My father served his country in WWII. Serving as an officer in the Quartermaster Corps stationed in South Wales, he often spoke with great humility of his role as a supply officer just prior to the Normandy invasion. As a citizen soldier, he played a part in ridding Europe and the world of the scourge of the Nazis; that was no small task. Of course, in the final analysis, the Second World War, you know, the one that followed on the heels of the War to End All Wars, followed by Korea, Viet Nam, Grenada, Panama, Serbia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iraq again, and I am sure I am forgetting something along the way, taught us nothing other than grown men seem not to be able to settle conflicts with reason. Toward the end of his life, my father eschewed violence of any sort as a solution to the problems we face. I applaud him for that.
But closer to the overall theme of this blog, during his lifetime, my dad twice battled cancer and survived. His first bout came in 1970 when he was a mere 59 years old. Diagnosed with Squamous cell carcinoma of the lung. After a long period of diagnosis topped off with an extensive resection of his lungs, he was given but 6 months to live. 25 years later, aged 84, he finally succumbed to pulmonary fibrosis, perhaps a long-term after effect of his radiation treatment. The fact that he survived as long as he did is a testament to why one must be quite careful when looking at mortality statistics.
When he was a bit older than 70, he was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma of the prostate (they say this disease runs in families and that if one’s father had the disease then the son is likely to get it as well). His prostate was successfully removed and he lived a full life for an additional 14 years.
This Veteran’s Day I somehow reflected back on my father’s experience with cancer. Some people argued that he was just too damn angry to let a little thing like his two bouts with cancer defeat him. Others said he was too nice a guy to be struck down by his genes. I think it was neither. When he was told to go home and put his affairs in order, he chose to do otherwise. He faithfully showed up at his oncologist’s office each month, getting sick when he walked into the lobby of the building, for his experimental chemotherapy. He did this for nearly two years until he was pronounced cured. He continued to show up for his x-ray scans and other tests for recurrence as well. The long and short of it is that he did what he was told, he surrendered to the expertise of his medical team. He did the very same when it came to his prostate cancer, surrendering to the doctors. He knew they knew more than he did about these things.
I learned a great deal about how to face serious disease from him. My friends call me the bionic man, having had three joints replaced and a lumbar fusion all due to significant osteoarthritis. I am no stranger to debilitating pain or the operating room for that matter. After all but one of these orthopedic procedures I have followed my physical therapist’s exercise protocol both in his office and at home and, while complaining from time to time, I still followed the discipline because I was told to do so. This is the way I approach my medical challenges; to follow the advice of the professionals. As my own surgery approaches I see no reason to alter my approach. I am focused on the moment and on doing what I am expected to do to contribute to my own recovery. All this I learned from my father, the World War II veteran.