There are some days that change everything. Some for the better, some not so much. A true Super Hero like my Dad can take a day like July 31, 2011 and not only survive it, but overcome it and live to tell the tale. In the moment I didn't know it would be significant, but I can remember that morning very clearly. My boys were playing in their playroom and Isabella was taking a nap. It was a quiet morning, so I sat down with a cup of coffee and turned on the tv to catch up on my week of General Hospital. I took my first sip of coffee and thought, "life doesn't get better than this." And then the phone rang...
It was my mother. Her voice sounded a bit frantic. She said my Dad didn't feel good so she was calling an ambulance.
I knew something was wrong. Very wrong. This is my Dad we were talking about. The guy that refuses to go to a doctor unless something is extremely impeding his life, like his blood sugar is over 400 and he is nearly in a diabetic coma. The guy that drove himself to the hospital while having a heart attack. The guy that had his facial hair start on fire while working on a car and ran out to the yard and buried his face in the snow to cool it down. And then KEPT on going with car repair, singed face and all.
A trip to the ER? No way. An ambulance ride? Unheard of! Oh my... what was going on?
Well, it took 2 weeks of CT scans, MRIs, bloodwork and a transfer to a larger hospital for a biopsy to finally get a diagnosis. But, eventually it was confirmed that my Dad had Lymphoma in the Brain and Spine. It is a central nervous system lymphoma, which we would learn later is pretty darn bad. And aggressive. Immediately there was a decline in his hearing, vision, speech and balance. These tumors were not messing around.
But, Lymphoma had yet to meet my Dad a.k.a Papa to his grandkids. Papa had his 4 grandchildren Nikko, Vincenzo, Luccio and Isabella to live for. And nothing was going to stop him from having more time to enjoy his life with them.
And so began the battle.
Papa spent most of the Fall in the hospital undergoing different chemotherapy treatments. They would work. Then stop working. Each time taking it's toll. He lost 70 pounds, his muscle mass diminished significantly, he lost his hair. He was isolated in the hospital unable to have many visitors for fear of germs killing him.
All the while my Mother was by his side. If ever there is a woman you want to care for you while sick or hospitalized it's Stregga. She is loving, compassionate, intuitive, and fierce. You want Stregga on your side. She can coordinate medical treatment schedules and appointments like nobody's business and she is relentless in her effort to get the best care possible provided to those she loves. Papa could not have found a better advocate!
By November, Papa had been in the hospital for a long time. Weeks at a time, then home, then back. It blurs a little. The kids and I had to stay away for almost 4 weeks because we went through a bought of bronchitis and colds. So to stay in touch we used Skype! Love that invention. The kids made gifts to send to Papa and we chatted via Skype daily. We all looked forward to it and it helped Papa keep fighting to see his motivation!
During Thanksgiving week Papa took a turn for the worse. His chemo has stopped working and had caused some major complications health wise. There was a night that Mom and I got called to the hospital and things looked grim. It was the first time I thought, Oh my God, he could actually die. I guess somewhere in my mind that thought had floated around, but never seemed tangible because I refused to believe this disease would take him from us. But, that night reality hit me. Lymphoma is Cancer. And Cancer can be deadly.
But, like he does...Papa took in the crappy situation and he regrouped. And 3 days later he sat up and had breakfast. And then lunch. And then asked to be taken out of the ICU and back to a regular floor. The doctors made him wait a couple of days. But, he got out of there. He went back to a room. He continue to come back to life. And within a week he was ready to go home. So we went to the hospital and took home a guy that vaguely resembled my Dad. He was thinner, whiter, had no hair, and could barely walk a short distance. But, I knew it was my Dad because he still had his smile. That man can smile even in the worst of times. He always finds something to be grateful for. He said, "Hey, cancer sucks! But, I have a good life." He just wanted to go home to see those grandbabies. That is all he cared about.
So we brought him home, propped him up on some pillows and celebrated Christmas early just in case he wasn't able to celebrate in a couple weeks.
Our family and friends were our rocks to cling to through this time. People showed up with meals, cards, presents, flowers, helped take care of my parents' dogs, babysat my kids, wrote beautiful and loving letters that gave Papa hope and encouragement. So many people visited and called and sent emails. And most helpful of all, people prayed. Papa was put on prayer lists across the country. One friend even brought his picture with her on a trip to Medjigorie.
And in time...Papa started eating a little more (with LOTS of encouragement from Stregga) and the horrid chemo effects started wearing off. And over the winter he gained weight and got stronger.
By January, he was walking around, he had eyebrows again. His speech was improving. He was even dressing up for doctor appointments and out of his pajamas. His doctors were shocked! One doctor could not hide is disbelief when he saw him. He was truly amazed at the progress Papa had made.
Throughout the rest of the winter the docs gave him a new chemo to take at home. He improved. Things looked good. He went to a healing Mass.
He started building himself back up layer by layer.
The at home chemo treatment seemed to help. It even broke up one of the aggressive tumors!!
But, then in the Spring it stopped working.
The tumors grew and spread through the brain. And everything looked bad, real bad.
So with grace and dignity Papa returned home from a hospital stay and dealt with that latest setback. He declared his life good and spent his days with the people he loves.
And somehow he found the strength to try one more treatment. Radiation.
It sounded terrifying to me. Having the brain radiated. Oh my God!
Papa didn't hesitate. He went into radiation like he faces everything else - no nonsense.
He accepted that this may not work. He was told in very no nonsense terms that his condition was bad.
But, his faith and his inner strength did not fail him.
I don't know how he can be so brave and so at peace and so freaking strong. But, he is.
And it payed off. His last MRI showed the Lymphoma to be in remission!!!! Thank You God!!
His sight came back, his balance is better, his speech is better. He does physical therapy and speech therapy to help him continue to recover. And as long as he CAN move, he WILL. He exercises, tries to eat healthy, continues to take care of his family and friends and be there for us just like he always has. He is still one of the first people I call in a crisis!
I am so thankful that he continued to seek the best treatments available and was able to find strength and perseverance to get through it all. I am thankful that he is celebrating today that he made it through this year. I cannot imagine my life without him. He is an amazing role model for me and for my brother and for my children. He truly understands what is most important in life and to him that is Faith and Love. He lives simple and dreams big! He is truly my Super Hero!! He will be blogging about his Battle on his own website: http://livingthesuperherolife.blogspot.com/