health

“Why I can’t stand it when people ask if my dad is ‘kicking cancer’s butt’.”

My dad was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia in March 2016. It was the year of my wedding; marred by pain and uncertainty for my family, who hoped, begged and prayed for a miracle recovery for my incredible father.

He is a man who has worked hard, struggled for his happiness and succeeded by all measures of the word’s meaning. He came to Australia from Egypt at the age of 30 with my mother. They were newlyweds and Australia was their honeymoon; a home away from home that would mark the start of a long, happy life away from the religious wars and persecution that their home-country offered them.

Dad worked three jobs when they arrived, almost never sleeping to help provide and set up a life for his two children. I don’t recall a second as a child where I was disappointed about the life I had. He and Mum gave my sister and me everything.

He is a man who has worked hard, struggled for his happiness and succeeded by all measures of the word’s meaning. Image: Supplied.

It wouldn’t matter if he worked 24 hours as long as he could provide. He never asked for a single thing. He still doesn’t; always favouring our comfort above his own.

Dad was a man born with responsibility and duties to fulfil. His mum passed away when he and his brothers were still young and when she died, he became both mother and father to his brothers. He worked hard to ensure they would get premium schooling, marry and move on to live full lives themselves.

Family to Dad was and is everything, so when, after years of toil, he was diagnosed with leukaemia, he would fight. If for nothing else, he’d do it for his family, who couldn’t and can’t imagine a happy day in this life without him in it.

ADVERTISEMENT

In the months before she died, Emma Betts spoke to Mia Freedman about what it's like being 25, and planning your own funeral. Post continues after audio.

Over the past 16 months, we’ve witnessed my father endure the most excruciating pain. We have been in the haematology ward where many around him have lost their battles. We have seen our stoic, brave, loving, gentle, kind father in tears. We have seen him weak. We have seen his immunity fail. We’ve seen the bruising all over his stomach from his chemotherapy needles and we’ve heard and seen the pain in his eyes when each time, he has been told there’ll be another round of this medicinal torture to endure.

He hasn’t given up and we have not given up on him. He has never asked ‘why me’ or complained about the journey. He has met every bitter, trying, arduous, gut-wrenchingly sad step with grace that I can neither understand nor comprehend and he has fought this hard for his loved ones. It pains him too much to see us hurt so instead he has carried on like cancer was on the way, and not in the way, of his journey.

He is a fighter, but last week, doctors believed his battle might be over. For a day or two, his team of specialists deliberated over best options; hinting at palliative care. We didn’t want to hear a word of it. We wouldn’t be losing our father to this disease. We couldn’t.

With enough persistence and research, doctors found one more alternative treatment to try. While there are options available for treatment, we’ll take every single one.

We’re not giving up for a second but when you are being told to prematurely grieve the loss of the pillar of your family, you can’t help but feel defeated. You feel lucky for the time you’ve had but also so terribly unlucky for the time this debilitating illness has robbed you of. You feel envious of those who get to live long and full lives free from disease and you wonder, what is different about all the people who post stories of their own and of their family members, ‘kicking cancer’s butt.’

"We have seen our stoic, brave, loving, gentle, kind father in tears. We have seen him weak."
ADVERTISEMENT

The more I read, the more the term troubled me. Not because those who survive this torture don’t deserve accolades of praise and celebration, (believe me, they do) but because, having seen the pain, the struggle, the depression and the loss of one’s strength and dignity through this disease, I believe EVERYONE battling leukaemia or cancer deserves that same glorious heralding. It’s enough of a torture chamber without discussions of winning and losing.

It’s not fair to call those who don’t ‘win’ the fight; losers. They’re not.

Those that ‘lose’ the battle are no less enduring. They are not less strong. They are fighters too. The difference is, that sometimes they kick cancer’s butt and other times, cancer kicks theirs.

To imply that we are stronger than our diseases is a concept I’m uneasy with as I’m sure many families who’ve lost a loved one to illness are. I am not opposed to the idea that positivity helps, healthy eating might work for some too, but I do not believe it cures or my father would be better by now and so would all the other cancer sufferers who would choose life any day over suffering.

To suggest that some survive over others because they have fought ‘harder’ is frankly an injustice to the months of pain that cancer sufferers go through in hope of recovery.

I still hope my dad will make it. In an ideal world, every cancer sufferer would, because every one of you going through this painful process is a winner, a fighter and is worthy of another chance.

For the rest of us, it’s time for a re-education. It’s time we all knew that ‘kicking cancer’s butt’ is not a choice you have, instead, it’s a gift you’re only given sometimes and it’s at the top of every sufferer and their families wish lists.

Since writing this, Miriam’s father sadly passed away on the 14th of August. He fought valiantly till his very last breath.

Have you or someone you know been affected by cancer? CancerAid is an Australian app which provides help and support to patients and carers alike.

FROM OUR NETWORK
00:00 / ???