“At 6:43 a.m. on November 27, 2019. ‘Your dad is gone.’ At that moment, I didn’t break down and cry. I didn’t have a panic attack, no sobbing, not even an ounce of surprise.
For the first time in months, I felt relieved. Not because I failed to have a stable relationship with my father. Rather, the opposite. He was my best friend, my go-to, my literal rock in life – who had been suffering. It is an eye-opening experience to hear someone who made you into the person you are today, beg for their suffering to end. ‘How much longer do I have to feel like this?’ A moment that changed everything for those of us who had just spent months by his side in the hospital.
The morning my mother called me to tell me he passed, I was the only one at our house. I had spent never-ending nights sleeping alongside my other family members in the hospital waiting for him to take his last breath. That last night, I could no longer do it. I could no longer be half-asleep waiting to hear if my father was still breathing. I said my goodbyes to him for what felt like the tenth time and prayed endlessly for his suffering to be put to rest. I went home and got the house ready for when he did pass. I made sure his clothes were laid out for the funeral, made sure the house was in shape for when our family and friends shuffled through to offer an ounce of support for the grueling rollercoaster we just went through as a unit.
I always say I am grateful for those last few months of his life. As a family, we have seen this before. This being pancreatic cancer. The same, gut-wrenching cancer that has taken every person on my paternal grandfather’s side. We saw it coming. We saw it after his blood tests came back abnormal in June of the same year. We saw it even further back, in December of 2018 when he was rushed to the hospital for a bleeding ulcer. We, my parents, my sister, and I, just knew. Most of our remaining family and friends had a hard time wrapping their heads around the fact my father, who lit up every single room he walked into, was about to crumble before their eyes.
When he called me at the beginning of June, I knew it was time to pack my bags and move back to Canada. It was only in the previous month my parents and sister came to Serbia to celebrate my marriage – but I knew from the tone of his voice this was it. From the moment I landed, we spent every minute soaking it all in as a family.
Imagine being my parents: first-generation Canadians, who spent their entire adult lives in Canada working in healthcare – only to have that same system enable you to fall between the cracks. We’ve all heard how difficult it is to diagnose pancreatic cancer. It exposes its ugliness when it is already too late for any treatment. It did not matter my father’s bloodwork revealed it was somewhere brewing, or there was an inoperable tumor wrapping around his organs, or the fluid building up in his abdominal cavity got to the point his breathing and mobility were restricted. All of the tests and scans to confirm pancreatic cancer would come back inconclusive. In October, I witnessed a doctor discharge my father by saying, ‘Sir, you are ready to go home, you do not have cancer.’
9 days is all it took before we were back in the hospital. But no one fixed the problem. There was a wall built up that seemed impossible to get over. If only we could get over the wall, surely there was something better on the other side. In our disappointment, my mother, sister, and I fought with residents, doctors, and teams of specialists in the hospital because everyone seemed to have a different conclusion and no one was communicating it to each other. My father was ultimately suffering amongst all of it. And yet he was still determined to stay put. He trusted his team of doctors, even though he felt the end was near.
He received his final diagnosis of pancreatic cancer just 10 days before he passed away because the cancer cells had finally revealed their truth in the fluid filling up his abdominal cavity. They were finally able to transfer us to the oncology ward, where realistically he should’ve been from the beginning. It wasn’t until he got his oncologist that they took his family history properly and realized the pattern. The geneticist was able to take his blood just in time.
As a family, we listened to doctor after doctors give us their ‘It’s time to prepare yourselves’ speech. I was in limbo. I was angry. I was frustrated with the failure I felt in ensuring he didn’t suffer. I was wrapping my mind around the fact I was losing my father at the mere age of 25. Mentally preparing myself to comprehend he would never live to see his son-in-law land in Canada or watch my sister finish her Ph.D. or to one day get the opportunity to meet and hold his grandchildren. This was it. This was all we got with him and I had just spent the past 3 years living abroad. I missed countless family gatherings and hundreds of shared memories because I was beginning my life alongside my husband somewhere else. That is what I call guilt.
For 2 days following my father’s passing – our house was never silent. Our family and friends surrounded us with insurmountable love and support. We laughed and cried and reminisced on everything that made my father who he was. It wasn’t until day three when I checked online, only to see my husband had received his Permanent Residence status as a Canadian and would be able to land just a few short weeks later. He was approved on November 28 – the day after my father passed. A process that usually takes countless months or years for others – was over in 4.5 months. Believe what you want – but this was my sign from my father. My husband would be landing and beginning a new life with me, just when I needed it the most. December 31, 2019, he landed.
Little did we know a pandemic was about to send us into an abrupt lifestyle change. Since then, I wake up knowing my father never got to live in a COVID-19 world. I feel for the families who are now struggling and do not have the opportunity to spend their last moments together because of restrictions. My heart is heavy thinking about it and it only makes me more grateful for the opportunities we did have as a family in the end. I tell friends who seek advice from me after finding out their relatives are sick to take advantage of every moment. Take pictures and videos because they will quite literally be your holy grail if or when they pass.
I have taken the steps to begin my own healing journey. As a result of my father’s passing, my mother, sister and I hold initiatives to raise funds for pancreatic cancer research, and medical supplies that can help families in their lowest points. I have set myself up to explore my grief and trauma by starting a blog – and subsequently a small business in this brand-new world. I have put aside my own goals in the field I graduated from to focus on healing, being present with my loved ones, and helping anyone else who may be going through the chaos of life.
My father didn’t show me how to live – he lived and let me watch him do it. Until the very end, he was full of life, laughing, joking and ultimately he was selfless. He turned the other cheek time and time again, understanding that every single one of us has our own internal struggle. He inspired me to write. He continues to motivate me to be the best wife, sister, daughter, and friend I can be daily. Unwinding the information of this particular pancreatic cancer possibly being genetic is its own roller coaster ride. Personally, it is always in the back of my mind. Now, I don’t know if I have this gene – but let me tell you, it has changed my life in that I refuse to put myself through any more negativity than I have to. I don’t know if I will get sick at 75 or 59 like my father – but it has made me even more determined to be someone I am not scared to look at in the mirror.
This ‘brand-new world’ is scary. We’re all going through it at the same time, for the first time – together. The concept of hope is something that has never escaped me. Even when we were preparing ourselves for the worst with my father, hope was holding me in its arms. It may have changed its shape in that I no longer had hope he would get better – but I had hope he would not be suffering for long. I continue to have hope my family has learned how important it is to take advantage of the time we do have together.
I grip onto hope for dear life, for the future – even in moments when I am falling apart. When I spiral into the dark clouds of suffocating depression and have a hard time getting out of bed, hope is with me. I hold onto a life I am still present for. I am living and taking advantage of life because he was not given the opportunity to continue.
My father’s illness was quick, but it was not sudden. I practice gratitude knowing hundreds of people lose their loved ones in a single moment and there are not enough words of support I can send their way to make it easier. What I can do is talk about my own experiences. The anger that follows, the heartbreak of sadness, the heavy depression and hurt, and what it is I do to continue getting out of bed. The chaos of life cannot be solved in a self-help book, but by talking about our experiences we can learn from each other and ultimately not feel so alone in this world, where terrible sorrow occurs at every second. I am here, I am present, and I am grateful for my struggles – because I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today without them.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Melanija K. of Hamilton, ON, Canada. You can follow her on Instagram and visit her website here. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribeto our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read more stories about brave cancer battles here:
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