This post is part of a series of guest posts by the authors contributing to Triumph Over Tragedy. They will spontaneously appear over the next few weeks. I have asked authors to write about how life experiences affect their writing (or reading).
Thanks to the authors for taking time out of their lives to write these guest posts.
As always, you can check out more about Triumph Over Tragedy, or donate here.
I should note, R. T. Kaelin is the man who dreamed up this project, and he also has a wonderful story in it. Hats off to him, because none of this would have happened without his time and effort. On a personal note, the type of cancer he talks about here is the kind of cancer I’m currently battling. My heart goes out to him and his family. Cancer is a disease that affects the entire family tree, not just one branch of it. I’m honored to host this very emotional, very raw post honoring his father.
About the Author
When I was 16, doctors diagnosed my father with thyroid cancer. They called it a ‘good cancer,’ as oxymoronic a term as I have ever heard. Their reasoning? Most types of thyroid cancer are curable. They removed what they could, treated the rest with radioactive iodine, and life went on.
The thing I remember most about that time? We ate less salt. Dad’s post-op treatment included taking radioactive iodine that the remnants of his thyroid would collect, effectively killing itself off. Table salt has iodine and therefore diminishes the effect of the treatment. Therefore, less salt at the Kaelin dinner table.
It seems selfish that that is what I remember. But it is. When you’re 16, you are the center of your universe, everyone revolves around you, and OMG why can’t my parents just understand me?! Your worldview is woefully incomplete. Perspective is non-existent.
19 years have passed. I’ve gained life experience. And perspective. Lots of perspective. Best of all? I’ve had Dad around for my high school and college graduations, my wedding, the birth of my two kids. You know, life.
About four years back, Dad started losing his voice. It cracked at first, degraded to a rasp, and eventually faded to a constant whisper. Doctors found nodules on his vocal cord and removed them. They were benign, yet pre-cancerous. For the past four years, they have kept close eye on him. He’s had at least five more surgeries to remove additional nodules as they repeatedly grow back.
Two weeks ago, doctors removed a large mass from his vocal cords and surrounding tissue. Worried, they ordered a scan of his head, neck, and chest. A couple days later, we learned Dad now has a very aggressive form of cancer. Recommended treatment is the removal of the larynx along with extensive radiation and chemotherapy. If that were to work—a very big if—he’d have an artificial trachea, no sense of smell, and be mute.
The prognosis, if they do nothing, is bad. Yet that is exactly what Dad is doing.
He made his mind up prior to the surgery that if things were this dire, he would not seek treatment. The last four years have been very hard on him physically, emotionally, and psychologically. He effectively has not been able to hold a conversation with anyone unless it is in a perfectly silent room. He feels isolated. Alone. The frustration on his face, in his eyes, is clear.
About a year ago, he and my stepmom moved from Cincinnati to Phoenix, hoping to enjoy the sunny, hot weather in their retirement. My family—wife and two kids, aged eight and five—was looking forward to years of visiting them out there, swimming in their pool and baking in the Arizona sun. That won’t happen now.
My wife and I have invited them to come back to cold and gray Ohio to stay with us for a while. The holidays are coming and I’d like to have Dad spend some time with his only grandkids. Especially Christmas morning. I want pictures.
Dad is a good man. A proud, honorable, and sometimes stubborn man. He’s faced a litany of challenges and has pushed through them all with more grace and resolve than most could manage.
When he was two, he contracted polio in his leg, just before the vaccine came to be. He had countless surgeries as a child to keep his legs the same length, yet has suffered a rather pronounced limp his whole life. The physical stress of that has caused lower back issues, slipped disks, etc. Yet he refused to let that stop him. He was my little league coach, heading up an absolutely horrible team. We won six games in four years. Yet the kids—and parents—did not care. He was loved and respected by everyone as he ensured that every kid played no matter how good or bad he was. Hint: most of us weren’t good.
My parents separated when I was eight. I lived with Dad after the divorce. I know he did everything he could to make our life happy and normal, yet I remember him being sad a lot. Still, he pushed through, a strong and proud soul.
A few years after the divorce, he met someone and remarried. It went from being me and dad (I’m an only child) to me, Dad, my stepmother, and two stepsiblings, both of whom were younger than me. It was good. We took vacations, went to Reds games, spent weekends at my grandparents in Indiana. My stepsiblings ceased to be ‘step’ anything. They are my brother and sister.
Dad was a teacher for twenty-five plus years. Geography and American History for seventh and eighth grade. He loved his job and was damn good at it, approaching it with the same firm yet fair approach he used raising me. His students loved him, a fact to which I can directly attest as I attended the school where he taught. At the time, it seemed an awful situation. A twelve or thirteen year old going to school every day and seeing your father there? Yikes. Now, however, I love having that as a part of my past. I got to see him four or five times extra per day than most kids. And if I forgot lunch money, hey, no problem.
Dad’s been incredibly supportive of me in all I do, giving advice when I ask for it, as well as offering it when I don’t ask but probably should. He has helped guide me in my personal life as a husband, father, homeowner. He has supported me in my career as a ‘software guy,’ using me as his own personal tech support whenever something goes wrong with his PC. And he has been one of my biggest cheerleaders in my quest to change paths and become a writer.
Now, Dad and I have our differences, of course. Things on which we don’t see eye to eye.
He’s a Republican. I’m not.
He’s religious. I’m not.
He likes bacon on his pizza. I find that a horrid thought.
But he’s my dad. And I love him.
These author posts are supposed to be about how we have triumphed over some tragedy in our personal lives. Well, this one is different. I’m in the midst of a tragedy. These next couple of months will be difficult for my family and me. I know that.
This is just the first step of a crummy journey, but one in which I am going to consciously pay as much attention to the good and happy while trying to not dwell on the sad. I am choosing to triumph over this tragedy. I hope I can.
Thanks for letting my share my father with you. That’s it. I’m done now.
Oh, there’s one last thing: my dad’s name is Tom.