There had been nothing to suggest to me in December 2017 when I met my parent’s in town for a quick cuppa and last minute Christmas shopping that our lives where about to be shattered. Aside from a slightly concerned tone from mum when she told me – ‘Your dad’s just got to nip to the doctors. He’s got terrible wind’. I naturally assumed she meant that he couldn’t stop farting and insisted that I didn’t need to know, but then she chose her words more wisely-‘He keeps burping. And now he’s being sick every time he eats. But he’s not got cancer or anything because he’s been to the doctors twice already and had blood tests and they were all fine’.
Mum and I loitered around in TJ Hughes comparing frying pans until dad came out of the doctors with a third prescription for indigestion and an endoscopy booked for early January 2018. I felt mildly relieved and mildly concerned.
I felt less relieved and more concerned a couple of days later when my parents returned from watching my son’s Christmas nativity and dad needed to go straight home afterwards because he was feeling so unwell with stomach pain. Nor could he come to Church with us on Christmas Eve. Or eat his Christmas dinner without heaving and vomiting half way through. Or finish a pint of beer with his son-in-law because he felt so full up all the time.
‘Does he look thinner to you?’, I worried to my husband on Christmas day, whilst scrolling through my phone to a photograph of a much rounder, fuller man at my daughters 8th birthday meal just two months earlier. The answer was there before my eyes.
The answer to what was wrong with him was also there before my eyes – on my internet screen. We all know that Dr Google could diagnose you with toe cancer when you’ve got a fungal infection, but no matter how hard I searched, I couldn’t find a damn illness that matched my dad’s exact symptoms the way that ‘stomach cancer’ did.
I was a nervous wreck throughout the following two weeks. Spending hours upon hours researching stomach cancer became a sort of coping mechanism – knowledge is power and all that. Reading the prognosis for the disease, I think ‘ignorance is bliss’ would have been the better option, and certainly appeared to be the one favoured by my parents.
‘It’s probably an ulcer’, mum would say, when I called anxiously to see how dad was. EVERY NIGHT. ‘Or chron’s disease. I read about someone having that in a magazine last night and it sounded a bit like your dad. He’s not got cancer or anything because he had blood tests and they were all fine’, she reminded me, and we clung onto that.
We had to.
My dad had his endoscope on the 4th January. I had gone to meet them at our local hospital after work, and I saw a someone who resembled my dad sitting in the waiting room in the distance. I recognised his hat, and his coat. But not his physical size. His face, his legs. They were smaller than what I was familiar with. Mum and I went and got a cup of tea whilst dad went in for his scope, and then we headed back to the waiting room, anxiously. We’d seemingly crossed paths along the way and we were reunited at the hospital entrance.
‘Well, what did they say?’, I begged to know.
‘He just said there were some abnormalities. They’ve took some biopsies. I have to go for a scan. That’s all’, dad said, calmly. If he was shitting himself deep down, he didn’t let on in front of me. I tried not to either. We walked to the car in pretty much silence and began to drive home. And after I dropped them off, I began to cry.
January was a month of total anxiety. Dad went for his CT scan on the 11th January and was sent an appointment for a 2nd endoscope at another local hospital for later in the month. There were signs that dad was growing concerned: mum said he’d been looking on the computer and in his medical book about some of his symptoms.
‘He thinks it’s probably an ulcer’, mum told me. ‘He had blood tests and they were all fine, remember?’
Yes. I remember.
Waiting for dad’s biopsy results was hell. Literally waiting to find out if my amazing and adored dad was going to live or die was as scary as fucking hell. Every hour of every day was slow torture. 10 days. 13 days. 15 days. I couldn’t sleep at night and there were tears coming down my cheeks when I woke.
‘How long do we have to wait?’, I demanded to know, emailing PALS. I sent similar emails to the hospital chief and drove down to the endoscope department to find out what the hell was going on first hand.
‘The results will be sent to your GP’, dad and I were repeatedly informed. But whenever dad bugged the GP, he remained in limbo.
21 slow days of agonising limbo.
I could barely eat. Or work. Or concentrate. My hands had developed dry skin on them that I itched at constantly. At lunch-times in work, I sat in my car and cried. It had to be good news. It HAD to be!
And after a 3 week wait, I had almost convinced myself it must be. Who the fuck would leave someone with cancer sat for nearly a month without so much as a phone call?
That night, my dad called the second I walked in through the front door from work. He had been waiting eagerly to call me to tell me the news. The nurse had phoned.
‘The biopsies are clear’, he sounded so relieved and happy.
I was confused.
‘There are no malignancies’, dad went on, encouragingly. ‘The scan shows a thickened lining around my stomach though so I have to go to see the consultant next week’.
I began to cry.
And now dad was confused.
‘What’s wrong?’. I thought this was good news. It was supposed to cheer you up and stop you worrying? Please stop worrying – I’m fine’.
But I knew he wasn’t. I’d read about thickened stomach lining enough times by now, and I knew what it meant.
And so did my dad, one week later, when he cruelly learnt “the real news” when a text message arrived to his phone informing him of his appointment at the cancer hopital before he’d even been in to see the consultant.
Dad had began to cry in the waiting room, mum later informed me.
I was due to collect mum and dad from their consultant appointment but I got call from my husband to go straight to my parent house instead. They had apparently jumped a taxi the second they’d left the hospital.
‘Is it stomach cancer?’, I asked my husband, although I already knew the answer.
There was a five second silence before he replied.
PART 2 TO FOLLOW.