Sunday, March 28, 2010

This is How You Do it.

I guess the word is out, so I can blog about this now. My father-in-law, Frank, just found out this past week he is afflicted with stage four, terminal, incurable lung cancer. He is not a smoker. He's a fit and active guy who look twenty years younger than he is. The shit of it is this: He never had symptoms to catch it early. He started getting short of breath recently, went to the hospital, and they drained his lungs, which were filling with fluid. It happened again and again.

Meantime, he had back surgery. The doctors studied some of the pre-surgical tests and found out his diagnosis. He needs CT and PET scans before his oncologist can give him information about the extent, the time he may have left, etc.

The thing is, he's in terrific spirits. I know the first stage is denial, but I don't think that's in his nature. Frank's oncologist told him to carry on with his life as long as he's feeling well, which he is.

So Frank has plans. He's going on tour. He's coming to Rochester next week to enjoy my daughter's baptism and first communion (she was 8 when she decided, to the surprise and delight of her mom, who is spiritual, and I, an atheist, to join the Catholic church). Her grandfather, Frank, who has always been involved with the churches in the towns in which he's lived, will be there, along with his wife Betty, and of course my wife and I and my parents. We'll celebrate!

Then Frank and Betty are going Philadelphia to see my nephew (their grandson) play hockey. The kid is right around 16 and the star player on his team, the one who constantly makes the last-minute, game-saving goals. He's a prodigy, more at home on skates than in sneakers.

Next, Frank and Betty are going to attend the Masters golf tournament. Frank has not only been there many times, but has actually volunteered (and been chosen) to keep the grounds clean--a high honor for golf fans.

Why did I tell you all this? Because I want you to know that Frank is going to spend his last days, however many they are, living. Cancer or no cancer, Frank is not dying in any greater sense than we all are. He is a wise and wonderful man and deserves as much time as he can get--and he'll spend every minute of it enjoying life.

In the immortal words of Jim Morrison, no one here gets out alive. And in the equally compelling words of Mark Oliver "E" Everett, maybe it's time to live.


  1. Wow, Joel. I'm really sorry to hear what you and your whole family are going through. What an incredibly tough situation to deal with, but what an amazing example your Father-in-Law is setting. I mean, I have no idea how I would respond in that situation. Frank, responding the way he has, shows just what kind of man he is. Incredible. He sets a wonderful example for the rest of us, to seek life every chance we get. Awesome.

    My mom battled breast cancer twice. It's an awful awful thing. Horrible. I was 8 years old when she was first diagnosed. I remember how my family came together. We relied on each other and comforted each other more than ever before. That moment really stuck with me, and taught me so much. I'm not sure how old your kids are, but I just thought I'd pass on what I learned in that situation: Love is big, family is big, hope is big.

    The next time my mother was diagnosed I was older. Time puts stupid priorities up front, and world shaking events have a way of shaking all the stupid stuff down. When we were told she had cancer again, everything was stripped away but those principles still stood.

    I'm not sure exactly what to say. I guess, though this is such an incredible tough time, there are amazing things to learn from it. And if your kids are young like I was, they'll possibly be learning more than you think they are.

    Deborah and I's thoughts and prayers will be with you guys and Frank. Frank sounds totally awesome.

  2. Sorry to know about your father in law's condition. It's a good thing he's not letting it affect his life.

    I have also lost my father in law last year because of the same reason. He was a very healthy guy, non-smoker, vegetarian and exercising every day so it was a really shocking news... It just can't be explained, stupid things happen...

    It's gonna be tough for you too once he'll be gone and you'll have to take good care of your wife. You'll have to try and stay strong to support her.

    I salute Frank and his philosophy... As I often say "One has to die of something" and he probably thinks that way too as he seems quite rational about it. I'll raise my glass to him tonight.

  3. Thank you all for your kind comments. Thanks for sharing your stories, Joel and Mortenzen. They're bittersweet, to be sure, but welcome and deeply appreciated.

    I lost my grandmother when she fell to a long, dwindling, losing battle with congestive heart failure. That was almost a year ago, and I still occasionally mourne.

    I'm hoping, hoping for the best quality of life for Frank for as long as possible. It will be tragic when he goes, but knowing he enjoyed life as much as he could will be welcome reassurance in the midst of the sorrow.

    Thanks again. I appreciate every comment.