A BEAST Called Pancreatic Cancer Took My Dad Away!
by Jodi S. Babcock
(East Northport, NY, US)
It has been 5 months, 4 weeks 4 hours, and 2 minutes since I held Dad's hand and watched as he took his final breath.
My dad was diagnosed with Stage III locally advanced pancreatic cancer in April 2009. Less than 7 months later, he was gone at 62 years old, without ever having had the opportunity to enjoy his retirement.
Surgery was not an option for my dad, and chemotherapy and dietary changes brought no positive changes. My dad was on hospice just 5 months after he was diagnosed.
Dad survived for 10 days without food or water while in a coma the entire time, fighting right up to the end, just as he said he would. Ironically, after 2 heart attacks, 3 stent placements, and a carotid artery that had an 80% blockage, the hospice nurse insisted that he hung on as long as he did because he had a strong heart!
I kept vigil for 2 weeks, and it was so emotionally exhausting. After a week, I just wanted him to let go. I wanted him to have peace, and I wanted my old life back. I missed my children, who had not had my attention for 7 months. Oh, how I regret that I wanted that now!
Dad went through many changes while in a coma, and there was a time when I thought he was actually improving. Beginning 2 days before he passed, his BP went very high; he suffered from extreme terminal agitation while in a coma, finally ending with what appeared to be a seizure. Dad's left foot and ankle became swollen (again) as well.
The day that my dad passed away, November 8, 2009, was different from all of the other days. His breathing pattern changed. He had been experiencing the Cheyne Stokes breathing for 2 weeks, but the breaths became further and further apart, and he just seemed to be fighting for every breath. Yet, he seemed peaceful. By noon, I knew Dad was going to die that day, and I didn't leave his side at all. I was obsessively monitoring his heart rate and BP every 30 minutes.
Around 3 pm, Dad's BP began to drop, and his pulse was very weak, sometimes not registering on the machine. He looked more and more peaceful as the day progressed, but when he breathed, his jaw did all of the work as his chest rose and fell.
This continued for 6 hours. At 8:45 pm, after my girls were in bed and asleep, I somehow felt that Dad was leaving us. Nothing had changed, but I felt it. I cannot explain how. At 8:50 pm, I crawled up beside my dad, I held his hand in mine, and laid my ear over his heart. When I said, 'I love you, Daddy', he tried to sit up and squeezed my hand very hard. And then....one final breath, followed by a movement of his jaw which I knew brought him no air.
I had told Dad it was ok to go so many times, but at that moment, I found myself begging my dad not to leave me. I begged him to please stay, but he didn't hear me. At 9:00 pm on November 8, 2009, Dad's heart stopped beating, and The Beast had won.
My brothers, my children, and other family members said goodbye, and then I sent my girls across the street to my friends/neighbors who were waiting. Hospice came shortly thereafter, and the funeral home took 2 hours to arrive. I cleaned Dad up and gave him a shave. I took off the ring he wanted me to have, and I propped his head and put a smile on his mouth. He was still warm....and then he wasn't. I stayed with Dad until his blood ran cold, remembering almost 36 years of my life.
When the funeral home came to take him away, I watched it all- every moment- until the van disappeared beyond my sight. I raced back inside of my home, and within 45 minutes, cleared his belongings from my sight, even putting all of the medical equipment into the garage. At 3 am, I finally slept for what seemed like forever.
For 7 months, I had detached myself emotionally so that I could handle the day-to-day tasks of caring for Dad. I told myself that I would deal with my emotions when he was gone. I thought that I was prepared for what I would feel when this time came, but I wasn't. I always knew that this disease would take my dad's life inevitably, but deep down, I subconsciously believed that I could save him. I wanted to save him, and despite my efforts, I couldn't.
I write this as a means of healing for myself; as a teaching of compassion for my children; as an acknowledgment of empathy for anyone who has lost a loved one to pancreatic cancer; and as a tribute to the first man I ever loved.
I miss you, Dad! I'm so sad, so lost, and so full of grief. If only life came with an eraser!