He was wheeled in, it took 20 minutes for my Mother and I to slowly get my Father down the stairs, both of us flanking each side of him. I was holding my father up, timing his step with my step. He would wince and groan with every step, in complete agony, his feet swollen from all the medication, and cancer that was coursing through his body, killing every last healthy cell. I could feel him leaning into me, I was stronger than my Mother, I could hold what little of a body frame my Father had left, he would lean in, and hold on with what strength he had left.
We would get him to the car, and carefully help him swing his legs into the passenger side, and buckle him in. He would wince, and moan as the seatbelt would hit him in all the wrong places. He was in absolute agony.
I would run back into the house, and get the wheelchair, and throw it in the trunk, and climb into the backseat. My Mother would drive to the hospital to the entrance, and I would step out, and begin the process of getting my Father out of the car. My Mother not able to do it by herself. I would shift his legs out of the car, and he would wrap his arms around me, so I could pull him up and then we would do a little dance turn, and I would sit him in the wheel chair. With every movement, his body felt like it would break, the cancer had taken so much out of him.
I would wheel him up to the front, and check in for his weekly appointment at the cancer ward, my Mother would go and park, while I would tell my Father jokes, and laugh about something crazy we would be able to do soon. That lie somehow made everything feel better, like in that moment, he could miraculously get well, and walk out of the cancer centre cancer free. My Mother would arrive out of breath from running from the parking garage to the centre, making sure she didn’t miss a bit of the appointment.
I sat quietly watching my Mother and Father holding hands, the love between them was always palpable, they were so deeply in love with each other.
The doctor came out, and ushered my parents to the room. I sat outside, waiting, just waiting.
The door opened, and my Mother motioned to me to take the wheelchair, I took over, and rolled my Father out of the doorway. I overheard my Mother sharply speak to the doctor “You will address my husband with respect, and speak to him by his name. He is not defined by his cancer, he has served this country, represented this country, and been under fire. He is not just your patient with a number, he is a human being. You have done nothing but dress him down, and curtly speak to him. You could learn a lot from my husband on diplomacy and bedside manners.”
My Mother has always claimed she speaks up and defends people. I can honestly say, she has never done such a thing. She has always been a people pleaser, and a woman who has never wanted to rock the boat. This time, she was so angry, I could hear her grief, her sorrow, and her piercing anger. She wanted the doctor, the staff and the world to know, that my Father was never going to be defined by his cancer, that he was always more than that, and should be treated as such.
I remember vividly, my father smiling, and chuckling. He was proud that my Mother stuck up for him, and became his voice. We began to walk away, and the nurse turned and said goodbye to my Father, and addressed him by his name.
The next time we came for an appointment, the Dr. looked at my Father, and addressed him, looked at him, and acknowledged him. In that moment, my Father wasn’t just a cancer patient, he became a diplomat who just happened to have cancer.