What If It’s Bad News?

My dad turned 80 years old a few months ago. He’s active, takes care of himself, has a lot of friends, and has never really had to handle serious medical problems of his own. He saw my mom through four cancer surgeries, radiation, chemotherapy, dementia from radiation, and many other surgeries and hospitalizations. He’s seen my disabilities and inability to work as an RN over the last few years.

He’s got an amazing social life, and solid church community that is a big part of his circle of friends.  He goes out walking nearly every day, whether at the mall or a nearby walking path.  Most nights he has something to do and somewhere to go.  He drives all over the place, and is safe driving.  His mind is intact, and he enjoys so many things.

Last week he had a biopsy done on a mass on his neck.  It’s a good sized mass for being on his neck- about 2.5 x 1 x 1.5 inches (not centimeters).   I’ve felt it, and it’s substantial.  Any neck mass can become very complicated because of all of the other structures in that area- windpipe, esophagus, arteries, veins, muscles, nerves… it’s a crowded area for an abnormal mass.  This isn’t really on his thyroid.  It’s more ‘vertical’, and along the trachea- but a bit over to the right.

Today at church his doctor said that there were ‘suspicious cells’ in the biopsy report.  If the test had been ‘OK’, he would have said so.  There is only so much he could say in the middle of the church lobby; to me that isn’t good.  I have no idea what sort of cells they found- and it is possible that whatever is there is very treatable, and not life-threatening.  ‘Suspicious’ doesn’t necessarily mean cancer- but it could.  I’m the sort that thinks about the worst case scenario, and then is pleasantly relieved when it’s good (or better) news.  So my mind is going all over the place.  I’ve seen too much since 1985 when I became an RN.

Mostly, I’m scared for my dad.  IF it turns out to be cancer, there will be decisions about how much to treat it. Tomorrow, Dad is expecting a call from his doctor’s office about a referral to a surgeon; the mass has to go. That has been decided.  After that, I worry about chemotherapy (I finished 19 months of chemo for leukemia a bit over a year ago).  It’s brutal, and not meant for someone with an active life who has never been sick to any extent in 80 years.  I think about radiation- and the  possible side effects. My mom ended up with dementia after radiation to her brain for cancer. Granted the neck isn’t the brain…but I can’t help but think about it.

I’m afraid I won’t be enough help because of my own limitations.  I drove myself to all of my own chemotherapy appointments (more than 50 of them for the IV infusions), but I’m not sure Dad will want to go alone.  I’ll figure it out, with the medical equipment/supplies I’d need.  We’ll get through it.  I just want to do enough.  I want him to know I support him.  I want him not to be any more afraid than he ‘has’ to be.

As a nurse since 1985, I’ve seen a lot.  I know what can happen with neck surgeries, and also what happens when people just want to try anything and everything ‘in case’ something works. I ‘get it’.  It’s human nature to want to live. I’ve seen so many slow deaths from cancer. If this is cancer, there will be a lot of decisions he has to make.  I don’t want him to have to deal with any of that.  I want this to be some cut and dry ‘surgical fix’, and not months of being tied to chemo and/or radiation appointments.  I’ll be supportive of whatever he decides; I just hope that he finds quality in the rest of his life and that this is a temporary bump in the road.  He’s been so active and healthy; something prolonged would be very hard for him.

Tomorrow he will know more, and I’ve asked that the doctor’s office also call me, so I can hear from them what is going on.  I’ve never asked him to have them call me before.  But I’ve never had him tell me that the doctor said he had ‘suspicious cells’ in an abnormal mass.  It’s my dad.  My mom is gone, and he has been my rock.  We talk daily to make sure the other is ‘ok’.  When I’ve been in the hospital, he’s the only one I’ve had to make sure my dog is OK (and that is a huge relief when I’m holed up).  Hopefully, I’m just being an overly worried nurse who knows what ‘suspicious cells’ can mean.  Hopefully, the surgery will be simple and fix a benign problem.   Hopefully, my Dad won’t have to make decisions about quality vs. quantity of life.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to be ‘enough’ help and support for him.  Hopefully, it’s not ‘worse’ bad news. ❤

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