Two months ago my dad called and as soon as I heard the sound of his voice I knew something was wrong.
“Hi, Honey,” he said softly. “Do you have a couple of minutes?” Instinctively my eyes welled up with tears and I could feel my throat constrict.
“Yes,” I said, bracing myself for the news he was about to deliver. His voice uncharacteristically cracked with emotion as he told me he had esophageal cancer. Feeling the quick onset of a throbbing headache and a shortness of breath I failed to stop myself from crying out loud.
“I don’t want you to worry,” he said. “I’ll be going for tests and we’ll find out what can be done. I’ll keep you informed. Just think positive thoughts, okay? There’s nothing we can’t handle.”
After our conversation ended and I hung up the phone I no longer tried to control my sorrow and allowed myself to weep with abandon.
Ken White was only 67 years old and had just retired in May. He was full of life and excited about the future. He’d been diagnosed with skin cancer and a slow-growing leukemia not long ago – both of which he’d downplayed as nothing to be concerned about. But this new discovery of a life-threatening tumor in his lower esophagus was alarming.
I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening in a haze. I tried to only think optimistically as he requested, but I found myself emotionally raw and physically drained, breaking down in tears several times over the next few days. After our mother’s death less than a year prior I’d convinced myself that our healthy father would live to be at least 100 years old.
Over the next couple of weeks, as he went for tests and we waited for results I got better at carrying out his wishes to only think positively, and when he called with an update I fully expected him to tell me the cancer was treatable. When my hopes were met I cried again, but this time with tears of joy.
“We’re going to fight this aggressively, Kiddo,” my dad said, detailing the weekly chemotherapy and daily radiation treatments for the entire month of December. “Hopefully the tumor will decrease in size and the surgeon will be able to remove it in the new year.”
As promised, Dad kept us updated with his progress, even sending smiling pictures of himself hooked up to an IV getting his chemo.
Since he was advised to avoid crowds and public places so his weakened immune system wouldn’t be challenged, we weren’t sure if we’d have the opportunity to see him at Christmas. Fortunately his doctors approved a visit from us providing we were in good health.
My children, husband, brothers, sister-in-law, nephews, uncle, grandma and I arrived at Dad’s place on Boxing Day at 11 am at his request. When we got to the door his wife said he was resting and summoned us into the living room. We visited quietly for awhile until we were suddenly interrupted by a jolly good bellowing of “Ho Ho Ho! Merry Christmas!”
Looking up in surprise, I watched my father enter the room wearing a Santa outfit and beard, ringing a bell and handing out gift cards to everyone.
Again I felt my eyes well up with tears of joy.
It was one of those moments I’ll never forget. Not because it caught us off guard in such a sweet and wonderful way, but because it so completely captured the essence of this man who always seems to react to everything with an optimistic frame of mind.
“My cup is never half empty,” he’s often said over the years. And from a lifetime of observing how he’s chosen to think, his cup isn’t just half full, it’s running over.
Dad’s jovial outlook has been an incredible blessing to our family. But the gift we cherish most is his unconditional love and support – something we adoringly give right back.