I’m back home. As I’m sure you can tell from the obituary I posted last week, my dad’s surgery did not go as planned. The first bad news we got was on the day of the surgery itself, when the surgeon came out of the operation and told us that the tumour that we had thought was benign was, in fact, melanoma – skin cancer that had spread to his brain. He was able to remove about 95-98% of of the tumour, but in the process had lost one of the arteries (the right cerebral artery1) leading to my dad’s brain, as the tumour was all wrapped up in that artery, which was feeding the massive tumour and my dad’s brain. The reason that he couldn’t take out the other 2-5% of the tumour was because it was touching the left cerebral artery and he couldn’t risk it getting damaged, because you only have four arteries feeding your brain, and so it was crucial to keep that left one functioning, or else all there would be no blood going to the front of my dad’s brain. The surgeon’s hope was that the left artery would be able to feed both sides of my dad’s brain in the absence of the right artery. We would need to get a consult with an oncologist to discuss chemo and/or radiation and we would need a full body CT scan to look for other tumours, as the melanoma may have spread elsewhere.
After receiving this sobering news, we went up to the ICU to see my dad, he didn’t wake up. And he didn’t wake up the next day, or the day after that. There were lots of things that happened in these few days, which seemed like an eternity, but I don’t have the energy to type them all out. Suffice it to say that the surgeon came to us with the worst news on Friday, Feb 10 – it turned out that while we were hoping the left artery would feed both sides of my dad’s brains, it was, in fact, doing nothing. The right artery had apparently been feeding both sides of my dad’s brain and so, since that artery tore in the operating room on Wednesday, my dad’s brain hadn’t been getting enough blood to function. On Thursday night when they did a CT scan, they saw massive strokes all over his brain from insufficient blood flow. “He’s in a deep coma and there is zero chance that he will ever wake up,” is what the surgeon told us. Only the ventilator was keeping his body alive – and being kept alive by machines was something that my dad never, ever wanted to happen. We’d talked about it many times over the years and my dad was very clear that being kept alive on machines was, to him, not living. And I’m really glad that we’d had those discussions, because my mom, my sister, and I knew immediately that we had to take him off the ventilator. There was no second guessing, no feeling guilty that maybe we were doing the wrong thing – we knew undoubtedly that we were doing what my dad wanted. We called everyone in my family to give them an opportunity to come and say good-bye if they wished and that night, we took him off the ventilator and then we stayed with him, in shifts, for the next 14 hours. At 11:20 a.m., when he took his final breath and his heart stopped beating, he was surrounded by me, my sister, my mom, and my aunt (my dad’s youngest sister). It was important to us that he was not alone and that we were able to see that he passed peacefully.
We are incredibly sad, of course, because my dad was a good man who didn’t deserve his life to be cut so short and because we miss him and we mourn all the things that he will miss out on – and that we will miss out on him being here for – as we go on with our lives, but we take comfort in knowing that he didn’t suffer. The last conscious thoughts he had were when he walked into the operating room, they gave him the anesthetic and told him to count backwards from 10. He spent his last three weeks – though scared at the prospect of a dangerous surgery and unhappy that he couldn’t drive or do all the things he wanted to do – talking to and receiving support from his family and friends. He knew that he was loved.
We also take some solace in the fact that we were able to donate his eyes and that two people will be able to have sight-saving surgery that otherwise would not be able to see. It comforts me to know this and to think, “I wonder what Dad’s eyes are seeing today?”
We had a funeral for him this past Thursday and the funeral home was packed. We are not a religious family, so we did a family-run service at the funeral home, with speeches by each of his siblings, my sister, myself, and my niece. My seven-year-old niece, who was so close to her Grandpa, decided she wanted to give a speech about all the things she’ll miss about him – it was beautiful and heartbreaking. Truly, all of the speeches were beautiful – there were stories about my Dad that I’d heard many times before and other stories that were new to me.
There was much talk, both in the speeches and when talking to people before and after the service, about how my Dad loved to help people – in fact, pretty much every person I’ve talked to who knew my Dad had a story about how he helped them. There was also a lot of mention from his friends about what a proud family man my Dad was, about how he was always telling anyone who would listen about his daughters and his grandkids.
I really miss my Dad.
- I think I have the name of that right. The surgeon told us, but there was so much to hear and we were in shock, so I’ve looked up the arteries to the brain and I think that I have the info correct. [↩]