My father had three kinds of cancer last year: basal cell carcinoma caused by sunburns as a kid, a low grade leukemia that needs to be monitored twice a year, and in the winter he was diagnosed with an advanced stage of esophagus cancer which had him fighting for his life.
Fortunately, it was a fight he had a chance of winning.
Like any challenge my dad’s ever had, he approached the devastating diagnosis with perseverance and optimism. I remember him telling me right from the start that his goal was to beat this thing and get healthy enough to go on his annual golf trip with the guys in May. And lo and behold, he just did.
Last week on his 68th birthday weekend, he and his seven friends traveled up from the Greater Vancouver area to Kelowna for five rounds of golf at five different courses. The guys were well aware of the ordeal my dad had gone through with aggressive chemotherapy and radiation treatments followed by a radical surgery to remove most of his esophagus and part of his stomach. Some of his friends didn’t expect him to make the trip and were visibly thrilled when he did.
“Take it easy out here,” one of them advised when they got on the course. “Just do what you can. You don’t have to make every shot.”
With his energy level and strength not up to par, my dad thought that was sound advice.
“But after I ended up with the lowest score on the first day, their sympathy ended,” he giggled before explaining that a low score was a good thing in golf.
He didn’t need to clarify that to someone with both a father and a husband who are avid golfers, but that’s my dad for you. He likes to be clear and he likes to be understood.
And for that reason, he’s kept his family and friends informed about his cancer treatments since a plan of action was first figured out. Over email he would send us brief progress reports written with his signature positive attitude that probably helped us cope with the frightening situation as much as it helped him.
The best one by far was his post surgery update after all the detectable cancer had been successfully removed and had not spread to his other organs. I cried tears of joy reading that, even though he’d previously told me the wonderful news over the phone.
“I still have to get X-rayed every three months to make sure it doesn’t show up again,” he said. “But I don’t think it will.” It won’t if a good attitude has anything to do with it. I believe my dad’s sense of humour has helped in his healing as well, and it’s definitely what led to the annual golf trips he attends.
“It all started with a business lunch I was on about 25 years ago,” he said. “At one point I let out a laugh and a guy at a nearby table turned around and said ‘You’re Ken White!”
Even though my dad hadn’t seen this man since they were in grade eight together – almost 30 years prior – he immediately responded with an excited “Chris!”
After catching up with him later and discovering a mutual love of golf, my dad was invited on his former school chum’s annual golf trip and has been going ever since.
“It’s a great group of guys,” he said. “And they’ve been worried about me lately.”
He felt good spending time with his friends and showing them how much better he was doing. “With all my cuts and scars they said I looked like I’d been in a drive by shooting,” he joked.
He’s also much slimmer. Down from his regular waist size of 34 inches to a svelte 30 inches, he’s doing his best to take in enough calories to regain his health, which is a challenge with the rewiring of his insides and the amount he’s able to consume. He now has to be careful what he eats and listen to his body more than ever.
And he knows his mind needs just as much attention. After focusing on his main goal of attending his annual golf trip and achieving that, he has a new plan to assist in his recovery.
“I’m going to continue improving my strength, flexibility and skills so I can win every one of my golf games,” he said.
For someone who fought cancer and won the battle, I think he’s got an excellent chance. If he fails, who cares? He’s alive and well, and that’s all that matters.