Starting in 2006, Cancer Pathways of Seattle, Washington started a unique program called Cancer Unwrapped Writing Contest. This program uses the power of writing to allow the children of families undergoing cancer treatment the opportunity to write about their own emotions and experiences. Ten years later, this writing contest is still successfully helping families cope with pain and the stress of cancer. We want to thank Anna Gottlieb of Cancer Pathways for sharing some of these heartfelt stories with us. Search Out of the Mouths of Babes for more stories.
But It Was Just a Scab by Destiny Kulmus
You know that feeling when you’re on a scary carnival ride, and you’re gripping the handle bars so tight just waiting and waiting for the ride to come to a complete stop. It’s your first time on the ride and you feel like its lasting forever, and you’re just begging for it to stop. That’s how I felt watching my dad go through cancer. In 2006, when I was just 10 years old, the strongest man I knew died a little inside. It started out as just being a little scab. “It will go away, I just hit my ear on something, don’t worry,” he would say. That phrase became a habit of his; only the words would change a little. “Daddy your ears bleeding again.” “Oh it’s just a scab I picked, it will heal soon.” Soon became weeks. I could hear from my bedroom my mother and father arguing about my father getting his scab looked at. I would hear my dad say “it’s just a scab! It’s fine.” On July 9th, 2006, the scab began to progress. My dad finally put aside his stubborn act and went to the doctors. My family and I waited patiently for the results. I will never forget the day my mom told me and my 9 older siblings that my dad became one of the statistic in the fastest growing cancer in the United States. I still remember to this day what I mumbled to myself that night as I was in bed: “it was just a scab…”
My dad was more tired than ever. He would go to work at 5 in the morning, come home at 5:30 at night, grab his food off the table, take it up to his room, watch television, and pass out. This became his daily routine. My dad was becoming a stranger. He wasn’t the same happy, tough, jokester guy anymore. He was a slug: he was slow, quiet and drowsy. I remember my mother would say to me almost every day, “Shh your father’s resting.” Not only was my father’s life changing, but so was mine and the rest of my family’s. I couldn’t be the little girl that played dress up, or yelled while singing karaoke, or the girl that would run up to greet daddy when she heard the front door open. I had to be quiet and careful of daddy: I had to be grown up. My mother’s life was changing too. Dad was too tired to help out so my mom had to basically raise 10 kids on her own.
The doctors started therapy. They gave us hope. They would give my dad a radiation treatment every 2 weeks. By the 18th treatment, things were turning around. My dad wasn’t a stranger anymore, he was almost himself again. It felt as if we were at the point of the carnival ride where it starts to slow down, your hair is blowing back, the sun is heating your skin just right and you can see the beautiful view from the very top of the ride. But everyone knows that part of the ride doesn’t last long. The 25th radiation treatment was too much for my dad to handle without protecting the arteries in his brain. The radiation therapy made him extremely tired and run down. After he finished his radiation treatment, he had to go to a surgeon and have a piece of his ear cut out because the cancer was spreading. Now it was the part of the ride where you’re so focused on the beautiful view, you aren’t ready for what comes next… The drop…
It’s now 2012. I am 12 years old. The 3rd week in October was a rough week for my dad. He became extremely ill. He was having really strong headaches, close to the spot where his cancer was. So, instead of being stubborn, he listened to my mom and went and saw the doctor. They diagnosed my dad with Vertigo. “He is just sick, with the flu,” they’d say. On October 21st, 2012, my life was forever changed. I woke up for school. It was a normal day, but I was running late. I heard my older sister, Brandie, yell “time to go, we’re going to miss the bus.” I ran downstairs to run out the door, as I saw my sister telling my dad goodbye as he was sleeping on the couch. We have this rule in my family that we always have to say goodbye to our parents. I ran out the door and Brandie looked at me and said, “Are you not going to tell dad goodbye?” I shrugged it off. We were late and I didn’t want to make us miss the bus. Plus, I’d see him when he got home from work. Not telling my father goodbye that day was probably my biggest regret.
That night my ears rang with the sound of sirens, I was in a dazed and confused state, and my eyes were crying out, begging for me to look away. My dad was laying on his bed crying in pain. He looked like a fish out of water gasping for air. His state of mind was something I had never seen before. I watched the paramedics carry him outside on a stretcher. My dad died 3 times in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. After several hours of pacing back in forth, the doctors told us that my dad had suffered a Bilateral Brain Stem stroke caused from his cancer radiation therapy not being done right. The doctors told us that my dad was a fried up vegetable and was going to die. He was in a coma for three weeks. When he awoke from this coma, he was a different person; but, not for the better. His brain was so badly damaged that he began to treat us differently. Having completely lost his filter and giving little respect most of the time: he would say things he never would have said before his stroke happened. My dad is now disabled and will never be able to work again.
I’m now 18 years old and I tell myself I never got to experience a dad. He’s not the man he used to be and never will be again. He makes me cry almost every day from the way he treats me. He is so badly messed up that he once told me he would protest to being my dad.
During this trial, I constantly asked myself what life would be like without a father. The steps I took to address my challenge included a lot of personal learning and growing. I had to learn how to be more patient, and how to still treat my father like my dad, even though he acted more like a child now. I had to learn how to not let the hurtful things he said to my family and I affect my personal life and to constantly remind myself that it was the stroke talking and not my dad. I learned to be more compassionate and caring, and I was able to find strength that I never knew I had to help me push through each day. This experience continues to help me realize that everyone has a cross to bear, some heavier than others, but we have to remember: life goes on.
How we deal with these trials helps determine the kind of person we will become. We need to endure our trials because they teach us how to be stronger, and if we don’t, we lose the opportunity to gain strength and prepare ourselves for whatever trial is headed our way next. I’m still on that carnival ride, except this one is in my own backyard: it’s always running, there’s there’s no park manager to close it down for the night.
I came to realize that after the scary drop at the top of the ride, the next time isn’t the same because you anticipate the drop from the very beginning now. I know that the drop is coming again for my dad. But this time, I will be stronger and better prepared for it. I know God only puts us through the trials He knows we are strong enough to handle. Now you know my story.