BY HALEY DOBSON, JMC3023
By the time my sisters and I arrived at the hospital late that Friday morning, my family took up half of the spacious waiting room on the fifth floor at St. Anthony Hospital.
We were used to celebrations in waiting rooms, tending to fill them with extended family when babies are born. We joked about the coolers with a few bottles of wine my aunt always sneaks past nurses to celebrate a new baby joining the family.
So waiting for my dad to get out of surgery was different.
We fell silent when the doctor came in…
Days before, my phone rang during an hour between classes while I killed time in the Union. I had made it through the first week of my senior year of college, and without much to work on yet I mindlessly scrolled through Facebook.
It was the time of day my mom usually calls to check in on me, and I answered expecting the usual conversation.
She asked about my day, and I told her I was almost done with my classes for the week.
Her tone changed, and she told me I might need to go home to Oklahoma City that night.
“What’s the occasion?” I asked, figuring it might be a family dinner with my two sisters and their children, who all live within a few miles of my parents.
She explained how three days earlier my dad went into the doctor with a sore throat.
That he had come out with news that he kept to himself for two days.
That he did so because he did not know how to tell anyone.
“A spot on his tonsils lit up on the CT scan,” she said. “He will have surgery next week and radiation after that.”
We talked for about 10 minutes and the word cancer was never said, but it was stuck in my head for the rest of the day. I slowly walked to class with an anxious feeling in my chest. Part of me wanted to tell everyone. Maybe talking about it would make it feel more normal.
I ended up talking about it with only my family because I thought maybe it would go away if no one else talked about it.
My 58-year-old dad is a busy businessman with a very healthy lifestyle. A private man, not a sick man. So people talking about him at all, much less his health in the days that followed, was strange to me.
When my grandfather died of an aggressive form of skin cancer four years ago, the rest of the family saw my dad as the new patriarch of the family. He had already taken over the family business decades before, and he goes to the office almost every day. Those who know him love hearing him talk to a crowd. Some said his speech was the best part of my sister’s wedding.
Everyone praised him for his speech at his dad’s funeral and how strong he was for holding the family together during that hard time. I did not see him cry until two months later around Christmas.
I thought about these things all week and went home the day before his surgery, where doctors would remove his tonsils along with any surrounding mass or tumors they might find.
We have always been close and it seems like we often travel in one large group wherever we go. My dad’s mom even came back from her summer home in Colorado to be with all of us.
While we waited, in the days after learning the news and even while sitting in the waiting room, it’s not uncommon to re-evaluate your life choices. We are all a little reckless in our own selfish ways. My dad had quit using chewing tobacco when he first heard it might be cancer, which was something none of us thought he would ever do.
This process — wherever it was leading us — had been a wake up call for him. My Mema went as far to say it could have been a sign from God for him to quit.
Back in the waiting room, the doctor took a seat next to my fearful mother.
“Surgery went well,” he said, “the tumor was benign.”
We could be loud and celebrate again. Tears filled all of our eyes.
No radiation needed.
Just a week long recovery from the tonsillectomy. Still, the anxiety remained in my chest knowing it would be a difficult recovery, not only for my dad, but also for my mom as his caretaker.
My dad is a quiet person at times, but he will not hesitate to let you know if something is bothering him. He and my mom would be spending more time together in a week than they have possibly spent in their entire 33 years of marriage.
He would go without solid foods, spoken words or a trip to the office to do work for the week. All were things I was pessimistic about, until I saw my dad in the recovery room with tears on his face as he gave me two thumbs up. This was the first time I had seen him cry since his dad died, but I knew seeing him that there was nothing but optimism on his mind.
Then I knew everything was going to be OK.