After hearing that my father had a rare form of throat cancer in May of 2009, my heart sank to my feet. I had received a call from my older brother, who was back home in Chicago visiting at the time, with the news. My dad had just gone in for a checkup to find out more information why his vocal chords had collapsed. Needless to say, the doctors found, what I was told, a benign cancerous tumor hiding behind his thyroid. By the time I got the call from my brother, my dad was in the Intensive Care Unit. That frightened me extremely because I wasn’t there and just the different reports I had gotten from relatives saying that it’s the rarest kind of throat cancer and it has already spread in his chest or that he is not going to make it. As the days passed by, I tried to gather whatever information I could on his type of cancer. I felt very helpless in my search. Knowing that cancer has been around my family for as long as I can remember, I pretty much was ready to give in to the whispers of death.
I was relieved once my dad’s status had changed and he could get out of I.C.U. Come to find out, he had to be a put in there for precaution because his blood pressure had risen too high. I don’t know if his pressure had been that way for sometime or did he find out that he had cancer and panic? I’m not even sure how that type of stuff works. That’s why I say that the human body is an amazing thing. With my dad’s vocal chords being collapsed, the next few months would prove to be hard on him and the rest of the family. Mostly on him because he is the only one that knows where his thoughts are at any given moment. He had to get a trachea tube put into his throat so that he may speak. I know that it annoyed him because he likes to talk and direct people but now he was limited to pushing a button to talk. At this point all I can only rely on other people’s words because he wasn’t able to speak frequently and it kind of hurt him to talk with that tube in his throat.
I went to Chicago to see my family that summer and upon seeing him for the first time in this condition, I was at a loss for words. I didn’t want to smother him or act different around him. This was not the man that raised me. He was not like I was used to seeing and being around. He didn’t do a lot of talking and was kind of distant and to himself during the visit. Let me not forget to mention that I am barely in the house when I go back home for visits (it’s hard to see all your family and friends when you only have a few days in town). He decided to go to the Cancer Institute of America after some of his own research and encouragement from another cancer survivor, my great aunt. I know it was rough on him and his wife, but it was the best move that he could have made.
There were some complications he had to go through during the early stages. There was lots of testing to be done to determine how to attack his cancer as well as different people trying to advise what “they” think he should do. He had to drive a couple of hours away from his house to upstate Illinois where the center is located and he would just stay in that area all week receiving treatment and then come home on the weekend. A couple of times he had to slow down on his treatment because his white blood cells got low. Thankfully in November he went back after completing the treatment and the doctors didn’t find any traces of the cancer. He has to go back in May this year just for a regular checkup. It troubles me to know that it could very well come back!
If I were to be in Rhio O’Conner’s or my dad’s shoes, I honestly don’t know if I could make it. It actually bothers me now to think down the road of my life and to add a sickness to it as scenery. My dad quite smoking after his mother died of lung cancer in 1987. For him to get it 22 years later is soul shaking. I looked up symptoms of what he had and attributed it to the type of life he was living: He worked as a painter for the Chicago Transit Authority and they would often work in subway tunnels; he was always stressed out about something; he didn’t eat too well; he didn’t exercise and he was a an extremely heavy drinker. After I learned my uncle was dying in 2007 of cancer, I remember saying to my brother, “We gotta quite now”! He was such a huge inspiration to my life that I wanted to quite in his honor. Even to this moment while I am typing this letter, I have not quite. I remember being a kid and there were always messages about smoking not being good for you. As kids we took that message and fussed at our elders for doing what we were told would one day kill them. As we got older and picked up the habit, the roles reversed. Now it was the elders telling us how bad it is for us. It’s funny how the roles of parents and children sometimes reverse.
It would be quite easy to read Rhio’s story and be inspired and say what one would do and how they would do it, but the reality of it is, most of us really don’t know what we are capable of doing until faced with a situation. I look at my life as it is right now: I still smoke and drink, my diet is ok but I am not in the best shape that I feel I can be in, sometimes things beyond my control frustrates me. I am going to change my life but live my life at the same time. I’m always looking for ways to improve my life in all areas. Health is nothing to take lightly. At the same time, when I hear stories of people who led what one might believe was the “right way to live” and they still get the same kinds of odds that everyone else has to face. So, how should we live? As one believes I presume as there are no guarantees but death.
Given a short amount of time left to live, I would be sad for some time, thinking about the things that I never got to do and the people the people that I let down. Once I get out of my sick head and sick bed, I would dedicate whatever amount of time I have left to prepare as best I can for my departure from my body. I don’t even think I would want to fight that monster for myself, but for everyone else to come. I would let the doctor’s, my family and everyone else who cared about me to do what they can, but I would ultimately leave it in the hands of the Creator.
I would pray a lot about my situation; what I’m thinking and feeling. I would talk to others who have been in this predicament; no matter if they had it or they watched their loved ones go through it, just to absorb some of their strength and pain. I would fight for them. I would start a petition in the names of all of those who have taken this same battle field and did not make it. I would strive for more testing to try to find out what the root of this disease is so that we may find its cure. I would campaign for more people to look at cancer as something that affects us all no matter if we or someone we know has it. To me it seems that we are fighting an enemy that we can’t see, thus we don’t know how to defeat it. But I see it and it sees me and one day we will engage in combat!
By: Ala, Abdullah-Mahdi