A weepy bathtub moment

April 29, 2010

I’v e never cried about my cancer diagnosis. Not once. I’m not in denial or some blocked mental place, in fact, I probably have more introspection than is healthy. But I do cry every once in a while, about my Dad’s cancer. My Dad died over seven years ago after ten years and five bouts with this awful disease. I’m more than embarrassed to admit that I don’t even know if his reoccurrences were new primary cancers or metastises. I didn’t think to ask. I was just so self involved with being a college kid and dating and getting married that I didn’t even know to ask about the progression of his disease. He did 5 rounds of chemo, 5 rounds of radiation, several surgeries, most of which I wasn’t even there for. His procedures got to be so numerous, they started to feel routine to me and, god help me, not a big deal.

He had Catholic Charities volunteers drive him to and from treatment. Where was I? I don’t recall. I honestly don’t even remember what was more important than driving my Dad to chemo. It was probably college or work or some seemingly important engagement, but I know now, it couldn’t have been more important than spending time with my Dad and providing comfort throughout his fight. A year of school or a new McJob would have been a menial price to pay for those hours I could have had. For the support I could have been.

And I know. I KNOW, that the reason I never left school or quit a job is that my Dad would have been furious. The only thing that would have made him more angry than cancer would have been any lost opportunity for me. I understand that the reason I had no clue about the gravity of his struggle is that he wanted it that way. To exist as a burden to his only child would have been unconscionable. He never voiced any hint of what treatment was like. I remained blissfully ignorant of the details of chemo until I experienced it myself. And only then, on a random weeknight, many years after he was gone, did I ever shed a tear.

I was taking a bath. (What is it about bathtubs that make us so vulnerable? I know there’s the naked thing and all, but what is it that makes your emotions gush out of you like boozy vapors after a major bender? Seriously. It’s like the feelings steam out of my pores or something. Weird.) And I had a fleeting memory of a conversation I had on the phone with him during one of his lengthy hospital stays.

Me: How ya doin?

Dad: I’m bored.

Me: I bet.

Dad: Yeah….I’ve counted all the tiled in the ceiling. Measured exactly how many steps it takes to get to the bathroom. And I’ve plotted your Mother’s demise 357 different ways….three of them are flawed.

God the man had timing. I just erupted. So freakin funny. Especially with his weary, slurred speech and slight hint of vocal smile.

Yeah, I just cracked up laughing in the privacy of my tub and then melted into a bawling mess for a good twenty minutes. The snot-dripping, hiccuping, gasping for breath, kind of weeping that you can’t even pretend to hide. I wasn’t crying because he was gone. I was crying because I felt like a crappy excuse for a daughter. How on earth could I have not been there for him? How could I have gone about my stupid day to day shifts at a mediocre pool hall, reeking of desperation every time I crossed the threshold of my low rent agent’s office for a shitty non-union audition? Really? That was more important than some quality banter with my own Father while he was on a drip. Really? I’m beyond ashamed.

The only solace I have is this. I just didn’t know. I didn’t “get it” like I do now. And sadly, no matter how close you are to a cancer patient, no matter how much you love and care for them in all of the messy, painful, ugly details; you probably won’t “get it” either. It’s why I maintain that no matter how numerous your friends, no matter how strong your support, cancer is a lonely fucking disease. It just is. The battle you wage with your mind, beyond diagnosis, throughout treatment, and from what I gather, even beyond remission, happens in solitude.

My purpose in sharing these feelings is mostly selfish. I’m really, really trying to forgive myself, but I’m not quite there yet. Somewhere inside, I know my Dad wanted every moment of happiness for me and my tears would disappoint him. But still, I feel I was extremely selfish and inadequate as a young woman with a dedicated Father. Yet, maybe some good can follow. Maybe a weary caregiver will read this and forgive their loved one for demanding to be left alone and do something for themself. Maybe a patient will think twice before saying “You just don’t understand!” and simply be thankful for the company. And maybe I’ll make peace with my shortcomings.

Do me a favor. If you ever have the pleasure of enjoying a great glass of red Burgundy, (the real deal French stuff, not the crap in a jug) stop for just a moment, and think of Tom Ward. He was a pretty great guy. And a terrific Dad.


  1. You poor thing…the guilt and pain you carry is so obvious. It’s painful for me, as the reader, to read your entries. I don’t want to lecture at you, because you seem to be your own prosecutor and doing a damn fine job at it, but please consider one thing…if you could have one more hour to talk to your Dad face to face, knowing that you would never be able to talk to him again, would you take the whole hour to spew your guilt and remorse to him? Would he let you? Or would he stop you, smile, give you a hug, kiss you on the nose and say “don’t worry about it Sweetheart, it was a long time ago…how have you been; we only have 57 minutes left?”

    Life has to slap you up a bit before you open your eyes to it. Sounds like your Dad’s death was your slap. If he was a kind and understanding Dad, which it sounds like he was…he would want you to live your life for you and not stagnate it for him. Sounds like you’ve punished yourself enough.

    I hope you find your peace some day…life is too short to be empty

  2. Chris – you were an awesome daughter. Your dad loved you more than anything and you’re right, you were doing what he wanted you to do. I remember when you and he picked me up from Midway for your wedding and he took us to Goose Island for lunch and lotsa beers. Though I didn’t really know him well, he always made me feel that I did. He was a great guy and terrific dad. This is a beautiful post – love you, girl.

  3. Your Dad WAS pretty awesome. This anniversary must be particularly hard, given your own circumstances with treatment. I am in no position to advise, just to say you take after him in many good ways. As a friend, you have always been there, no questions asked, and he was the same way.

    Sitting in the booth at that restaurant on the Hill–what was it? Giovanni’s?–and him offering to “talk to some people” on behalf of my mom like he was the Godfather of St. Louis…giving you $5 at your rehearsal dinner to reimburse you for the personal ad…being able to find him almost any time at St. Louis Wine Company…the way he helped my mom serve dinner to the cast and crew during tech weeks…driving us home from college sophomore year and not hitting the road until we had a good meal at Dave’s Italian Kitchen…the list is endless.

    You were there for him the way he wanted you to be. I think the thing now is, how do you want us to be there for you?

  4. Ah Chris. I can understand why you would look back like that with regret, but isn’t life all about crystal-clear 20/20 in retrospect? Don’t forget, your frontal lobe wasn’t fully developed in college–nobody’s is! But what was fully developed was your love for your dad. He knew. I remember you walking him through CRC–so proud to introduce him to us. And I remember having a hilarious discussion with him at Las Palmas about the word, ‘pendejo.’ Do you remember that? He was funny, charming and lovely. As are you, Chris. Well, maybe not charming. But you are funny and lovely. 🙂
    So, you get weepy in tubs. Tubs are where I galvanize, drill down on problems. Come out with smooth legs and a smooth mission, usually. I get weepy when I’m at the beach looking at the waves.

  5. I actually know a smidgen of what you mean. When I had a baby, I finally realized all of the parents I didn’t help out that first year when your life is hell and all reality is gone. Then I got help from those same parents, and when I apologized up and down and backwards for not being there, they wisely said, “You will help others now that you know. That’s how you pay me back”. So, Chris, I say to you, help others with cancer and that’s how you will pay your Dad back, and I would say with this blog, you have done that. I love you for your good heart, and so does he.

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