my dad’s oncologist is one of the nicest, most patient and experienced doctors i’ve ever met. he sat with my dad for over an hour as my dad asked him the same question over and over again,
“how long can i live if i do this treatment?”
finally dr.safa looked him in the eyes and said, “i wish i could tell you, chih. honestly, nobody knows that answer. you could walk out today and be hit by a bus. this is the way life is…we just don’t know.”
there are so many different ways of seeing the same reality, depending on whose head and eyes you’re using. his doctors think my dad’s the luckiest man because they accidentally found the lung cancer when they were checking for pneumonia, just the way they accidentally discovered his eight blocked arteries to his heart, when they were considering the surgical removal of his prostate cancer.
the doctors consider my dad lucky.
but my dad thinks he’s the most unlucky man in the world.
they found the cancer in the back side of his left lung, apparently a very treatable location away from most organs, early stages, so they can zap it with radiation (surgery is not an option since my dad’s heart is not in the best of shape), with an 85% chance of curing him, there will be no pain from the radiation, no loss of hair (my dad’s greatest fear, believe it or not), no nausea or throwing up… a possible sunburn and increased fatigue.
here’s how the conversation went with this doctor who has such a beautiful bed side manner:
‘hi chih! you look great! you don’t look like an 89 year old. what’s your secret?’
‘i was born in china.’
the doctor smiles.
‘i’m an architect.’
‘oh so i have to be born in china and be an architect to look like you at age 89?’ dr. safa laughs.
‘i have 4 children and 13 grandchildren and 4 great grandchildren’
‘oh and i have to have children who like to make babies if i want to stay young’
‘i wear glasses but i don’t need them.’ my dad can make no sense at all.
‘oh and i have to wear glasses just because they make me look smart and young.’ …dr. safa was clearly getting a kick out of dad.
‘so tell me, chih, what did dr. tang tell you? what do you know about your cancer?’
‘that it’s the size of a quarter and that i’m going to die.’
‘no, dad, that is not what he said.’ my dad only hears what he fears.
‘well, i have good news for you, chih, you’re not going to die from this, we’re going to zap it and get rid of it.’
‘but what if i don’t want to do the treatment?’ remember my dad and his fear of procedures of any sort.
‘then it might grow, because that’s what cancer likes to do, and then it could get into the rest of your organs, and then it will be very hard to treat, and it could get painful.’
‘how do you know that it’s not already in my other organs?’
‘i don’t know that, but i do know that it’s in your lung, and that we need to get rid of it there.’
‘but it could already be other places. so maybe i don’t have to get rid of it in my lung.’ my dad’s way of thinking can be backwards.
it’s up to you chih, but you do run the risk of it spreading if you don’t treat it.’
‘if i do this, will i still be able to swim and play my harmonica?’
‘what???… you swim and play the harmonica?’
‘well, that’s great! that’s your secret! not that you came from china! of course, i’m going to want you to keep up the swimming and the harmonica! those things will help you live long. that is your secret my friend. ‘
‘how long? how long will i live?’
the doctor laughed, ‘chih, you are a lucky man, your prostate saved your heart and your pneumonia saved you from cancer.’