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On Losing My Father to Cancer at 24


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I just need a space to get my story out, thank you to anyone reading this. 


My dad was diagnosed with kidney cancer in April of last year when i was 22 years old. My parents came up to the city on a Sunday like they tried to do once a month. We went to lunch like normal. I got a margarita and my dad got a beer, my mom chided us for ordering drinks on a Sunday afternoon and we just gave each other that look with a hint of a smile we'd done so many times before like ok mom. 


Afterwards they took me back to my apartment and suggested we take a walk outside. Everything started off so light and they casually led up to the fact that my dad had some tests done recently and the doctors found cancer in his hip. I didn't know how to react. They quickly followed up with saying it seemed like they caught it early, my dad was radiation on the area the following week, it was gonna be a challenge but all would be well. That still didn't stop me from crying on my dad's lap for an hour once we got back to my apartment.


As he weeks progressed and more tests were done, it became evident that all would not be well. The hip was only the tip of the iceberg on what was actually stage 4 renal (kidney) cancer that had also spread to his lymph nodes, liver and lungs (although the lung and liver spots were manageable). The worst part was it was a second type of renal cancer that was much less common and almost impossible to treat. Regular chemo and treatments like that apparently don't work for what he had, it was uncureable. The best we could hope for was managing what was there and try and get the 2-5 years that people in his position typically had before it was done. 


I think I started the grieving process once we heard that news. Not the acute grieving of day-to-day things as my dad was still there and in relatively good condition. But it was the grieving for a future I knew I would never have. My dad would never get to walk me down the aisle or dance at my wedding. he would never get to meet his grandchildren. My mom and him wouldn't get to retire and travel all over like they'd always planned. 


In a weird way I'm glad that we were able to have that kind of foresight though as we were able to really appreciate this past year together as a family. I live about an hour from home and went back many weekends, we took trips together, and i made sure I was always mentally present in those moments.


The treatment had been going well too. My dad went in for CTs every 6-8 weeks and for a while they were good. The tumors showed little to no growth and one even had a bit of regression. However all this good news from the CTs gave me a bit of false hope. I thought maybe we'll get the full five years, maybe even seven, maybe life can return to semi normal again. My dad even went back to work, traveled for meetings everything was good. Until it wasn't


By late March/early April of this year my dad had gone to the doctor complaining of headaches, they ended up doing and MRI and found the cancer had spread to the brain. My mom called me and told me all of this and I came home that following weekend to be with my dad before he started 3 weeks of brain radiation. I'll never forget the Sunday after spending that weekend at home. My dad and I were sitting on the couch watching golf, talking about nothing in particular. He asked me if mom had told me about what was going on, I said yes. He was like yea so three weeks, shouldn't be too bad and then they'd get rid of what was there and it would be back to business as usual. We were both so casual about it.


I just wish I would've known then what was about to happen, before the radiation fried his brain, making him tired, groggy, dehydrated and just mentally not the same. Because six weeks after that conversation my dad was gone and i wish I would've known that that Sunday afternoon. To be able to just talk uninhibited while he was still all there and say everything I wanted to say. I always told my dad I loved him, there was never any doubt of that between us.  But we avoided the topic of him actually dying, final goodbyes and all that because we always thought there was more time. That would be my biggest advice to anyone reading this who has a parent or loved one going through an illiness like this. We always said our I love yous, We were present every moment together that last year and i made sure to go home a lot to see him. but we never got into the nitty gritty death and dying because we thought there would be time and we'd have more of an indication when he was actually going to die. 


After his three weeks of radiation he was almost a different person as I described above. Not only was he groggy and disorientated, but it completely zapped his appetite causing him to lose so much weight and become so week. A few days after he was done he checked himself in to the hospital for dehydration. That first weekend, he ended up in the ICU after some internal bleeding that took almost a week to fix. He was then slated to go to a rehab facility when they did a final MRI to see if the radiation had worked. It hadn't and in fact had actually spread. My dad went from going to rehab and coming home into hospice instead. 


By the time he was in hospice he was very very weak. He could barely talk and when he did it was very garbled speech. I was able to say everything i wanted to say and i think he heard and understood, I just wish everyday we could have had an actual conversation with him talking back too. The day he passed my whole family was together with him, we think he waited till my brother got back from school because two minutes after he was in the door he was gone. 


My dad was my everything and I miss him so much it physically hurts. It's been almost two months since he passed. I feel like everything is such a rollercoaster emotionally. I've also started to develop panic attacks at night. I need to figure out good coping mechanisms if anyone is able to give any advice.

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I am sorry for your loss. I'm in med school and plan on working with Cancer patients when I graduate, I've lost family to cancer too and I know it hurts.


Whilst nothing can completely heal but time, I do know how to manage panic attacks because I have generalised anxiety and panic disorder, so even with no stress I get them randomly.


For these things to work though, you have to actually try. I know it's hard, but no one can help you but yourself, would your Dad want you to spend the rest of your life not living to the fullest you could?


Ok, so here are some skills I have learned


1. Self soothing - Do little things you enjoy, and you don't have to feel guilty for doing them, even something little like putting handcream on, but you have to sit there and focus all your energy into the thing you are trying to enjoy, it can be anything you like, for me personally it is playing video games.

2. Distract A.C.C.E.P.T.S The letters stand for different ways of distracting yourself from your feelings,

*Activities, as I said before something you enjoy.

*Comparing, You've gotten through hard things before, compare yourself to when your overcame something in the past, or compare how you feel with family and friends and realise everyone is hurting too and that thats okay.

*Contribute, do something you can really take part in with other people, everyone needs alone time, but always being alone doesn't benefit grief.

*Emotional opposite, this is hard, but sometimes to kick yourself out of this feeling you have to do the opposite. You feel so low you don't want to get out of bed? Do it. You feel too low to see friends? Do it. Act opposite to how you feel and set the ball rolling. Pain is unavoidable, but SUFFERING is. If you feel pain and wallow in it, you make yourself feel worse you will suffer. If you acknowledge your pain, put things in place to help ease it, you won't suffer, it will still hurt but nowhere NEAR as much as sitting in a dark room hating everything about life.

*Push away, if you really can't deal with the image or thought in your head, push it away. You have to be strict with yourself - Decide "I cannot deal with this right now, but when I am ready I will allow myself to come back to it" some people like imagining putting the thought in a box placing it in a cupboard or room and locking the door, but you always have the key with you.

*Thoughts - Try to replace unhelpful thoughts with better ones, even just noticing your thoughts are racing and then trying to refocus them onto one thing can really help.

*Sensations, this is when you need to either soothe or shock your senses. This works for me, if you're panicking so much you can't think straight, pull yourself back to reality by placing your face in a bowl/sink of cold water, or just nurture senses, smell your favourite perfume, eat something nice, cuddle something soft, listen to music. It's about bringing yourself to reality.


I hope I helped. I wish you luck and comfort.



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Hi.  I am opting out of handing you advice.  I know you asked for it, but I have none to give.  Honestly, as much as people ask for it on this site... I really wonder if that is even a reason that most people want to be here.  My thought...


It is healing just to share your story and to read others stories.  It is healing to be a part of someone else's grief journey, and it is a blessing to have someone else walk with you on yours.  


I am also not going to tell you that I know how you feel.  I don't.  I can only guess, because of this...


My dad died of stomach cancer over six years ago. 


I was 39 at the time. 


He didn't get to walk me down the aisle at my wedding... because I got married the day before I turned 41.


I had a chance to say goodbye.  There was no hope, no treatment and death was inevitable. 


My Dad had a chance to say goodbye to his friends and family. 



I miss him.  I can't tell you how long you will grieve.  I can only tell you that the sharpness of the pain eventually passed for me... now there is a hole that aches once in a while when a thought of him passes by.  


A friend of mine, that also lost his dad, told this to me. 


"The pain will go, but the sadness will always remain."


I don't have much time this morning.. I have to go to work.  But I may come back and share a poem I wrote for my dad before he passed.  


Til Later... 

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I have had almost the very same experience as you.


The only advice I have to offer is to remember always how your father was, what he taught you and what you owe his memory in your own lifetime. You should be the person he always wanted you to be and fulfil the wishes and dreams he held for you in his own heart. We are always with our fathers in spirit-- and they are always, always with us. Be comforted by this fact--- nothing as evil as cancer can ever understand the relationships we shared, the moments we had and the times we spent with them. My life has changed forever, but I'm always, always going to be his little girl, no matter what he was forced to become in the end. 

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