My Trip with Dad
By Jerry Brantley, Jr.
Sometimes you think you are doing something to help someone. Sometimes you think you are called
upon because people need you. I feel that way often. My wife needs me, my daughter needs me. I am there to help my friends when they call, I will be there for family, etc.
Today I took my dad to Iowa City to visit with Medical specialist to discuss how they are going to treat his cancer because I thought he needed me. He had called me a couple of days ago asking if I was busy Thursday morning and to tell me his wife could not take him and wondered if I would go. I told him let me check my schedule and I would call him back. Now you may be thinking what kind of asshole tells their dad that they have to check their schedule, but I am that kind of asshole. I honor my commitments, and I wanted to make sure that I hadn’t agreed to do something in that time frame. My word is my bond! I got home looked at my calendar saw it was open, and called Dad immediately and said I will be there.
Last night before leaving I had a bad feeling, I kept thinking there is something I don’t know, something Dad is not telling me, he doesn’t usually ask for stuff like this. I am wondering if he wants to use the 2 hour drive to tell me something. I wonder if there is something that he knows that doctors are going to say that he needs me to hear first hand. I told my wife this and she said, well make sure to go and ask a lot of questions and hopefully you will get answers.
We left at 6:00 am this morning, and made the drive from Des Moines to Iowa City. The drive was
smooth, not a lot of traffic and Dad and I talked the whole way. About Sports, about life, and he also for the first time let me in on the things he goes through battling his cancer. It has given him lesions on his skin, that itch terribly, to the point where he has to take sleeping medicine (that doesn’t work) to get to sleep through the night without itching. He still wakes up itching, and also the skin growths fill up with puss, that will leak on to his pillow or hand, so he sleeps with a rag in is hand so that he is not leaving puss everywhere. He also has these lesions in his ears and can’t reach them, there other more gruesome things I will leave out. I wouldn’t describe my dad as vain at all but he has always taken pride in his appearance. So much so that two years ago when I showed up to his house at 33 yrs of age, and I had on brown wingtip shoes that were scuffed I got a 30 min lecture, and spent the next 20 mins shining my shoes. To this day I now don’t wear my wingtips outside to avoid scuffing them. One of the things about his disease that affects him the most is the fact that he doesn’t like what he sees in the mirror. It’s easy to tell someone that you don’t care about how they look, that you love them and just want them to be healthy, but in saying that we forget about the person actually suffering. I had said that before to my dad, and I apologized on our ride up. Not because he was upset, or even pointing out that it bothered him, but because as I reflected on it and put myself in his shoes, I would get tired of people saying Jerry we don’t care about how you look we just love you. I would be thinking the whole time well that’s nice but I F&*CK*&G CARE ABOUT HOW I LOOK!!!
We got to the hospital and started walking into the Cancer Center. This as I said earlier is the first time Dad had asked me to come along, so it is the first time I got to make this walk. I will tell you when I saw the words “Cancer Center” a wave of emotions went through me. I felt my stomach drop like I was on tip of a roller coaster that was heading downwards. I wanted to tear up, but I fought it back. Brantley men are tough, and I was there for my dad.
We got to the office and were called in. A very helpful nurse came in and took information. She gave him a gown and asked him to change. When she left he asked me not to be too grossed out from the things all over his body. I thought you are my Dad you could have a second head growing out of your belly button and I will still love you.
Later a Resident of the facility came in. She said she had read the chart but asked dad the main reason he was here today. This as you may understand irked him a bit. He has been suffering with this rare form of cancer for years. He has seen many doctors and had been misdiagnosed with Eczema, Psoriasis, and MRSA infections. Finally when nothing was helping he went to an ER Dr. who sent him to Iowa City where they finally figured out it was a cancer - Mycosis Fungoides Lymphoma. This is a very rare disease which is why it was not diagnosed properly. So he has had many trips to Iowa City, has had pictures taken, biopsies taken, been poked and prodded and whatever you could imagine. So when the young resident asked why he was here today, he grew a little agitated. He explained a story that I could tell he has told time and time again, and ended by saying, “I am here because I want to get some answers on treatment, I am a little tired of being poked and prodded and not hearing anything.” She assured that when we left today they would prescribe a treatment. She was going to go talk with the other doctors, a skin specialist and a Hodgkin’s Lymphoma specialist, to put the game plan together.
At this point my dad and I both relaxed. The two doctors came in later accompanied by the resident. The first doctor had my dad go through his story again, to be thorough and make sure they understood the full picture. Dad told the story less agitated this time because he knew that something was going to come out of this. I can’t imagine how painful his wait has been to get a treatment. The doctor explained the reason it took so long is because they had to get all the facts, and really look at the puzzle to make sure they fully understood what Dad has and the best way to go about. How severe it was, what “flavor” of cancer it was (which was his fun way of saying what are the cells doing and attacking), which dad asked “So do you think strawberry or watermelon!!” and ultimately the best way to fight it. The second doctor had not said anything really but his foot had not stopped tapping the whole time he had been in there. So the first doctor turned it over to the second who was the specialist with Lymphoma. His first words were “since reading your charts and now seeing you I have been chomping at the bit to get to you. I can tell you are in pain and I am confident that we can treat this and control it. It is not curable, but it is controllable. There is something comforting about a doctor that’s excited to get you taken care of; who realizes that you are suffering and wants to help. I also appreciated the word “controllable” in that sentence because to me that meant it was not life threatening.
Since I heard my father had cancer, and the doctors thought it could have spread in his body, I had been consumed with the thought of losing my father. How I would make sure my little brother and sister were ok, what would I need to do to take care of family, basically writing his eulogy in my head. I know if he goes I am the patriarch of the family, and that is a duty I don’t take lightly.
It had been on my mind so much, that without knowing I think it closed me off a little to family and
friends. I cried the day I heard about it, but then really didn’t want too afterwards. I didn’t talk about it a whole lot because that made it more real. One of my best friends even called me out saying “you haven’t said boo about your dad since you told me he had cancer.” I simply said I wasn’t ready to talk about it. I even found myself down a little at Christmas, I thought it had something to do with not feeling like I gave my wife and daughter enough this year, but now I know that was not it. I couldn’t fully enjoy the holiday not knowing what my dad’s fate was.
My dad was prescribed a pill form of Chemo; that will hopefully help. I say hopefully because being a specialist he let us know that the treatments prescribed may or may not work on different patients, and they have no way of knowing until they try. “We will try X and it doesn’t work we will try Y, if Y doesn’t work we will try Z, but we will figure it out.” My dad and I were both excited about the prospect of him getting this treated. We thanked the Drs. and were on our way. In the car ride home we stopped at the diner, we talked more sports, Dad shared stories about watching me play football in high school and college, and how proud it made him. We talked about marriages plural as we have both been married multiple times, and we talked about leadership and life lessons. He said one of the things he appreciates about me is that I am a consummate professional, I need things scheduled, which is why he was never mad when I told him I would check my schedule…”you have
always been that way. When you were a kid you were never late, you always did what you said you
would. I have always appreciated that about you.”
He also told me something that hit me like a 100 lb weight. Truth be told I had been worried Dad had
not been as aggressive as I would like getting answers, I told him before I left Christmas night, that if he didn’t have answers by Jan 4th, I was taking him to the Mayo Clinic in MN. I am not defiant or
authoritative with my dad. He is and has always been my hero. But this time he said he could tell I was serious and he wasn’t going to fight me. So during our drive home he told me “son thank you for driving me today. I knew this would be a good trip for both of us. I hear how serious you were at Christmas and I wanted you to meet the doctors and see the people working with me, and know that I am getting good care, and I knew if you heard it yourself from them it would make you worry less, which would help me worry less". WOW! My dad fighting cancer, going through stuff that as he described he would rather have four hip surgeries then go through, wanted me to take him not because he needed it, but because I needed it.
Again I was rushed with emotions, but I didn’t tear up… Brantley men are tough.
Our ride home was great, Dad and I had not spent this much time together in a long time. I dropped
him off he thanked me again, and this time I thanked him. He walked into his house I backed out of the driveway, and I cried. I cried for 25 damn minutes on my way home, I am crying as I type this right now. At first I thought why am I crying, and smiling at the same time? Well sooner or later the emotion you hold in makes it way out. It has been knocking at the door for a couple months now, and finally I let it out. Happy tears, because my dad is ok, tears because I am in awe of a man going through cancer who has enough love for his son to bring him on this trip to help him see. Sad tears because I know I haven’t been the Husband, or father that I could because my mind was preoccupied. I blamed it on being busy, work, life etc.… but really it was because I just hadn’t been happy.
So I thank my Dad. Thank you for asking me on this trip, thank you for knowing your son. You will never have to fight this alone, I will always have your back, and I hope to mean to my child or children what you do to me. He said to me that as men grow older we grow in wisdom. We look at things differently. I can honestly say, I took a trip today, which changed me forever.