Understanding Dad Through Care

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In 2004, my dad was diagnosed with bladder cancer. Over the years, his cancer has been put in remission and then returned.

The thing about this cancer, though, is that it sparks interesting conversations.

When the cancer first arrived, I suggested to my dad that he get a second opinion. We live in Chicago and are lucky to have terrific hospital systems. 

“No, thanks,” my dad answered. “I appreciate the suggestion but I'm happy with what I've got.”

A simple conversation, but one that helped me understand what's important to my dad. He likes his doctors because of their familiarity; the local community hospital for its easy access. I learned that his comfort and confidence in navigating his health care experience are paramount. With his local team and hospital, he avoids difficult commutes into the city, large parking structures and miles of confusing hospital hallways.

When he battled a return of the cancer last year, he said during a car ride, “Some day, I'm going to tell the doctor the heck with all of this.” Meaning, at some point, the emotional and personal cost of the treatments will become too high.

Now, I know to ask questions if (when) the cancer returns again. I know to be open to his choices and to talk out all options. (To help you gauge your dad's well-being, the ElderCare Locator created a tip sheet in honor of Father's Day.)

The other thing about this cancer is that my dad and I experience vulnerability with each other that we hadn't before. I've seen my dad shed a few tears. I've seen my dad take a deep breath and say, “Okay, now what?” I've exchanged more hugs with my dad since the cancer's arrival than during the previous 40 years we spent together.

Certainly, I wouldn't wish an illness or diagnosis on anyone. But, my Dad and I have developed a closer bond because of this experience.

I understand my dad better than I ever did before. I've seen him take difficult news and then keep living. I've never seen my dad spend one moment in self-pity. I've seen him show up and manage his treatments responsibly. I've seen him talk about his experience with another recently diagnosed with bladder cancer.

Because I'm involved in caring for my dad, I have a new perspective on my father. It's a blessing.