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When Grief Is Your Mirror

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I am the youngest child of four girls. My dad’s “baby girl.” We all know how special that relationship is. My dad was a super hero in my eyes. He was strong, smart, funny, a great provider and a man of faith. My dad was a pastor, father, husband, carpenter, ham radio operator, printing press manager, grandfather, plumber, mechanic, concrete artist and hero.

One day he exchanged all his skill, talent and independence for a brain tumor. It was a grade IV glioblastoma, which I described as a bomb in his brain. He was living his every day life working hard, taking care of his property, his family and his church. Then one normal Sunday our life flipped upside down when he fell out into a grand mal seizure. He finished delivering his sermon, and then let my mom take him to the emergency room where they found a brain tumor and everything changed.

He was told this cancer was very aggressive and was given three to six months to live. His faith was ever-enduring and never wavered. He had his first craniotomy, radiation and chemotherapy. He was able to fight for 14 long years. He was an incredibly strong and rare survivor. He lived his years with his sight, his right mind, but it seemed each year the cancer took just a bit more of him away. By the end he couldn’t speak, ambulate or care for himself at all really. We will never know how much pain he was truly in because he never complained. Fourteen years fighting brain cancer with multiple brain surgeries, constant treatment, doctors, hospitals, pain, suffering and he never complained.

My dad passed away at home with my mom by his side, after a month in ICU on every machine and tube one could imagine after having a bad infection and constant seizures. I am very glad he is no longer suffering this life that he was handed.

However, I am more than his youngest child grieving.

I was diagnosed with cancer seven years ago, at the age of 29. My cancer is not supposed to be aggressive. It is supposed to be one of the easiest cancers to treat. However, due to medical anomalies and genetic wonders, I will likely never be cancer free.

When I was initially told I had cancer, my first thought was, please don’t let me turn into my dad. I do carry many of my father’s characteristics, and I am proud to. However, I was terrified at the thought of following in his medical footsteps.

It didn’t happen all at once, it was a slow progression into his hospital bed with 24/7 care required. It’s a thought, a fear of mine, every day. I, too, did as much treatment as I could. I, too, have seen a plethora of specialists. I continued working for five years while battling this demon we call cancer. At the age of 34 I was forced into disability, lost all independence and found each day after the next just a bit harder than the one before.

When I was able to visit my dad, I would need to pull over to have a breakdown in my car on the side of the road because it hurt me and scared me to see my once strong invincible dad deteriorating before my eyes. Each time the fear burning inside me got a little bigger, because there were so many similarities in our stories. I had a much different cancer and a much different journey. Yet, it didn’t matter how hard I fought against it, I kept losing little pieces of myself as well. I was watching a horrible car crash slowly taking place and all I had to do was look in my dads hospital bed to see the end result; the last page of the book, the end of the movie…I had already seen it played out over a decade and a half.

I don’t think anyone around me appreciates the fact that I am not only grieving my dad’s death. I am grieving the person I was and terrified of just exactly how much more of myself I will lose in my future. I am not trying to compete with their grief, I just don’t think they could understand the different perspective, even if they were to try. There is a large lack of any support system, because I am now in a boat of one. Even after my dad stopped talking, I felt a strong connection. I knew we were both walking the same path. I miss him dearly and I miss not being alone in this journey. We were our own support system without having to say a word.

I can only hope to be anything near the person and fighter that my dad was, while also hoping I will not suffer for near as long as he did.

I hope he is finally resting in peace now that his days in suffering are done. I remain, but will do my best to make him proud of me in the days I have ahead.

In memory of Monty G. Carman 12/1955 – 05/2019, the most courageous warrior I have ever known.

Photo credit: Oksana_Bondar/Getty Images

Originally published: September 27, 2019
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