It’s been 17 years since Mom called to tell us the news. Dad had prostate cancer. It was already metastasized. The doctor said six months to two years. The world spun a little slower that day. There were treatments. Dad responded to these treatments in amazing ways. We prayed for him and the cancer’s growth slowed. Every time there was an uptick in his numbers, there was a new treatment plan. Radiation, hormone therapy, and new drugs that promised time. He has been a true miracle.
Our family has learned to live with Dad’s cancer. Each summer was a gift. Jayla was born and brought a renewed light to his eyes. The kids continued to grow and their milestones took on new meaning. Life moved forward. Dad kept moving. He worked and played hard. ATV’s and a Toy Hauler took up space in the driveway. He was reckless. He was always reckless whether on snow mobiles, water skis, or four-wheelers he rode too fast and took chances. But, he had fun. We all did.
Time seemed short, so we travelled home. We spent one long summer driving across the country, exploring central Oregon, and driving home again. We prioritized being there. And summer after summer, we showed up. When I was in school, I visited in the winter, right after Christmas. It was cheap and easy to fly home then. On one visit, I awoke on December 28th to a familiar Christmas morning. They relit the tree, arranged for all the details of our childhood, and made me cry. We enjoyed pancakes with peanut butter, decorated Christmas cookies, and opened presents that morning.
More recently, they’ve been visiting us. A couple years ago, Dad and Jayla flew out for a summer visit. We went camping, toasted marshmallows, and watched them eat an unseemly number of Maine lobsters. He took the kids out for pizza and ate quite a bit of Anne’s ice cream. We sat on the curb and celebrated the 250th anniversary of our small town as the parade rolled by. Mom missed his first trip, but when she retired, she joined him for summers in New England as well.
It’s been so much fun to invite them into our familiar lives. To introduce them to our people, and the places we treasure. But it isn’t the places, but the time that has been so precious. We’ve gotten to enjoy time together. Watching the relationships between my adults and my parents has brought great joy. Even watching the sparks (and new cuss words fly) when they talk politics has been good. Within the circle of the dining room table, politics and words can rise without losing the connection.
In the past few years, we’ve said goodbye with solid plans in place for the next visit. I think we’ve seen each other ten times in the past few years. On Saturday night, we said goodbye without a plan. The road ahead is shadowed by a new diagnosis. This one, we fear, is more aggressive and much scarier than the familiar old one. He is sick and weak and it scares us. We don’t have a clear picture of the road ahead.
But we do have all the treasures gathered over a lifetime together. Our family has travelled some tough roads. We’ve walked through difficulty and weathered storms that could have blown us apart. We’ve seen the world together and accomplished goals that seemed unattainable at one time. I’m most proud of the relationships and lives we’ve built. The ways we are able to care for and support one another. It’s not perfect. There are relationships that will take more work to bear the fruit they promise. But it’s good. Very good.
I don’t know what the future holds. As mom said before she left, life may be about to get turned upside down. Dad’s headed to the doctor’s office this week. They will talk about a treatment plan, maybe chemo and surgery. But they can’t tell us what we really want to know. How do we love him and each other through the scary days ahead? I think, maybe, we already know how to do that. We’ve been doing it for a long time.