My father was 76 at the time of his death on August 21st, 2021.
He was struggling with colorectal cancer, which had already metastasized in his lungs and liver at the time of his diagnosis. The cancer was located in his lower abdomen, low enough that it could be felt during the physical examination. My father was struggling with discomfort and excruciating pain. As the tumor grew it was advised to operate so as to maximize his quality of life.
Cancer eventually took his life when it metastasized, and penetrated the peritoneum, a membrane that lines that abdomen and covers the organs. This made it impossible for him to digest food, and took away his ability to eat. Before he passed away, he had undergone a colostomy and an ileostomy, had two stomas and two ostomy bags.
Is willpower enough to endure the harrowing rounds of chemotherapy with all its side effects?
That is a question that weighed on me a lot while witnessing my dad’s fight against his cancer. He had always had a strong will and was very stubborn, and I believed that those qualities were sure to come in handy during his three year-long battle with what became aggressive cancer.
He had stage IV metastatic colon cancer when he was diagnosed. Even though it is considered an advanced stage, nobody told us that his situation was dire or that it was hopeless. Doctors still treated him as if there was still a possibility that he could survive his cancer. We never asked the hard questions, perhaps in part because my father was always present when we talked with his oncologist, but also because we were, and wanted to remain, “cancer naive.”
It was that naivete that kept our optimism going. It blocked our fears from turning into paralyzing emotions and our life from crumbling down. It was especially critical to my father’s treatment, because many times he had objections to certain aspects of the treatment, particularly when it was making him sicker than the cancer itself.
But still, he stuck to it all. He never missed chemotherapy. He woke up at 6am, because he did not want to be late, and waited for long hours for the drug to be ready–sometimes as long as 4 hours. He underwent radiotherapy, which involved five days of high radiation doses to shrink the principal tumor. He took his medication religiously, and followed through all his appointments. But most importantly, he continued living his life.
It may not be obvious to someone who has never experienced cancer, but all those efforts required a strong willpower. Some would call it the survival instinct, but I disagree. It is not easy waking up in the morning knowing that something is growing inside you, and you will likely never get the certainty of a cure. Cancer had good days, and bad days, which were both unpredictable and meaningless. Good days did not imply that he was cured, and bad days did not announce imminent death.
Unfortunately, willpower has its limits, especially against this giant monster that cancer is. It started to show in my dad’s behavior. He developed unhealthy eating habits that made him sick on multiple occasions, and he also refused any non-medical treatments. As a result, he never received holistic treatments that could have brought some pain relief, such as acupuncture, and rejected psychological support and pain management care.
I want to share my father’s story, because I believe that he was not done fighting against colon cancer when he passed on. I have thus made it my life mission to continue his fight through helping raise awareness and promote screening. My father’s death could have been avoided, had he regularly checked himself and gone through colon cancer screening.
To this day it pains me to realize that my dad had been carrying his cancer for quite a few months before the diagnosis. He had felt discomfort in his buttocks and had difficulties relieving himself, and yet he did not do anything until he saw blood in his stool.
Towards the end of his life, it was clear to us that his willpower had crumbled and was replaced with panic and anxiety. In his state of panic he was reverting to behaviors that were not beneficial to his health and even harmful to him. After he died, I was convinced that were it not for the fact that it had engulfed his willpower, cancer would not have been able to claim his life.
I love you daddy and I miss you so much.