How My Father’s Battle With Leukemia Brought Us Closer Together

father and son walking in the woods
Remember how far you’ve come, not just how far you have to go. You may not be where you want to be, but neither are you where you used to be.

This is a little different this week. A tale about how one illness that I had helped my father when he needed it.

Yes, I knew I was getting older. Yes, I felt that at some point, I would be faced with my parents having a debilitating illness. But still, when it happened, I was shocked and had to quickly adjust my life for my father. Let me back up a bit.

During spring break 2012, we went on a family cruise with my children, in-laws, and parents to celebrate my son, Andy’s, high school graduation. During the cruise, my father noticed a swelling on his neck that was rapidly growing. He did not realize at the time this would change his life and ours, and begin an incredible journey with cancer and a lesson in compassion.

When he returned home, dad’s primary doctor sent him to an otolaryngologist, who removed the two swollen lymph nodes in his neck and sent them for a biopsy. The diagnosis came back a few days later — small B-cell lymphocytic lymphoma (SLL), an uncommon, indolent form of leukemia that is very treatable with chemotherapy resulting in remissions of many years — sometimes 20 or more.

His primary doctor referred him to a hematologist/oncologist for treatment, and because he was otherwise in good health and 69-years-old, they opted for an aggressive six-month course of chemotherapy with three different drugs to put him in remission.

Dad gathered the family around and explained his course of treatment and some of the risks. My sister had been through a similar course of chemotherapy for breast cancer two years earlier with a great deal of emotional support and compassion from mom and dad, and she was very empathetic to dad’s situation and helped him cope with his fears of treatment and its side effects. The odds of serious side effects were very low, but we all knew in the backs of our minds that they could occur.

Dad had a chemotherapy port inserted in his chest and began treatment that summer. Mom bought dad an iPad to keep him entertained during his long chemo sessions, and that was when he discovered the value of social media in treating cancer.

As with my sister, but unlike many other cancer patients, he was very open about his condition and published his diagnosis and progress with treatment on social media so friends, family, and neighbors could get the latest news. But for me, I was going through my own bout of anxiety and depression. How could I help him?

Originally published in The Mighty

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About Alan Eisenberg

Alan Eisenberg is a Certified Life Coach, Bullying Recovery activist and author of "A Ladder In The Dark: My journey from bullying to self-acceptance" and "Crossing the Line". He has been writing and speaking to various audiences about the issue of C-PTSD and Bullying Recovery. Mr. Eisenberg has been featured on several print, radio shows and podcasts on this issue, including NPR and in the Boston Globe. He is currently working toward his Master's Degree in Mental Health Counseling.
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