I look at the picture I have in my hand of my family in
front of my dorm and I wonder "Who is that man?"
Who is the man I knew before,
where did that stout, blond-haired, gregarious and jovial man
go? Where did this thin, grey-haired, solemn and tired old man
come from? I am still amazed that in a few short months a
person can transform into a shell of who they once were.
I guess I should start from
the beginning. I was coming down the stairs, calling to my stepfather
I was part way down the stairs when he stepped out at the bottom
of the stairs. I do not remember what I was going to say, ask
or why I was calling to him. I do remember him looking upset,
me asking "Are you OK?" and him replying "No.I
have cancer." in a worried and tired tone. I stood there
in shock, dumfounded, that reply is not something you normally
hear or ever expect. I do not remember what I said past "Oh."
The news came as quite a blow
as I entered my senior year of high school. The time when I
was suppose to figure out who I was going to be and how to do
everything my parents did for me when I was a kid I was preoccupied
with the real possibility of Eric dying. The man who had been
the only good father figure I have known could actually die from
esophageal cancer that grows in and obstructs the esophagus.
To fight the death growing
within him, the doctors put him on Chemotherapy. He wore a pack
around his waist with a tube up to his arm, pumping the chemicals
into him. I remember the occasion when his fear showed for
the first time. Only he and I were at home. He caught the tubing
on a piece of furniture and pulled it apart at a junction where
a filter was connecting the tubing. He came upstairs flustered
telling me he called the medical service and they were on the
way. The tube from his arm showed a hint of
blood and he paced anxiously while constantly looking out the
I was astounded at how he seemed
to become a child before my eyes, nervous and scared. He reminded
me of a child who was worrying about the trouble he was going
to be in when mom got home. He had gone from an authority figure
that I leaned on to a weak man that needed my support to keep
How could I tell my friends about
this? How do you convey what it is like to have your home, your
sanction turned inside out by not knowing what to expect and
wondering how many days with him were left, especially to people
who have never experienced that? I found it hard to talk to
my friends because their conversations seemed so trivial. I
was preoccupied by having the thoughts of Eric getting sick
and or dying running through my mind all day. I told my four
closest friends, each took a minute to absorb what I
told them and then told me that they were there for me when
I needed them. I left everyone else to think what they liked
about my withdrawn behavior. My only sanction was in my shell,
letting only my mom and
He continued for months with
Chemotherapy. He had the normal reactions of hair loss and loss
of sense of taste. Then the doctors added radiation to his
Chemotherapy but that just made eating certain foods more difficult.
Life continued on like this for a few months. Over time I began
to notice little changes about him, he joked less and he was
becoming more and more melancholy. He was then taken off Chemotherapy
and then radiation to let his body heal for preparation for
Surgery was a defining point.
There was life before surgery and life after surgery for him
else. His surgery involved removing his esophagus and then pulling
his stomach up and attaching it to his
throat. I remember the day he had surgery, it was the Monday
after spring break. I did not see my parents leave for the
hospital. They had to leave at four am in order for Eric to
be prepped and ready for surgery at seven am. He was going into
surgery when I was getting up in an empty house and getting
ready to go to school. People at school were talking about what
they did over spring break, the parties, the tans, the sex,
normal teenage vacations. It was all so surreal! No one around
me knew what I was going through; they were so busy being wrapped
up in themselves. They had no idea that all I could think was
"I hope Eric is alive when I get home."
He was alive, but had a long
recovery before him. My mom waited the entire seven hours that
he was in surgery and stayed with him while he got settled into
a room that evening. She went to see him every
afternoon and evening then came home and told me about him.
I finally got to see him a week later, when he was moved out
of the intensive care unit. I remember being anxious going up
in the elevator, waiting while my mom went ahead to check on
him, and then her coming to get me. I was scared at how sick
and weak he would look and be. Even though my mom had prepared
me I was still shocked. He reminded me of a squid, a pale lump
of a body with tentacle tubes reaching out everywhere. He had
lost about fifty pounds in less than five days. Eating through
a tube will do that. He looked as if he had aged twenty years
in a day, and in a way he had. He had tubes everywhere, up his
nose, in his arm, in his chest, in his stomach. He was in and
out of being alert because of pain killers and being in bed
all day. He saw me, drowsily said "Hi.", tried to
smile and promptly fell asleep.
He stayed in the hospital another
week then came home and lay in bed or on the couch all day.
He was shaken to his core by being thin and frail. He seemed
surprised when he would look at himself. I would see him sitting
on the couch looking at his calf, turning it over like a child
with a strange bug he has caught.
He would not talk much and did not make contact when he did.
Slowly over time he started talking a little
more and a little more. Eric has become more confident about
himself since his hair has grown back and he has learned how
to eat normally again. Now I am gladdened when I call home and
Eric wants to talk. I smile when he has a cheerful sound in
his voice. I hear him talk about things that were important
a year ago and I know he is becoming himself again.