It was hard to talk about cancer, so we didn't. My mom and every other adult in the family thought it was best to keep my dad's cancer from me. Because how do you tell a kid that their dad – the first love of their life, was dying?
©Al Troin / Adobe Stock
It was a good day. We had just finished shopping at SM Southmall – a local mall in our village only a few minutes away from home. We had picked up a few essentials for the house, and I treated myself to some new clothes. After a fun morning of mostly girl chats and shopping, we headed to Wendy’s for lunch.
I was with my two cousins, Cat and Jo, who were like my big sisters. Their mom is my mom’s sister, and their family was a constant warm presence during my childhood. Summers were always extra fun with them around.
That day, they had been so lovely, taking me out of the house and being extra caring and kind. But I knew something was up; I could feel the palpable tension underneath all the niceties. People were always extra nice before bringing bad news. I felt a little bit of dread in my stomach as we sat on a table. Shifting uncomfortably in my seat, I was making mental preparations for what was about to happen.
“This is it,” I thought to myself. “This is the day they tell me my dad’s going to die.”
My dad had been sick for awhile, and we were in the midst of a family crisis. The head of our household was diagnosed with liver cancer, and it was spreading fast. Our once quiet and peaceful home had been transformed into something else. We had visiting relatives taking care of “adult stuff” that I couldn’t quite understand. I was only 15 years old then, naive and unqualified, and was excluded from most of the responsibilities the family had to deal with.
It was hard to talk about cancer, so we didn’t. My mom and every other adult in the family thought it was best to keep my dad’s cancer from me. Because how do you tell a kid that their dad – the first love of their life, was dying?
But then again, I somehow already knew. The significant shift in the dynamics of our household, regular trips to the hospital, hush-hush conversations, closed-door meetings – all indications to me something was not quite right.
When you are 15 years old, you don’t really care to hear about the details of a parent’s sickness. You just want them to get better, without thinking of the how. I guess no one was daring enough to give me the serious “cancer talk,” until that fateful day at Wendy’s.
“So, how is this going to play out?” I wondered. “And why didn’t we get better seating?”
A booth would’ve been nicer; more private. But there we were right smack in the middle of the entrance, near the salad bar, where random strangers were happily filling up their plates, oblivious to my concerns.
I was pretty sure I could take it. It was a good day after, all. There was no need for theatrics or overdrawn dialogues. It will probably be the usual: “How are you doing?” “We’re here for you” “It’s gonna be okay” kind of talk. Yeah, I could totally take that.
Mid-meal, my cousin Cat finally turned her attention to me to give the news, followed by a sigh and a look of genuine concern and pity.
“Eight months,” she said.
There it was – the truth bomb. It was only two words, but the message had weighed so unbearably heavy. The table went silent, and no one talked, or maybe I spaced out. I knew what Cat meant, of course. There really was no need for further discussion. My dad had only eight months to live.
I sank back into my seat, defeated. Tears started welling up in my eyes, and I tried to cover up distress by eating my burger. “We really should have gotten booth seating,” I thought.
That was the day I found out about my dad’s cancer condition. While I had known, this was sort of the confirmation – the exclamation point – that made it real. It was a rather unrefined, maybe even rude way, to bring bad news but I still welcomed it. I never really found out if they had planned that day, although it seemed more like a spur of the moment thing. Were they tasked to bring me the bad news? I didn’t think so.
If my mom or dad had been the bearer of the news, it would have been more devastating. So I guess my cousins’ way, although awkward, was weirdly comforting too. Albeit abrupt and embarrassing, I needed that brash honesty in a time where everyone was too discreet. Maybe it even helped me find the courage I needed to finally confront my reality.