This past week, while Karen underwent her fourth chemo treatment in Philadelphia, over 1100 miles away in Woodbury, Minnesota, her Dad sat in a similar blue recliner as toxic chemo drugs ran through an IV line into his veins and raced through his bloodstream in search of hyperactive cancer cells.
While Karen is battling breast cancer, her father, Dick, is battling prostate cancer.
It's a dark reality: a father and daughter fighting their own cancers and enduring lengthy chemo treatments at the same time. Separated by five states, they find themselves on similar paths hoping to -- no, determined to -- beat cancer and move on with their lives.
Sharing this disease can give way to a multitude of empathetic emotions between father and daughter. Yet, it's also a strange, almost awkward, bond to share. Is it somehow easier for Dick, who’s left with tiny wisps of a white crew cut after months of Taxotere, to relate to the trauma that Karen is facing with her own hair loss? I know that it's difficult for Karen to be so far away from her dad at this time.
They speak little of their fate or their fears, or the details of their treatments. Instead, they share useful tips, like Dairy Queen strawberry milkshakes, Dick's near-daily elixir for taste buds that have all but lost their receptors for flavor -- unless you consider metal a flavor, and Karen’s craving for scrambled eggs and spinach to ward off nausea.
Dick fights his battle with a “play-the-cards-you're-dealt” acceptance and a determination to get out on the golf course as often as possible. But they haven't been easy cards to play. Only retired a few years, he's already endured quintuple heart bypass surgery, radiation for his prostate cancer and now a long chemotherapy regimen. This isn't exactly how Hallmark or Charles Schwab portray the golden years, but he never complains. Dick still finds great joy in his Saturday morning golf games, his weekly cardiac workouts and a good book curled up with his dog, Bella.
Sadly, cancer is no stranger to Karen's family. Her mother, Kathy, valiantly fought colon cancer, losing her battle after four difficult years in which she tried every drug imaginable in an effort to have more time with her grandchildren. Karen's stepmother, Nancy, bravely fought cancer as a new mother, beating Hodgkin’s Disease some 25 years ago when the anti-nausea drugs were not anywhere near as potent as they are now. And Karen's cousin, Larry, took on colon cancer with his trademark guts and wicked sense of humor right until the end.
One thing we have learned from Karen’s loved ones is that there is great strength and faith in this family and they have all shown Karen how to fight cancer with courage, dignity and grace.