Today marks five years since Daddy passed away. I never stop thinking about him, there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t question or think to myself, “Daddy really would have liked that,” or, “That’s so corny, Daddy would have chuckled.” I also find myself thinking how much he would have liked Jake; they are very similar, except Jake tends to be more of an extrovert, but their minds churn just the same. He would have liked him. Daddy also has a sweet little granddaughter now, and I am so excited to watch her grow and see what genes she inherited from her grandfather.
Nearing this five year anniversary, I often think back on what happened.
“It will never happen to me.” I said that so many times growing up as friends of mine and family members lost parents at an early age. In college, a friend of mine’s father passed away early in our freshman year and the only two things that sat in my mind were pain for her loss and that I couldn’t image losing my Daddy. He will be around for a very long time, I had no doubts. He is healthy. He takes care of himself. He even does his taxes months before they are due. The man had never done a single bad thing in his 54 years of life. He was the type of person you looked up to, he was strong, and he cared more for those around him that he did himself. I’ve had many people tell me, “Your dad was one of the nicest people I have ever met.” And it was more true than anything else I had even been told. He was simply wonderful, and so very humble.
Four years later, in October 2010, Daddy was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer. My heart broke. I will never forget the day my parents called to tell me the biopsy results came back positive. I was away at college. It was about 10 AM in the morning and I was on my way to my Journalism Portfolio class. Once I was off the phone, I walked into class and asked my professor for a word. I told him I wasn’t sure I should be in class today and I told him the news I had just been told. He sent me home.
I don’t remember much of the rest of that day, only that my roommates contacted my professors for me, and I cried on the floor in my room for hours; my roommates checked on me periodically to make sure I was okay. I wasn’t, but I don’t think they knew what else to do.
I went to my classes the next day, not because I wanted to but because I needed to. Getting out of my room and engaging in something was the only way I could keep my mind from thinking of all the possibilities. And there were many. I made the mistake of researching and learning that the survival rate of Pancreatic Cancer patients is only five to 11 percent two years after diagnosis; two percent five years after diagnosis. And in all of the patients in remission, it always came back.
Daddy stayed positive. He continued to go to work, which he loved. I think it kept his mind off things and he knew he could beat it. Momma pushed for the best doctors, and when given an opinion she didn’t like by one doctor, she was on the internet and phone to find another who would not give up on Daddy. That’s when she found the team at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland.
Of course they told us the outcomes of most patients with Pancreatic cancer and those devastating percentages of survival, but they were not going to give up. They truly believed that Daddy could be that two percent, as he was in the early stages (which is rare for pancreatic cancer), he was strong, and he was healthy; a perfect concoction for survival.
They started him on chemotherapy to shrink the tumors as best as they could before they would consider him for the Whipple Procedure to remove the cancerous cells. The tumors shrank, and they continued shrinking.
I graduated from college in May 2011, got a job in my home town, and moved back home with my parents to help when and where I could. But Daddy stayed strong and continued his daily routine (aside from the treatments). He even helped me buy my very first car on my very own.
In June 2011, he underwent the Whipple Procedure, also known as pancreaticoduodenectomy. It is used to treat cancer that is contained to the pancreas (stage 1). The procedure basically removes the head of the pancreas, the duodenum, part of the bile duct, the gallbladder, and a majority of the stomach. After the surgery is complete, what is left of the intestine, bile duct, and pancreas are connected to allow food to be digested and to expel waste. Anyone who goes through this surgery will be on medication the rest of their life, as the procedure completely reconstructs the digestive system.
A very small percentage of Pancreatic cancer patients are eligible for this procedure, as the cancer must be contained in the pancreas and the patient much be strong. Daddy was very strong, stronger than anyone I have ever known. His will and determination to beat the monster that lived inside him was apparent in everything that he did. He was beating this.
After he recovered from the Whipple Procedure, Daddy went through a few rounds of radiation. According to Daddy’s doctors, it is common to give chemoradiation treatments after the Whipple to assist in survival.
A few months after the chemoradiation treatments were complete, and given time to heal, Daddy had the scan to show if the procedure and treatments were working. And they were. November 2011, Daddy was officially in remission. My brother and I were so proud of him for fighting and staying strong. We were proud of our mom for pushing to get Daddy the best care possible and the right doctors who would not give up on him.
In February 2012, I quit my job and spent time with Daddy almost every day. We went to the gym and we worked on rebuilding his muscle strength, he had gotten so skinny from the surgery and the chemo and radiation treatments. We would sit on the back deck every day and eat lunch, and enjoy the spring air. My brother graduated from Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in May, and I accepted a job as an intern in Northern Virginia and moved two hours away to start my career.
My first week went great! And to top it off, my parents were stopping by on their way back from Johns Hopkins after Daddy had his six month CT scan. We went to my favorite restaurant, Los Toltecos, where they dropped the bomb.
The cancer was back, stage 4, and other than radiation and chemotherapy, there was nothing the doctors could do, it was inoperable. They hadn’t told my brother yet, they wanted to wait until he was done with The Basic School (TBS) (training for newly commissioned and appointed Marine Corps officers). I immediately wanted to move back home, but Daddy wouldn’t let me. Daddy wanted us to continue on with our lives as if nothing was happening, he did not want us to put our lives on hold. And besides, he beat it once, he will do it again.
My brother completed TBS and moved to Blacksburg to live with my sister-in-law (SIL) while she finished school, and in August 2012 he proposed to her on the Virginia Tech campus in his uniform. They set a date for March 9th, 2013. Daddy’s health started to decline, mostly due to the chemotherapy he had started again, but this time his body could not endure the treatments.
On September 10th, my brother and SIL decided to move their wedding up five months to September 29th, 2012. Yes 19 days away. They were worried with Daddy’s declining health that five months was too long, and we were all afraid he would be too weak to attend the wedding.
The week of the wedding, Daddy spent four days in the hospital. He received some injections to help boost his immune system and give him some much needed energy; my mom called it the “Gatorade Concoction.” The day before the wedding Daddy came home from the hospital, it was the best we had seen him in months! He gave an incredible speech at the rehearsal dinner, and even stayed up late talking to the wedding party that were crashing at the house. I don’t think he went to bed until after midnight, which for those of us who know him is very rare, even when he isn’t sick.
The wedding went off without a hitch! My brother was so handsome in his uniform and my SIL was absolutely breathtaking in her wedding gown. Daddy walked me down the aisle, and my brother and SIL dedicated a song to us that we danced too, it was my very own father / daughter dance. He was in such good spirits and had so much energy. My SIL’s parents had an ambulance on hand just in case Daddy felt ill, and a recliner for him to sit in, but never did. I do believe one of my uncles passed out in the recliner at one point! Wish I had a picture of that.
The next few months Daddy was strong, and he continued to go to work while taking a break from the chemotherapy. Thanksgiving we were all so thankful for how strong and determined Daddy was to beat this monster.
In December, the CT scans showed that there was an increase in the size and number of lesions (tumors) and his doctors suggested to restart chemotherapy. Daddy also began to experience tummy pain as well as swelling in his feet and ankles.
He decided to start chemo again after Christmas, his favorite holiday. Man does than man love Christmas; the decorations, seeing family, and especially the food. At a young age he turned my brother and I on to corn pudding, and even though most of the ingredients were out of a can, it has always been our favorite dish that Daddy makes.
On January 3rd, 2013, Daddy began chemotherapy once more. He was dreading it, it made him appear sicker than he was, and we had to remind ourselves that the chemotherapy was what was making him look so sick. He continued to work, but usually came home early, it was always encouraging when he made it through an entire day!
On January 28th, 2013, Daddy went in for another chemotherapy treatment, but threw up when he got there. After giving him some fluids and calling his doctor, a CT scan was done, which showed a possible bowel obstruction, and Daddy was admitted to St. Mary’s Hospital in Richmond. On February 1st, Daddy had laparoscopic surgery to remove the obstructions, but was unsuccessful, so the doctors had to remove the obstruction surgically with abdominal surgery.
He felt much better, and after 11 days he was released to go home. Sadly, another CT scan showed more cancer tumors in Daddy’s abdominal cavity, so chemotherapy was now no longer an option. We were told by the doctor (who is also a family friend) that it was a good idea to start looking in to Hospice Care. Our focus was now on helping Daddy get stronger and feeling better.
On Tuesday, February 12th, 2013, Daddy was feeling nauseous again. He noticed that his clothes were wet. There was liquid coming from his incision, so Momma took him straight to the surgeon’s office where they directly admitted him back into St. Mary’s. Daddy needed another surgery. What was thought to be a simple repair to internal stitches from the first surgery, was another blockage in the smaller intestine which had abscessed and gone septic. Daddy was transferred to the Post Bariatric Surgery ICU. He was able to survive the next 48 hours, but he was very weak.
Through it all, Daddy remained positive and even talked about going back to work once he was recovered.
On Friday, February 22nd, 2013, Daddy had his third surgery to remove yet another blockage which the doctor was able to bypass, as well as repair a nick in the small intestine. As the doctor replaced and re-positioned Daddy’s G-tube (which allowed him to eat), he found another abscess. Luckily, this abscess had not gone septic. We weren’t sure when or if Daddy would go home again.
On Tuesday, February 26th, 2013, Daddy made the decision to be removed from all life prolonging treatments.
The doctors and nurses kept him comfortable on anti-nausea drugs and a pain pump. My mom called their priest, Father Steve, and he came in to plan out the memorial service with Daddy; in Daddy’s words, “I don’t want a big fuss now, no food. Just come cookies and juice.”
I came home that Friday, March 1st, 2013. He was in a good mood, and we even talked about getting him a new cell phone once he was out of the hospital. Saturday was a good day too. He was quirky and playful, but not Daddy anymore. Lots of family came to visit those two days; friends, family, work friends, church friends, etc. He was loved by so many it made my heart ache, it was as if they were all saying their goodbyes, which they were.
A little after noon he fell asleep. I was going to stay the night, I didn’t want to leave him by himself, but my brother and SIL told me I needed to go home and rest, I had been there since 8am.
My brother and I said our goodbyes around 9 PM, and although he did not open his eyes he nodded and said, “yes,” when we asked if he could hear us. We told him we, “loved him very much,” as was the common phrase we always said to each other. I was the last to leave the room, in silence and in tears. It was the last time we would see Daddy alive.
The next morning, the hospital called around 4:15 AM and told my mom that Daddy had passed away at about 4 AM. Everything from that moment forward was a blur. After calling Daddy’s sister, and his best friend, we left for the hospital.
Entering his room was a much different feeling, one I do not want to experience again. The sorrow and emptiness filled every corner as we gave Daddy a kiss, say our farewells, and the hospital’s priest came in to say a prayer with us.
Once we were back home, sleep was not an option. Family and friends rushed to be with us, but I do not remember much. Brian and I were emotionally gone. The next few days were also a blur as we prepared photo boards of his life and a scrapbook filled with birthday cards for his 61st birthday. Friends brought us food and our living room was filled with more flowers and plants than a flower shop.
We had his memorial service a week later on his 61st birthday where we were able to celebrate his life with more cookies and juice than I have ever seen! Standing room only. For a man of few words he sure did have an impact on a great number of people. His kindness, love, and loyalty showed through in many ways that day.
He fought a hard and courageous battle for two and a half years. He never, for a minute, thought he couldn’t beat it. In a way, I believe he did, even if in the end it took his life. He lived a life full of happiness. He was able to love so many things…
He loved his coworkers and his job. He worked hard and it showed. 35 years he worked for Virginia Power / Dominion; I heard recently that it now takes three people to do the job he did so well. Many people do not know that my grandmother actually helped my dad get that job; loyalty runs in the family.
He enjoyed his time spent with the Boy Scouts, and continued to lead even after my brother earned his Eagle Scout and left the troop. You could always see this small grin on his face when you knew he enjoyed doing something, and an ever so slight twinkle in his eyes.
He loved to go camping and hiking. He loved fishing. As kids he always took Brian and me camping and hiking, we always like the camping more. In the summers, after church on Sundays, he would take us fishing out in Amelia County. Both Brian and I still enjoy fishing to this day, even if we could never sit still long enough as kids to enjoy it. Pretty sure we got into trouble a few times for talking too much. I definitely remember having to write, “I will not talk while fishing,” 500 times as a punishment one time, haha.
He loved going to church, and he went every Sunday (unless there was something going on of course). He would volunteer as an usher, or a “husher” as he would often joke; he volunteered in the tree lot, and donated to the church religiously. He had his favorite spot too, about seven rows from the back, oh the right side, the aisle seat. A few people have told me that it is odd seeing someone else sit in that seat now. I think he liked that seat so much because it was a good vantage point of the alter and it was almost smack dab in the center of the church, a perfect seat to hear all the acoustics of the organ.
He loved food. Growing up with Daddy, we learned to like many “unique” foods, like fish sticks, chicken pot pies, poor man’s salads, and ice cream. Oh the ice cream, that man could down some ice cream; Neapolitan was his favorite for sure. And I cannot forget the hot dogs. Pretty sure we had hot dogs for dinner at least once a week. I think by far, his favorite meal was once a year with his dad, when they had oyster stew, fresh from our cousins on the eastern shores of Virginia.
And his family. Daddy loved his family. Whenever the holidays would start to get near he would start planning. He loved putting Christmas decorations up, it meant he would see family soon. We would decorate the trees, wrap the gifts, eat way too much Thanksgiving food, and play Christmas music starting the day after Thanksgiving. But the best part was always seeing family. I am pretty sure I get my love of Christmas from him. It still feels like every time I decorate the trees he is right there with me, we always did that together.
He is in a better place now, and is happy and healthy, and eating an endless amount of hot dogs, ice cream, and oyster stew. There is not one day that we do not think about him. We carry him in everything that we do, everywhere that we go, and forever in our hearts. My brother and SIL just had their first child, Harper Elisabeth Pool, in September, and I so wish Daddy could be here to meet her. He would have been the best grandfather! Harper sleeps with her mouth open sometimes and I can see a little bit of Daddy shinning through then.
He lives on in Brian, Harper, and me every day. Brian and I do our best to live up to his legacy, but in reality there is no one who could ever compare to how great of a father, brother, uncle, son, cousin, husband, friend, or man he was. He is our hero. I love you Daddy, very much!