It has been a week since my parents returned to the United States, after visiting my family here in Taiwan. Via Skype video chat, we spoke to them this morning. My mother did most of the talking. Although this is typical, it was more pronounced today because my father is not at all well. In fact, he is dying.
To type that my father is dying in this weblog entry is a difficult thing for me, for I still haven’t come to terms with it. I still maintain hope that a miracle will occur and he’ll go on living another 20 years. The odds are against it, though, for doctors have diagnosed him with lung cancer.
I knew things were not good with him as soon as he and my mother emerged from customs when they arrived in Taiwan back on the twentieth of January. They were both being pushed in wheelchairs. My mother said getting wheelchairs had helped them on the way here because they were pushed to the front of all the lines and had help with their baggage. However, I could see that a wheelchair was more out of a necessity for my father when I saw that he had a cane and had trouble standing up when we got to the car.
Because my father has had diabetes for several years, all his ailments were blamed on the effects of that disease. My wife, Shu Mei, who also suffers from diabetes, agreed with my mother and me that my father needed to be more active. The three of us felt that if he got up and moved more, he would build muscle-tone and prevent future degeneration of his body.
Mom said that Dad had been sleeping a lot in the past several months, both day and night. She felt that this inactivity was causing him all sorts of problems. He had been experiencing more losses than muscle-tone. During periods, he had lost appetite, bowel control, energy, and even his temper. (I think that the latter loss was a direct result of the ones which preceded it.) Our goal was to get him up and moving. Dad wasn’t having any part of it, though.
For the most part, Dad stayed in bed during my parents’ visit here. Luckily, he did join us on a couple of trips to restaurants and an amusement park. Because I was on Chinese New Years vacation during their visit, I got to spend a lot of time with my parents. I had downloaded a lot of old Gunsmoke, Rawhide, and M.A.S.H. episodes because I knew that Dad liked those series. Even though he’s seen them before, he has remarked that watching them again is like the first time.
Outside of a hospital, doctors do not prescribe painkillers in Taiwan. Consequently, Dad was relegated to taking only Ibuprofen for his body aches. He took a lot, too! One day, my mother and I went and bought eight packages of Ibuprofen. They come in packages of 10 pills each, 400 mg per pill. Two days later, four packages were empty. All but a few of the pills had been taken by my father. That was too many pills, and I knew then that he must have been in tremendous pain, even though he didn’t lead on like he was.
Dad didn’t complain a lot about pain, only some casual remarks about how his back hurt and he couldn’t sleep. He also spent several minutes per day clearing his throat. Furthermore, Dad suspected that he had kidney problems, as he was using the bathroom a lot. Because of that, we went out and bought a whole bunch of 100 percent pure cranberry juice. Although he thought it had a terrible taste, he began drinking it regularly. Beyond those mentioned maladies, Dad didn’t complain. He was his usual jovial self, especially when people came to visit. For example, we had the area’s six missionaries join us for dinner one evening and Dad conversed with them as if he didn’t have a problem. I knew that Dad was making a considerable effort to do this, though, as he was almost depleted of energy when they left.
Dad spent most of the time in bed but did manage to get up a few times to play with his grandchildren. Billy (6) and Tyley (4) enjoyed him immensely and probably made him even more tired in the process. But, that is one of the reasons he came here. He has always been an excellent grandfather to them. My parents have visited Taiwan several times. Each time they come here, the boys love it. At their age, Billy and Tyley need a lot of attention, and my parents give it to them. I’m pretty sure that is why they make the long journey here. The boys have often wished Mom and Dad lived closer to us. We have repeatedly invited them to move here. Not surprisingly, they have passed on our offer. I understand their feelings, that life is much better for them in America.
Before they left Taiwan, my vacation ended and I had to return to work. Three days before they were due out of here, I was at work and received a call on my cell. It was from a church friend of ours, Sister Li. She said that Shu Mei had called her and said Dad had an emergency and was being taken by her to the hospital. I’m still not sure why Sister Li called me, instead of Shu Mei, but suspect it was because Shu Mei couldn’t connect with me. They’re installing a booster antenna for cell phones in the basement where I work, but it is currently sometimes challenging to get reception.
I went upstairs and called Shu Mei’s cell. She was in transit to the hospital and said that Dad couldn’t go to the bathroom. She handed the phone to my mother. I told her that I would meet them at the hospital, but Mom insisted that I stay at work until they found out what Dad’s problem was. She said she’d call me back when there was more information. About half an hour later, I got a call on my cell again. This time, it was my mother on the other end. She said that they suspected Dad had kidney stones and had inserted a catheter so that he could go to the bathroom. She said that he was feeling a lot better. They were waiting to take x-rays to confirm the existence of kidney stones.
A short time later, Mom called me back and said that the x-ray had unexpectedly shown what appeared to be tumors in Dad’s lungs. They had taken another x-ray, which confirmed this, and said he should see his doctor upon returning to the States. I found this news very shocking, as my father has never smoked in his life, nor has he ever been around smokers. He hasn’t even lived in a polluted area before! There was some mention that one of the x-rays also showed something that looked like tumors in his spine area. Before returning home from the hospital, Dad received a blessing from President Li, who had been in the area doing business.
That night while Dad slept, I sat and spoke with Shu Mei and Mom. It was then that we realized Dad’s problems probably weren’t caused by diabetes, but from cancer – cancer that had probably started elsewhere and found its way into his lungs. I theorized that it might have begun months before, as prostate cancer. That would explain Dad’s symptoms, which included a loss of bowel control to coughing and wheezing. After we spoke, I spent some time on my computer, looking up information about cancer. What I learned about lung cancer wasn’t very promising. If indeed my father had lung cancer, his time in this mortal life was limited to a few months. That night, Shu Mei and I knelt at our bed and said a prayer for Dad. We both love him dearly and want him to be well.
In the next few days, before my parents left for the States, I talked with Dad. He said that he didn’t think he had lung cancer, but couldn’t understand why he had all those problems. I told him to wait and see what his doctor at home said, that the doctors in Taiwan might be wrong. I had heard stories about misdiagnoses and had experienced some failings by doctors in my own history.
I had to work the morning my parents departed for America. Before work, I bid them farewell with an “I love you” and a hug. I feared that this would be the last time my father would be hugging me back and didn’t want to let go. But, I still had hope that this was all just some crazy happening and that he suffered from nothing more than a minor bladder infection and some overindulgence in sleep after-all.
Sadly, my mother sent me an email message a few days after they returned home, stating that Dad’s doctor, Dr. White, confirmed that he does have cancer. Dr. White gave Dad the option of seeing an oncologist about it, but Dad passed on that. Mom said that all Dad wanted to do was go without pain. Dr. White said that he could do that for him.
Mom arranged to have Hospice start coming to the house. She explained that they send a nurse every day to see Dad, bathe him, and tend to him. Dad was given Oxycontin to manage his pain. That is all he wanted.
According to the message, my mother felt that going to an oncologist would give us all answers to some questions (e.g., what type of cancer is it, where did it begin, how far advanced is it, etc.) Knowing approximately how much more time he has left would give us some piece of mind. However, I do not agree with her on this.
I think that Dad is right to refuse treatment. From all accounts, his cancer has spread from elsewhere, and on a grand scale. Why put him through more pain to determine what we pretty much know already? His sister, Faye, had cancer so that it might be something hereditary, but do future generations need this information? The issue here is that there is currently no cure for lung cancer.
Given that fact, there is nothing to do for Dad except ensure that he goes without pain. That is precisely what he wants, and what I would want too, given his circumstances. (I wouldn’t be as composed as he has been, though. If I were in his shoes, I’d be cryin’ like a baby. He’s inspirational, my Dad!)
Mom guesses that Dad doesn’t have more than a few months left. Shortly, there will undoubtedly be a cure for lung cancer. I wish we were living in that era, but we’re not. At this time, we must deal with the fact that this disease is beyond our control.
From what I’ve read online, lung cancer is a terrible thing; not just on the patient, but on the entire family and network of friends. For some, the time between diagnosis and death is speedy, within weeks sometimes. For others, it can take years of chemo, radiation, surgeries, remissions, and relapses, before death occurs. Even when people are in remission, cancer is always in the background, just looming around the corner. It changes people, and it changes everyone involved.
Usually, death in itself is a tragedy, but lung cancer is one of the worst to see in terms of the toll it takes along the way. And once the person with it passes away, and they are at peace, the family is still left with the pain of their loss. That is the same for deaths of all kinds of course, but watching someone die slowly can take a huge emotional toll. But, this isn’t about me. This is about my father, a very good man, a man with a heart as big as the ocean which separates us. If I lived a thousand lifetimes, I could never come close to what he has become in his 75 years of mortality. I know that there is a place waiting for him in heaven, for he’s honestly one of the most exceptional individuals that ever lived. I wish that you, dear reader, knew him as I know him. You’d be awe-inspired, too.