Published in The Deseret News -- May 9th, 2013
Last November, my dad’s recently diagnosed lung cancer metastasized into his bones, making it officially stage 4 and incurable. He was given nine months, give or take. The oncologist explained that the chances of more chemotherapy making even a slight difference to his life expectancy were “in the single digits.”
The news was heartbreaking. It was as if Dad had been chosen as one of the tributes in “The Hunger Games” and was being sent into the arena to fight, knowing that his chances of making it out alive were negligible. And his only encouragement was the empty phrase, “May the odds be ever in your favor!”
We all understood the odds, and they weren’t even close to being in Dad’s favor.
So what next?
First off, critical medical decisions had to be made. In this case, my dad chose to continue treatments. His decision was difficult for me to swallow initially. I wanted him to discontinue the treatments, thereby giving him at least a short reprieve from suffering. Plus, it would show that he was accepting his new reality.
Instead, Dad went forward with more chemotherapy. Reality was what it was, he figured, but he wasn’t going down without a fight. I could hardly blame him.
Then there are the daily decisions about how to live the rest of your life. As it turns out, these are equally as critical as the medical ones — if not more so. Mom and Dad shined in this department.
For example, we were surprised and delighted when my parents, who still buy gifts at garage sales, booked a Caribbean cruise for the family. They wanted us to have one last awesome, unprecedented memory with Dad.
When Dad’s health fluctuated, we prayed that he would be able to go on the cruise. For us, it became much more than just a cruise — it became a goal.
As a family, we tried to take our cues from our parents’ optimism and traveled from near and far to celebrate Dad’s last Thanksgiving and Christmas in epic style. We made some great memories.
Reality was what it was, though, so other memories aren’t so great. Despair and sadness and wondering why and what if and what’s next inevitably come with such a difficult package.
In the final analysis, though, the laughter managed to outweigh the tears.
In February, Dad’s health was holding up and he was given the green light to go on the cruise. But then four days before we were to board, the very cruise ship we had booked caught fire in the Caribbean. Our once-in-a-lifetime cruise — our last great memory with Dad — was canceled.
Talk about odds.
It was about this time that I felt justified in sending a few strong objections heavenward. Of course, when I read about the unpleasantries the poor passengers on that cruise were subjected to, I quickly retracted my objections. There’s always a bright side — at least we hadn’t boarded one week earlier.
Mom rallied almost immediately and re-booked the cruise (eventually having to re-book two additional times because of repair delays). Barring another catastrophe, our cruise is now set for June. Mom would have been completely justified in yelling at her booking agent and giving up. Most would have.
Instead, Mom persisted. Reality was what it was, she figured, but she wasn’t going to let this cruise go down without a fight. I could hardly blame her.
Time passed. Dad soldiered on. And then came the twist of all twists.
Three weeks ago, we received news that Dad’s cancer is officially in 100 percent remission. His oncologist calls it a miracle. Having never dared hope for that outcome, we are overwhelmed with gratitude for this incredible gift of more time — a gift that most families in our situation don’t receive.
But what if the ending had been as predicted? What if we were attending a funeral for my dad instead of going on a cruise with him? Obviously, it would be terribly sad. We would mourn and we would miss him. And someday — since we know that cancer will eventually claim his life — we will.
Here’s what’s significant, though: Regardless of outcome, I will always be grateful for my parents’ approach to such difficult circumstances. They chose to laugh more than they cried. They chose optimism and faith. They chose not to go down without a fight. They chose hope.
For our family, those choices made — and still make — all the difference. We experienced first-hand that choosing hope is truly the only choice worth making — no matter the odds.
By way of tribute to the millions of families who are battling cancer and other unfavorable odds: Here’s to hope.
One week after learning of Dad’s remission, Mom received a call from her booking agent at the cruise line informing her that our entire party of 16 will be going on the cruise — for free. It seems that not cussing out your booking agent is another choice worth making.