After the first few days of shock, we immediately went into hyper drive. Being a physician, I was front and center in all the research for lung cancer, translating the results into layman’s terms for my family. My husband was my partner in all of these, helping me explain to the family all the medical jargon and plans that we were going to do. There were days that I felt very tired and desperate but I could not show it to my family. As a doctor, I felt a dire need to make everything right because we trust the science. But as a sister, I often questioned myself, “How do I translate the numbers when I myself am in pain?” “How do I explain the odds when I refuse to accept the inevitable?” “How do I remain factual when my emotions seem to cloud my judgment?” We are Catholic and our faith in God’s plans is the only thing that makes us transcend our humanly understanding of what is happening to us.
One year into Carla’s diagnosis, Dad and I accompanied her to her oncologist. Dad used to smoke but he quit cold turkey when Carla was born because he had angina. We were doing chest x-rays every 2-3 months because he kept on complaining of cough. Nothing ever came up with the x-rays. The doctor suggested getting a CT scan. And so we did…
There were 2 masses on 2 lobes of his right lung but since the area was inaccessible, doctors have decided to do an open lung biopsy and proceed to pneumonectomy or taking one entire lung out if the cancer was localized. This was in March 2013. Celeste just recently petitioned mom as a US permanent resident. I was then graduating from residency training. Carla was still on her first year of Erlotinib, so I could not involve her too much on the legwork. I was relying on my brother to help me with all the hospital stuff once again, preparing everything for Dad’s surgery. Mom and Celeste came home. They came without me needing to ask. I knew I could not make major decisions by myself.
If I was tired before, now, I was beyond exhausted. I kept asking God why He keeps on throwing these hurdles along our way. We were a close-knit family, went to church regularly and prayed unceasingly but it felt like the suffering would not end. Why us? My husband and I have seen death and dying countless number of times but it was just too surreal and beyond imaginable that it could happen to any one of our family members anytime. I was a product of science, where there is an answer to almost everything. There is always a plan after another one fails. There is always a percentage of hope even in the most miserable of states. I was trained to comfort the sick and their families, being composed yet compassionate. I was taught how to encourage those who have lost hope, to help them understand the reason for their suffering. I felt betrayed by the very profession that I love, that I could heal others but not save my own.
I told Dad that he might be sedated for a few days after the surgery. I told him that when he woke up with just one lung that meant the cancer was localized and the surgery was a success. The biopsy of the lymph nodes around the right lung came back negative. So in one sunny morning of March 2013, my dad awoke to my thumbs up sign, telling him that everything will be ok and that we have a new Pope who had also lost one lung in his childhood.
Dad had stage III non-small cell lung adenocarcinoma. He had adjuvant chemotherapy for a few months. Although it pained me to see my dad, the head of the family, so weak and gaunt, there was hope of complete recovery. My graduation speech that year was a mess because I could not stop crying. Carla and Dad, along with Bud and my husband, were in the crowd, trying to hold back tears themselves. My dad was in remission.