‘Oh thank God, one surgery and he’ll be back to normal.’ My dad was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor. He was going to survive, no doubt in my mind.’: Daughter reflects on holidays without your dad

“At first the doctors were certain that the tumor was benign because of the way to tumor was encapsulated. We all thought, ‘Oh thank God, one surgery and he’ll be back to normal.’ We were told that chemotherapy and radiation would not be needed. In November 2007 my father was diagnosed with a glioblastoma multiform, which is fancy medical terminology for a very aggressive brain tumor.

I can separate my life into two parts before my dad had cancer and after my dad had cancer. I even remember every detail of the night before he was diagnosed. I was a typical 19-year-old, I had dinner with a group of friends at Olive Garden (because come on, at 19 Olive Garden was fine dining) we had the waiter take a picture of all us together, then we all went to the movies.

When I look at this picture now, I wish I could go back to that night, I had no idea the next day I would have to grow up very fast, that my days of being a carefree college student without a worry in the world were about to be over.  We were all in the waiting room when the neurosurgeon came out half way through the surgery. This didn’t alarm us because he had told us ahead of time, he would update us halfway through, what he told us we were not prepared for…

Courtesy Cortney McBride

The surgeon said that the tumor was not benign, and chemotherapy and radiation would be needed, however, he was miraculously able to remove the entire tumor. I was 19 and in college at the time majoring in criminal justice which meant my medical terminology was nonexistent. I quickly learned what benign, metastatic, pin point radiation, pill form chemotherapy were, and I also learned that survival rate of this type of tumor was less than 14 months. However, the surgery was successful and the whole tumor was removed, which was rare, so the doctor was very hopefully that with chemotherapy and pinpoint radiation that the cancer may not even return. So, we all held on hope to this.

For six weeks I drove my dad to the hospital for radiation, which to my surprise only took a few minutes. Every month I would wait at his house for the UPS truck to deliver his pill form chemotherapy to his home. I would take my dad to his regular scans the make sure everything was in the clear. One scan about 6 months later showed a mass where the tumor once was, after a second brain surgery it turned out just to be scar tissue and was removed. YAY! We were in the clear again, I was certain my dad was going to be to less than 5% of people who survive this cancer.

My dad was the strongest person I knew, my dad would bear hunt for weeks at a time in Colorado, camping in below freezing weather and hiking miles on end. My dad alligator hunted with a bow and arrow, my dad survived a horrible car wreck at 23 which he had a below the knee amputation. This was my dad, he was fit, he was healthy, he didn’t smoke, he didn’t drink heavily, he didn’t use drugs, and of course he was going to survive this there was no doubt in my mind.

We were in the clear until June 25, 2009. My dad had a regular appointment with his PCP, in which the doctor thought my dad had suffered stroke and immediately sent him to the ER. I remember this date because it was also the day the Michael Jackson and Farrah Faucet passed away, and it played nonstop on the TV’s in the waiting room.

My dad had not suffered a stroke, but the cancer was back, and not only was it back it was more aggressive. My dad had his 3rd brain surgery in less than 2 years, the tumor has progressed so much in such a short period of time that there was nothing that could be done. Still I did not believe that my dad would die, I don’t know why but for some reason it did not occur to me at this point. My dad was sent to a physical therapy rehab center for a few weeks until it was determined that hospice care was needed. We took my dad home and hospice came to set up a bed in his living room that looked over the lake where he lived. The cancer progressed very fast and less than a month later my dad went non responsive and when his heart rate would drop we would all think this was it, he’s going to pass now. Then his heart rate would go back up, a feeling came over me that my dad would not pass away if I was there, I was his little girl and he was my hero, I knew he would want me to leave to protect me one last time.

I went to my mom’s house about 7:45 p.m. on August 7, 2019, before I left, I kissed him on the forehead and told him I’d see him in the morning, until this point, I didn’t leave his side for more than a few minutes. By the time I made the 15 minute drive to my mom’s house, my brother had called and said my dad had passed away, he had just turned 50 thirty five days prior. When I look back to when my dad with in hospice care, I feel rewarded that I was able to be there in his final days and how lucky I was to be there with him and tell him goodbye.

The first Christmas and Thanksgiving without my dad I spent with his side of the family. I remember thinking I’m just going to smile, laugh and try not to bring up my dad. I thought I would ruin the holidays if I cried or showed any sign of sadness. Anytime someone would bring up my dad up I’d pinch my leg or arm so that I wouldn’t cry, I pinched so hard that the next day I would have several bruises. I also carried a water bottle with me everywhere, because my dad had once told me as a child, if you drink water you will calm down and not cry, and it worked for me. Every time I felt like crying, I would pinch myself and drink from my water bottle.

I remember trying to convince myself that my dad wasn’t dead he was off on another extreme hunting trip; I obviously knew this was not true. I told myself this because I did not want to accept that my dad would never being around not just for the holidays, but he would not be around for birthdays, weddings, other holidays, he would never see me get married, and he would never know what it would be like being a grandfather.

This year will be the 11th holiday season, I will spend without my dad, and I would like to say it get easier, and in a way it does, but this time of the year especially I miss my dad more. My dad was huge on family and holidays, and since that first holiday season without my dad, his family has moved away making this time of the year even harder.  My dad was always a glass half full person; he was never negative and always looked at the positive side of things even during cancer. This is what gets me through this time of the year and even though this time of the year is tough, it’s also my favorite time of the year. I love buying presents for friends and coworkers, I love donating coats, blankets, food, and clothes because this is what my dad would have done. I try my best to keep a positive attitude this time of the year, especially around those that I know are also having a hard time during the holidays. My dad was always big on speaking positive about yourself, he would always say that every negative thing you say about yourself goes into you self-conscience and eventually your mind believes it. I find myself saying this exact same thing at work and to my friends all the time, and its true, speak positive about yourself especially when you’re going through a tough season.

I’m so thankful that I was lucky enough to spend 20 holiday seasons with my dad. Every year, even when I don’t feel like it, even when I’m going through a rough time, I pull the Christmas tree out, and I decorate for Christmas because I know that’s what my dad would want me to do. I try not to dwell on what ifs, and focus on what is ahead, and how I can honor my dad each day especially during to holidays.”

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Cortney McBride. Follow her journey on Instagram here. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read more stories from Cortney here: 

‘We’ll miss you,’ my sister-in-law told me. You all abandoned me, just as my husband had.’: Woman feels ‘betrayed’ by in-laws after ex left her

‘I turned in my 2 weeks’ notice. I didn’t have any job prospects. I just knew if I stayed, that place would’ve sucked the life out of me.’: Woman abandons dream job after upper management creates ‘living hell’ environment

‘What would you tell your 18-year-old self?’ Stay out of the tanning bed because you will get premature winkles and Botox is expensive.’: Woman’s all-too-relatable advice to her younger self urges you to ‘know your worth’

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