Byline: Lisa Ingrassia
I have always been a “daddy’s girl”, so when my father was diagnosed with Stage IV base of the tongue cancer in late December of 2008 my entire life changed. The days following my Dad’s diagnosis are forever etched in my brain. Our family prepared for the fight of our lives. I quickly learned that when a cancer patient said he was “battling” cancer, he certainly was. The weeks of my Dad’s intensive radiation and chemotherapy treatments were grueling and often times testing.
For my entire life, I can honestly say my father has always been my best friend and my hero. Prior to my Dad’s diagnosis, I would call my father during my drive to work, and email him throughout the day. During my Dad’s treatments the phone calls slowly stopped, and the emails began to dwindle. Cancer was slowly forever changing my relationship with my Dad, and I didn’t like it. I can remember visiting him during his treatments, and with each visit my Dad would change. Traditional Italian Sunday dinners quickly became a thing of the past as my Dad lost the ability to eat and was surviving on a feeding tube. Our entire family learned how to modify our dining schedule as my Dad began to eat solely from a peg tube. We quickly held onto the hope that once the radiation ceased and with some therapy he could eat again.
My Dad successfully completed treatments in March 2009, and about 3 months later his peg tube was removed. He was eating orally again, but not like before. His saliva was a thing of the past; he carried a water bottle around constantly, and was always choking. Slowly, he began to recover, but some foods, like steak, were a thing of the past. As my Dad and our family began to recover more than ever, my Dad was my real life super hero.
Then in what seemed like out of the blue to me, in March of 2012 my Dad was hospitalized for pneumonia. We quickly learned my Dad was aspirating his food into his lungs and would need to have his peg tube reinserted. This news was a dramatic blow to our family, we felt like the cancer was beat and how could this happen. Our family rapidly learned of post radiation effects that would soon become a whole new battle. A battle my Dad is still fighting.
During the past year I have witnessed my Dad’s weight dramatically decrease, suffer endless, debilitating nerve damage, nerve damage so bad that he can no longer drive the car for long periods of time, or sometimes type a quick email. Our telephone conversations have become a faded memory, because at times, talking is even painful for him. My Dad now permanently carries a water bottle to swish water in his mouth and a spit cup to spit it out. Twice a week my Dad has intensive swallowing therapy. I am holding onto the hope that someday I can have a cup of coffee with my Dad again, maybe even our traditional dish of pasta on Sunday.
Just last week, my father suffered a minor heart attack. Fear quickly became panic. For the second time in my life, the world completely stopped spinning when I heard the news of my Dad’s heart attack, the first was when we learned of his cancer diagnosis. Thankfully, the heart attack was minor, and he now is the proud owner of a new stint and returned to focusing on reclaiming his quality of life. He still goes for intensive swallowing therapy twice a week, pain management and a chiropractor in hopes of easing some pain. Accepting my father’s mortality has become the most difficult challenge of my life.
It has been four long years since we began this journey. Three years of moments that we will always carry in our hearts and are embedded in our souls. My Dad’s diagnosis has changed my life forever, I will live the rest of my life educating myself on cancer and praying for a cure. My Dad’s ongoing battle makes me a better person, and even during his worst days he manages to show me the good in things. Fathers Day is quickly approaching and I can assure you I will be celebrating my Dad and the warrior he has become. I will forever hold onto the hope that someday, he will be pain-free and we can sit at the table and once again all eat as a family.