Wish Dad Was Here

24 Nov

Me and Dad


On January 1st, 2008 I lost my dad to metastatic melanoma—four weeks to the day before his 66th birthday and a little more than a month before our beloved New York Giants took down the, then, undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.  With the help of his family, friends, and a revolving cast of prominent doctors, dad valiantly and aggressively fought cancer for many years.  He was stubborn, determined, pretty brave, and perhaps a little wilfully ignorant of the danger before him. As I said at his funeral, my dad was my hero.  He had fought for the civil rights of countless African-Americans.  In doing so he had battled a powerful and vindictive Nixon administration (and admittedly lost).  He was a loyal and trusted advisor to numerous friends and colleagues, and he bravely, almost stoically, took on one of the most aggressive cancers known to man and held it bay for several years.

These days, as I deal with the incredible uncertainty before me, I find that I miss my dad.  I miss my dad so much that I have literally said so, out loud, in my car, alone, several times.  Let’s be clear, I don’t think dad would have been particularly helpful in advising me on how to address my current condition.  He likely would have blamed my eating, gotten mad (out of fear for my health and safety, no doubt), and we probably would have argued a lot.  I didn’t say he was an easy man to get along with.  I said he was my hero.  There’s a difference.  But none of that has anything to do with the reasons for missing my dad at this moment.  I miss my dad because I believe that he is the only person in my social network who knows (or knew) what it feels like to live from scan to scan indefinitely.

Once it metastasizes, melanoma never leaves you.  It is systemic.  It seeks out places that take on blood.  It likes the spleen, the liver, the brain, the lymph nodes, and other places.  The only way to fight it is to elevate your own immune response to insane, sometimes excruciatingly painful, levels—something my dad experienced on numerous occasions.  But since melanoma is likely always with you, there is no moment at which doctors would pronounce you cured and send you on your way. You always live from scan to scan.

I am not sure what the future holds for me.  One person pointed out that perhaps I will have this thing in my chest removed, the nodes will shrink, and this whole thing will have been a bad dream.  On the other hand there is a reasonable enough chance that I could live the rest of my life from scan to scan.  And at times, that thought is profoundly unsettling.  I have tried to turn my new reality into a positive, and in truth I have had some success.  I eat better, exercise more; I try to experience life in the moment.  I’m ok…..so far.

Still, every now and again, I wish I could commiserate with my dad, to talk to him for just a few minutes as fellow travelers in the march of time. We could kvetch together. Maybe he could give me some tips on what worked for him. And I guess, above all, it would just be nice to sit and talk to my dad, again.  Anyone who knew my dad well probably knows how the conversation would go.

I would say something like, “Dad, this thing in my chest, the scans, the doctors, it’s making me nuts!”

And my dad would say, “Relax!”

Actually, he wouldn’t say it quite that way.  He would say, “Relaaaaax!” extending the “a” sound in this rather amusing way.  There was a certain cognitive dissonance in this expression.  After all, commanding someone to relax generally produces the opposite response. Still, for many who knew dad well, his call to relaxation is an indelible memory of him and his personality.  Indeed, on the day of my dad’s funeral, as we sat in my mother’s kitchen waiting to head out the door, my brother in law came in and, doing his best impression of dad, said, “It’s just my funeral, relaaaaax!”  We all laughed, relaxed a little, and went to the funeral.

I should probably close by recognizing that I know lots of people who have battled cancer, and so, for a time, they too have lived from scan to scan.  Were he alive today my father surely would not be the only person I know to feel this feeling of uncertainty and limbo.  Still, I think that missing my dad at this particular moment is quite natural, even if it is based on a misperception. Whatever the reason, I miss my dad.  My mother is here.  My wife, my daughter, sisters, cousins, aunts, friends….they’re all here, and dad is not.  Sure his advice would have been of limited utility (especially since my mom did most of the research that helped dad live as long as he did).  Sure, I would have cringed every time he told me to “relaaaaax.”  But he is family.  He is my heart.  He is a reminder of both the frailty of life and the individual’s ability to fight the good fight for as long as possible.  And sadly, he is gone.  I wish he was part of the unbelievably large support group that has made this time a lot easier.  I wish he could talk to me, and I wish he was reading this post right now, checking it for grammar and syntax, and then calling me up with his comments and critiques.  I miss him.


One Response to “Wish Dad Was Here”

  1. Peter Klein November 25, 2013 at 3:52 am #

    Erik, as you so articulately and gracefully wrote….
    very much missed and not forgotten.

    Peter K

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