7 Ways My Views On Love Changed When My Dad Got Cancer

My first half-marathon in October 2013

My first half-marathon in October 2013

“Cancer” is one of those words that always sounds scary, but never feels real until someone you love is personally diagnosed. My dad slipped that word into conversation while my family sat at a Mexican restaurant in my hometown, eating guacamole and sipping on margaritas.

Even though I thought something was up — my parents had been oddly quiet for several weeks — the confirmation was still hard to swallow.

For the last two years, my dad has had six surgeries, and we just found out earlier this week he has to have another. His appendix burst, revealing colon cancer.

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My Dad: The (Cancer) Fighter

Last April, after too many phone calls from my mom at the hospital, I decided I needed a few days off of work and a few days at home. My father had three surgeries since that February and though my parents never said it was serious, something told me to go to North Carolina.

 Just go home.

When my mom picked me up from the airport, my father wasn’t with her. She was coy about the reasons why, just saying that the incision from his appendix surgery was deep and painful, and that riding on bumpy Southern roads was difficult for him. I wanted to pry for more details. I wanted her to come clean.

I wanted her to tell me what was really going on.

But she didn’t divulge and I didn’t press, instead I tried not to look at her as we drove the two hours back to Asheville from Charlotte, her blue eyes glowing in the traffic and car headlights. They looked sad and tired, and though I told myself it had just been a stressful few months for her – with the medical billing, hospital trips and all – I knew it must be more than that. My mama doesn’t lose her spunk for any ole’ reason, it has to be something major.

My dad was awake when we made it back home, but he didn’t greet me with a big glass of red wine, like he usually does. He wasn’t playing his music from the satellite radio that he’s explained how it works about a million times to me. He wasn’t asking my mom to dance in the kitchen, in their matching Kmart slippers, kissing her in the same way I imagined he has since they first met in 1985. He couldn’t hide his smile – that one that’s just for me, just for his little – and only – girl, just for his daughter that broke his heart by moving 800 miles away to New York City. But I could tell he was uncomfortable and exhausted, distraught and full of thoughts he wasn’t sharing.

Again, I didn’t ask too many questions, I just curled up in the corner of his chair on his side, like I always have and laid my head on his shoulder, careful not to touch the gnarly stiches I was afraid of brushing up against. He smelled like Old Spice and soap, and I let out the first big exhale since February when my mom called to say my dad’s appendix had burst and he was going into the ER.

Should I come home? I can catch a flight tonight? I asked, holed up in a conference room at work, trying my best not to think the very worst.

No, no. It’s not a serious surgery, she said. I’ll tell you if you need to come back, don’t worry sweetie, she said.

Two weeks later, I called my mom while walking Lucy, our morning ritual, and her voice was frantic: Your dad’s stitches came undone during his sleep last night, we’re at the hospital getting staples instead.

Mom, do I need to come home? Is he okay? What’s going on? The hospital again? I asked, stopping in the middle of the street as Lucy looked up at me confused. My mom reassured me that all was well and I should just keep my phone on.

Two weeks later, I called after work and asked about their day and my mom so casually said, Oh, your dad had another surgery today. No big deal, sweetie. Everything is fine. Don’t worry!

Mom, why did you never want me to come home when dad went to the hospital all those times? I don’t understand, I asked that night after dad went to sleep well before we did, something that almost never happens. What’s going on, mom? Again, she refused to divulge anything, and I dropped the issue, reminding myself that if something was wrong, they surely wouldn’t keep it from me.

Forever, anyway.

The next day we went for a long walk as a family and then to the Lucky Otter, one of my parents’ favorite watering holes. We sipped on margaritas and we all ignored the awkward tension between all of us, the big secret that no one wanted to say, but needed to be said. We made small talk and I tried my best to stay positive, just waiting for the shoe to drop and smash the conversation. I watched my dad give my mom the look to reassure her and she gave her encouraging smile, a quick nod of the head, and a huge gulp of her drink. My dad sat his down and said words I still hear crystal clear:

You know when I had that last surgery, Linds? He started. I kept eye contact. Well, when my appendix burst, they tested the organs around, just to make sure everything was fine and unaffected. And they found cancer. I had some of my colon removed and I find out in three weeks if it’s gone completely. They caught it early, so it’s probably going to be fine. I didn’t want to add stress to your life or worry you before I needed to. You’re an adult, you should know, but I wanted to protect you.

I thought I might burst into tears, and they started to fill my eyes (just as they are right now as I type this) and in front of all of the people at this restaurant, I walked over and sat in my dad’s lap and hugged him. And I did cry. He did too. But mostly, I just felt relieved. Relieved to know the truth. Relieved that his surgery went okay. Relieved that I would know his diagnosis in just a few weeks.

Relieved I was still able give my dad a big bear hug, as we’ve always called them.

And by some miracle of the best kind, his cancer is still gone today. He goes every three months for testing (I hold my breath all day long on those days) and he’s had other issues since then too, but he’s mostly at the end of a very long road of recovery. One that’s tested my mother’s patience, my father’s courage and my strength.

One that’s changed our family.

My father has always been this brave, resilient man in my eyes – someone that’s capable of absolutely anything, and who always encourages me to take risks. He’s lived a big, full and exciting life, and more than that, he’s let love guide him every step of the way. A true romantic, a funny guy and a tormentor – he’s had my heart my entire life, and frankly, it’ll take quite a man to ever compare to him.

And though ‘cancer’ is a very scary word, one that I didn’t fully understand until it affected me directly – my dad fought it. He refused to let it bring him down. He wouldn’t let it define him. A little over a year later, he’s riding his bike. He’s looking forward to swimming at our lake house this summer, his stitches cleared by the doctors and only a scar left to remind him. He’s planning a big trip with my mom next year – their 29th year of marriage. And he’s sending me letters every few weeks and leaving me funny voicemails nearly everyday.

He may seem more human now to me – instead of a superhero. But I treasure him more. I value his advice, his words and just being able to hear his voice. I think about him more often and I miss him more than before. And though I didn’t think it was possible, I’m a bigger daddy’s girl at 25 than I probably was at 12.

On Father’s Day and every day, I’m thankful for the wonderful, incredible and loving man that I’m lucky enough to call dad. I can’t wait to introduce him to the man I’ll marry, call him when I get that book deal (and yes dad, buy you a new boat when I do), and watch him hold my future children.

Thanks for teaching me to never, ever give up. And dad – thank you for never giving up either. I love you from NYC and back, and I’ll always be your butterfly.

Burgers and beers with dad in NYC, 2013

Burgers and beers with dad in NYC, 2013

My first half-marathon in October 2013

My first half-marathon in October 2013

Labor Day weekend, 2013

Labor Day weekend, 2013

Dad's attempt at the selfie.

Dad’s attempt at the selfie.

First trip to NYC!

First trip to NYC!

First photo at home together

First photo at home together

Hamming it with daddy at 2

Hamming it with daddy at 2

Right after the big news at the Lucky Otter. Cheers to life!

Right after the big news at the Lucky Otter. Cheers to life!

Christmas in NYC, 2013

Christmas in NYC, 2013

"Holding" my bottle at 1 week old.

“Holding” my bottle at 1 week old.

 

Falling in Love on Fridays: I Am Not My Hair

This week’s Falling in Love on Friday’s post is by one of my dear friends from college, Allison. Though I haven’t seen here in years — since her last layover in New York for a night — she inspires me every single day via Gchat and witty Facebook statuses. She’s one of those people who feel and care with their whole heart, and as this blog will tell you, with her whole head of hair, too. Her post goes to show the bigger meaning behind Falling in Love on Fridays: you don’t just fall in love with men or people, sometimes you fall in love with things as simple, and yet as necessary, as… hair. She’s doing something ridiculously awesome and brave that I’m totally supportive of – but you have to read to the end to find out what it is. Learn more about the beautiful Allison here, and to learn how to submit your own Falling in Love on Friday story here

I Am Not My Hair

July 8th, 1986

I emerge from the womb in a Long Island hospital, screaming bloody terror at 10:35 in the morning. The doctor who delivers me declares “It’s a girl! Look at that hair!”

Kindergarten, picture day

The school photographer calls me “Curly Sue,” and would continue to do so until the fifth grade.

Every morning of my childhood

sassyMy dad gets me ready for school, and lacking any knowledge about little girl’s fashion or hair, lets me wear whatever I want. To do my hair, he makes me lay upside down on the couch and bunches all the crazy blonde curls into something vaguely resembling a bun. Sort of. I look at the Disney princesses. Their hair is flat and pretty. I look at the villians. Theirs is messy and curly and wild. Princesses never have to have their wild hair stuck up on their head.

First day of seventh grade

Standing at the bus stop in a plaid flannel shirt and JNCOs, with my hair still dripping wet, I press my hands against my hair and hope and pray it stays flat. It doesn’t. I will try this every day for many years.

Summer, 2003

I dye my hair so many different colors it turns orange. It gets huge and poofy and damaged. I look like Bozo the Clown, if Bozo the Clown wore green chuck taylors and punk tshirts. I cry on the way to my senior portraits, which will be someday documented in textbooks under the “worst hair in human history.”

Spring, 2006

I move into my first apartment with a fellow curly haired girl. She tells me to throw away my shampoo and my hairbrush and shares her products with me. I start getting real haircuts. The frizz starts to look like real hair again. A friend flatirons my hair once and I hate the way it looks.

Summer, 2007

Men love my hair! This assumption is based solely on a handful of weird dudes touching my head in bars, but I can only extrapolate to entire male population. More importantly, I love my hair. For the first time ever.  My personality becomes an extension of my wild curls, or vice versa – I’m not actually sure. I cut it short and wear big earrings. I grow it out and wear it in an updo on any day of the week. I tease it up and out and put on too much lipstick. I weep when fellow curly girls straighten their hair. I weep harder when a friend’s three year old curly headed daughter says she has “bad hair.”  What have we learned of princesses and villains and what it means to be wild?

January 11th, 2014

weddingI have some drinks in an arcade with some cute boys in the middle of a storm. We joke about shaving our heads. I tell them I would never. I love this hair too much. I make them all touch it. It’s so soft! It’s so pretty! It’s my thing, I tell them. A few hours later, my best friend asks if I wanted to participate in St. Baldrick’s with her, in which we will shave our heads to raise money for children’s cancer research. I say yes. She makes sure I am sober. I am. I use the word “YOLO” anyway. I send a text to my mom that says “Don’t freak out, but I’m shaving my head in a few weeks.” (It’s less permanent than the previous two “Don’t freak out” text messages, which have been followed by “….but we all got matching tattoos,” and “I got another one, and it’s pretty huge.”)

In the three days since we’ve committed to shaving our heads, we’ve raised $900 to help fund research for childhood cancers, which are severely underfunded and under researched.  Our goal is $2500 by March 1st, when she and I will publicly get our heads buzzed and the thing that has been so linked with my identity will lie in a pile on the ground. For three days I’ve been looking up scarves and wigs and hats and imagining all the dramatic ways I can now get away with doing my makeup. I’ve tried to figure out how long my hair will be for the wedding I’ll be in later this year.

I’ve also been thinking about what it means to be bald. This is a choice, for me. I get to dictate what happens to my body, and what I claim to be linked with my identity. I get to find it liberating and freeing and I get to think about how much time and money I’ll save. But for so many people it is not a choice. Children with cancer don’t get choices, and I hope you’ll join me in changing the odds. To make a donation, visit here.

This Valentine’s Day, write a self-love letter to yourself and it’ll be published (anonymous or not) on Confessions of a Love Addict! And you enter yourself to win a prize pack of beauty products and a Home Goods gift card! Learn more here. Submit here

The Guy We Pity: Mr. Temporary

Upon returning from my summer internship in New York after my sophomore year in college, I found myself incredibly bored.

Though I had a fantastic group of friends, a demanding associate editor position at the school newspaper, and a college town that welcomed me back with gold-and-black open arms – I  missed my city, and nothing seemed to measure up to it. It took me a while to adjust and return back to a comfortable state so I could settle in for another one-and-a-half years of college. And to help me pass the time was Mr. Temporary.

That year for my sorority’s (yes, I’m Greek, no judging) semi-formal not only was I dress-less, but also date-less. Though I tried to project the impression that it didn’t bother me, I did hope that suddenly, out of the framework, someone would appear for me to dance the night away with. To my surprise, my sister, B, hooked me up with a friend of a friend whom she thought I would at least enjoy the company of for an evening.

She was right.

At first glance, Mr. Temporary had the stats of a promising boyfriend: tall, olive skin, green eyes, killer smile, and well-dressed. If you like the cowboy-type-of-thing (I’m not a huge fan), he had that special little twang that’s only derived South of the Mason-Dixon. He was also talented, had goals for himself, and he told me I looked beautiful when he first laid eyes on me. That’s a brownie point in my book.

However, as we continued to see each other after the semi-formal and I learned more about him – I realized how far from my type he actually was. Though he was very intelligent, he was closed-minded about the issues that mattered the most to me. He did want a career with children, which is admirable, but just the thought of New York made him want to gag. He had a very attractive physique, but his kissing skills were way below par for his age. Or really, for any age.

So why, sitting across him over Spicy Tuna and Shrimp Tempura rolls, I agreed to turn my Claddagh ring around, is beyond me.

Maybe it was being lonely and enjoying just having the company of someone, or the way he seemed to be smitten with me, or the safety net of not having to be labeled as single – but something, against my better judgement decided to be an item with a man who I knew would never be the one for the long run. While I really don’t feel like I have any regrets thus far in my life, I will say I made a very poor decision by being “exclusive” with Mr. Temporary.

In the two or three months we dated -I lost interest day-by-day. When we introduced sex into the relationship, I was horrified at how awful it was and how much it lacked passion. When I met his mother, who didn’t know how to stop talking for the entire time we were at dinner, I couldn’t imagine how anyone could stand to be her daughter-in-law. When I met his roommate for the first time, it took every ounce of restraint in me to not flirt with him – for he was miles more attractive than Mr. Temporary. And when it was time to celebrate Valentine’s Day and I knew the girlfriend-thing to do was to buy him something, I couldn’t find any card (even in the “I like you” section) that was appropriate for what I felt.

Mainly because I didn’t really feel anything. That is, anything but fear of being alone.

Sadly, the thing to release me from clinging onto something because I was so terrified of having seemingly-nothing, was the death of my best friend L’s mother. On Friday the 13th, the day before St. Valentine’s infamous day, she lost her 10-year battle with breast cancer, and after I received the bad-news phone call, I rushed out of class and back to embrace L. I sent a quick text message to Mr. Temporary letting him know I would be missing Valentine’s Day and the entire weekend – and then ceased talking to him for four days.

I didn’t even respond to worried texts or calls or Facebook posts because not only was I mourning the loss of a beautiful, wise, and strong woman, consoling L to the best of my ability (there really aren’t words you can say, even as a writer) – I was also using this time to liberate myself from Mr. Temporary. And perhaps, I took that liberation a tad bit far.

I happened to run into Mr. Fling right after the funeral, tears still slightly plummenting down my cheeks, and needing to get back to school for a newspaper meeting that I sincerely didn’t want to attend. He comforted me, held me close, and kissed my eyelids so very tenderly. And in that moment of weakness, in that second of sincerity and care that he offered me, I allowed myself to fall into him. A kiss led to snuggling, which led to a black dress on the floor, which brought us to…

Needless to say, with a million different feelings running haywire in my heart and soul, I knew when I returned back to school – the very last thing I needed was one more headache, especially when I knew I would be causing a heartache. And so, with integrity and honesty, I confessed what I had done and things ended with Mr. Temporary as easily as they began. I made no excuses for cheating and don’t accept them if it’s the other way around, but I was truthful by telling him the reason I strayed wasn’t due to him, but was completely me. I didn’t cry, I didn’t get upset, and I didn’t really mind him being gone. Because that weekend, I learned a very important lesson about life and about love.

It is true that life is short and if you ever enter a relationship with the mindset that it will only be an in-between type of love or someone to fill the cold spot in your bed – you are wasting your time (and their time). Even if you are not seeking a forever partner, marriage, or happily ever after – if you’re allowing the romantic part of your soul to be captivated by someone who doesn’t satisfy, excite, or really match you, the ending will only be hurtful the longer it continues. While some relationships are not meant to last, our hearts are built to endure pain, and the intensity felt at midnight isn’t always as strong when the sun peeks above the skyline – in terms of love, if you know before you even get started that it is fleeting feeling, save yourself the trouble.

Break free of the bounds of fear, of those nagging voices in our heads that tell us that Mr. Right Now is acceptable if we aren’t having any luck meeting Mr. Right, and of our bodies who lust for attention and petting, even if it isn’t the most enjoyable of experiences.  Allow the love you have for yourself to gain momentum, take pride in the ability you have to depend on your own person, and for his sake, don’t lead Mr. Temporary on. Especially if there is a Mr. Fling readily available.