid in the tiny bathroom of my dad's hospital room, I sat on the floor and I cried. I punched the sink. I felt like I was going to throw up. But I got up, looked in the mirror and said "get it together, Lopez... get it together, Taylor." Wiped my tears away, and went back to sit with my dad.
We agreed to do Chemotherapy to shrink the tumors to help with breathing and extend quality of life. We learned that this would not be a cure, and that they could not even properly give him a true estimate of time. Just that if we didn't do the chemotherapy, it would be very soon.
After chemotherapy, my father almost seemed to be getting better. His growths did decrease in size. And we were all feeling hopeful. We were told perhaps a hospice would be a great option for us. I don't think anybody was ready to hear that.
We were moved to a recovery room on the top floor. It was bigger, private and had a view.
The chemotherapy caused huge painful blisters all over my father's legs. A rare side effect. Something we were not ready for and would continue to worsen and grow until the end.
We were warned about his chances of pneumonia and infection. But were told to remain positive.
He went from the hospital into a rehabilitation center for a while to learn to use a walker and adjust to his new life. Things seemed great at first, but then my dad started to feel really sick.
That's when the ground was ripped from beneath our feet. Our worst fears had came true and my dad had developed pneumonia.
He was tired. He didn't want to fight anymore and asked me to call a hospice so he could come home. He hadn't been home for nearly a month. I think that in part made him want to stop fighting faster. He just wanted to come home. And decided against more hospital stays to treat the pneumonia.
He lived exactly one week from the time he came home from the rehabilitation center.
I have a long post about the spiritual experiences I had during the last week of my dad's life, and I will link it here: (Saying Goodbye To My Father; A Lesson In Faith) https://www.sugarygiggles.com/blog/saying-goodbye-to-my-father-a-lesson-in-faith
We had an amazing hospice team that I will forever be thankful for. I am not sure I could have done it without their amazing help and resources.
My father died at home surrounded by people he loved. I wish that we had more time, and that things would have went differently. I remember at one point in the hospital him telling me not to worry, because he was not ready to go yet either.
Not a day goes by that I don't miss him and that I don't think about him. Grief is truly a journey that we will go on forever.
I shared a lot of these images before in a collection, but I did not offer any real context to them. I simply said "my father's cancer journey in pictures". That's it. I really can't believe it has taken me 2 years to make this post. To clarify what all these images mean.
The endless medications, the breathing machines, the hospital stays... all of it. Even now, I feel like I have not put enough weight into my words and that I could do better.
I am posting this to let others going through similar know that they are not alone. That their feelings and emotions are valid. I don't think anybody can fully understand what it is like to have someone you love diagnosed with a terminal disease. Knowing that they are going to die.
We all need to be kinder and gentler to each other. We only get one life. And your time on this Earth is precious.
I get a little tired of people who assume that just because you have kids, you are automatically completely uncool, and that all your time is spent wiping babies from head to toe, giving spit baths, criticizing their every move, volunteering for PTA, blogging in your spare time, clipping coupons before crock potting a pot roast, ironing the clothes, bleaching the whites, mopping the floors, harvesting your eggs, sewing for your etsy shop, scrapbooking the little things, taking pictures of everything they do, saving for college, reading Dr. Suess, socializing at the bus stop, sweeping the floor, laughing over coffee with your jogging stroller, wearing your birkenstocks and listening to Baby Einstein.
Just because I DO THESE THINGS OCCASIONALLY.
Does not mean for one second that sometimes I don’t just want to be a kick ass girl with streaks in her hair, a ring in her nose, a tattoo on her arm, concert tickets in her purse, vodka in her fridge, a leather mini-skirt in her closet, her best single friends and a standing reservation for Las Vegas once a year with a don’t ask don’t tell policy, and the desire to just once be seen as more than the mother of 5 kids. Sometimes I just want to be seen as a “Maggie”. A “Maggie” with an extremely adorable set of children… (I joke, but sometimes it's hard to over come labels. )