Heidi B

Heidi B., IN

I was sitting in my accounting office in July 2012. My Mom called my office and asked me to come over right away but to not bring my son. I had a feeling that a serious situation was unfolding but had no idea what she would have to tell me. When I pulled into my parents' driveaway, I immediately saw my Dad's truck. He should have been at work, so again, I knew that something was happening and I was terrified to walk into my parents' house. My Dad was sitting in his recliner in the living room. He immediately said that my Mom had something to tell me. I went into another room where my Mom was sitting and she the dreaded words, "your Dad has cancer".

My first response was, "what do you mean he has cancer. What kind of cancer does he have, how do you know that he has cancer? Has he been to the doctor?" My Mom's response was that she did not really know what was going on. My Dad confessed that he had some internal and external tumors for quite awhile. He had lost his job and did not have health insurance coverage. He did not want to burden the family with his health issues until he had insurance. He had started a new job but the waiting period at his place of employment was 6 months for insurance coverage. His external tumors, including infection and bleeding, led to a same day visit to the Emergency Room. While we knew that the Emergency Room would not treat or cure his tumors, I knew that they would at least provide a referral to a healthcare provider for treatment. My father had not seen a healthcare provider in over a decade. Uninsured, lack of a primary care physician, and a poor health record left him with little options. The trip to the emergency room would ultimately save his life. We found out quickly that his cancer was very advanced and he had so much blood loss from his external tumors that if he had waited another day or possibly two he would have died without the chance to fight against the beast of cancer. He had an external tumor over his right lung that was the size of my two hands put together. I had never seen anyone with so much terror and despair in their eyes than when my Dad was told that it would be necessary to call hospice. He immediately broke down and was afraid that everyone was giving up on him and he had been a death sentence. He was ultimately diagnosed with lung cancer and melanoma that had metastasized to his brain. He was a lifelong smoker, starting as a teen or even younger. He could not remember when he had started by was addicted to cigarettes by the time he was in his mid-teens. He continued to smoke a pack-a-day for the rest of his life. While he started and continued treatment for cancer, he continued to smoke. He wasn't sure that he could quit. He eventually told us that he had given up smoking but we would find packs of cigarettes and debit card receipts to feed his deadly addiction.

Eventually my Mom took his debit card away from him so that he would have no money to purchase the product that would ultimately take his life. He resorted to asking friends who would visit him to bring him cigarettes. He eventually became bed-ridden only leaving the hospital bed in my parents' living room for cancer treatment. He had all of the typical effects from cancer and the treatments that were attempting to prolong or save his life including: weight and muscle loss, nausea, vomiting, pain throughout his body, and many more effects made his last days on Earth miserable. His only grandchild, my son, was 6 years old when his grandfather was diagnosed with cancer. They spent nearly every weekend together and had so many plans and dreams that are forever unfilled. They had started building a treehouse and it was never finished. He died in December 2013. His funeral was the day after Christmas. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths for both men and women. How many more lives will be lost and how many families will be forever changed until the lung cancer and the lung health crisis is properly addressed? My father asked me to find a job or an opportunity to help other people who are experiencing a situation similar to his story and who are headed towards any unnecessary death. Advocating and educating our lawmakers on tobacco use and lung health has been important to me since my Dad's death. My Dad is gone forever but together we can prevent other families from the same pain and loss.

First Published: February 5, 2021

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