As I reflect on Father’s Day, I can’t help but think back on what a wonderful father I was blessed to have. When I was 9 years old, I was obsessed with the Winter Olympics skiing events and pleaded with my dad to take me skiing. Hidden Valley was a relatively small family run operation at the time and was located about 15 miles from home. So my dad, who worked on the railroad and would probably have rather stayed home to rest and watch TV, took me to the slopes, and so it began. From that day on until I moved to Florida in 2005, I was hooked, and over the years, as the resort continued to grow, I went from a recreational skier to a Certified Ski Instructor, teaching up until I moved.
My father was extremely upset when my husband left me and my 3 children. He just hated to see his little girl so upset. That was a really rough time. I wasn’t working because my husband and I made the decision that I should resign from my teaching job. So, I was left with 3 children ages 5, 2 and 9 months. Fortunately, my skiing family was there for support and help, along with my dad. When my oldest son was in first grade, my dad would pick him up from school every day. Dad would make it fun for him.
And so it went until 2005. I had been able to find another music teaching job in a different school district. I loved the school staff, I loved the kids and I loved my job. (A lot of you already know some of this but bear with me.) I’m flashing forward because this is about my dad. During those years my parents attended every single football game, every single dance recital (poor dad), every play, every graduation…you get the picture.
In 2005, I was offered a job as the chorus/orchestra teacher for Cypress Lake Middle School in Fort Myers, Florida, where my brother lived. (Long story…there’s probably a blog about that.) I really hadn’t planned on being offered a job when I dropped some applications around, but a little voice kept telling me that I should go. So off I went. The little voice was happy. Of course my dad came with me because he didn’t want me to drive a loaded SUV alone from the Pittsburgh area to Southwest Florida. I’d like to think that he also wanted to spend every last minute with me.
One of the requirements for my new position was to get a physical. I was relatively young, strong and healthy, so off I went to the nearest MedExpress. And that, my friends, is when my life as I knew it changed. I was in a daze as my sister-in-law took me for scans and then to a thoracic surgeon’s office. The next thing I knew, my dad was by my side at a hospital as I went through the admission process, offering to pay my co-pay. Somewhere along the way I was told that I had Stage IIA Lung Cancer which was so absurd. I had an upper left lobe resection, and through the fog of the first few days, I was aware of my parents being there. They came every day for the entire day with my dad insisting on getting me a chocolate milkshake from Steak and Shake every day.
When I was discharged, my parents came to stay with me and take care of me. (My kids were in college at the time.) My dad cooked for me every day and made sure I ate. Then some of my wonderful cousins took turns caring for me. I slowly got stronger and returned to work.
A couple years later it was discovered that the cancer had metastasized to my liver. I underwent my first clinical trial along with radiation, continuing to work. I gradually got weaker and weaker as I lost my appetite and my weight plummeted. I ended up being hospitalized with “failure to thrive” also known as extreme toxicity because of the aggressive treatment. Again, I was aware that my parents were in my room all day. My daughter had also moved down and was staying with me. Things were very dire. I couldn’t eat. My poor dad would be in tears as he tried to get me to eat. I remember him saying, “please eat honey”. I would turn my head and curl back up. He would cry.
I finally got discharged because there wasn’t anything more that could be done. Again, my parents stayed with us, my dad doing his best to coax me to eat. I finally started turning the corner. (Long story involving my youngest son taking over my care.) I was so happy when I was able to get back to work. (I had the most supportive principal ever!) Things finally were back to normal with me getting chemo then going to work . Then Dec. 18, 2012 came along. Ugh!!
This was the last day of school before Christmas break and I had a show to put on for the school involving two choruses and one orchestra. It was a big deal! I awoke that morning to the ringing of my cell phone. It was the band director wondering if he should take my kids. I was very confused and shocked when he told me what time it was. I was NEVER late! I threw on some clothes and bolted. (That call probably saved my life.)
I got there and got situated and then it was showtime. I had conducted the Advanced Chorus and was conducting the Chamber Orchestra when I started feeling weird. I told my Panther Singers (my elite choir) that they were on their own. The sound guy had all the tracks. I slumped into a chair, the principal came and sat beside me, I passed out. The last thing I remembered was hearing sirens.
I don’t remember anything after that. Apparently, the radiation I had a few years earlier had caused an ulcer that ate through my stomach wall, my diaphragm and some other stuff causing a “pericardial fistula”. My situation was dire and my family was told that I probably wouldn’t make it through the night. Because of a very skilled and creative surgeon, I made it through that night. Again, my parents spent every day in my room, so I’m told. By this time, my parents were older and we had moved them down to Fort Myers. My recovery was much more complicated this time what with pic lines and such…things my father couldn’t do. Yet, they came to where I was staying just about every day. And every day my dad would ask me if I needed anything. It was a question he asked every day when he called me or when I would visit him. I saved many of his voice mails. Voice mails that I still can’t bring myself to listen to.
I miss my dad. He passed away August 11, 2017, exactly four months after my mother’s passing on April 11, 2017.
“Do you need anything honey?” Yes dad. I need you.