To Honor my Daddy

My father passed away on January 15, 2014 after battling for 29 months with Multiple Myeloma.  I've been writing this post since then, and now, just shy of his first anniversary, I am able to finish it.  This is my way of honoring him.  I miss him oh, so very much. Here's his (our) story:

A few years ago, my dad started complaining of pain in his legs, hips and arms.  He was a contractor and was used to carry heavy stuff, as well as using some powerful tools of the trade.  He was a very strong and active man... Then all of a sudden, at his 63 years of age, he couldn't even lift a hammer.  He was very ill, but we didn't know it.

My Dad
I remember one day in 2011, he calls me and tells me he's in the ER.  I ran to the hospital, as this was the first time in my thirty-plus years that I've ever seen my dad go to the hospital.  They ran all sorts of tests and decided he had kidney stones.  What?  I am no doctor, but I couldn't see any stones in his xrays... but they gave him some medicine and he felt better, so, life kept going on as before and he never went back to the doctor.  He was "cured" from the kidney stones, he said.  Little did we know this was his body screaming that something was very, very, very wrong!

In the beginning of 2012, he started getting flue-like symptoms.  He started feeling weak and his body ached all over.  He started sleeping a lot, but continued to work.  And he was in a very horrible mood half the time.  We had forgotten all bout the "kidney stone incident" of a year before, and we thought it was all stress related.

In May, a few days before his birthday, he was short of breath.  One night, he felt he couldn't breathe, so my step-mother rushed him to the ER.  His lung cavity had filled with fluid.  His creatinine was 9.  He was in renal failure and very ill.

That same night they started him on dialysis and was on dialysis until the day he died.  He spent 60 days in the hospital that first time.  Yes, 2 whole months in a hospital bed in the intermediate ICU.  We sang him happy birthday there, we spent Father's Day with him there.  I spent all of my free time in that hospital.  Watching him sleep, lifting up his spirits, fighting with him, and of course loving him.

Dad's Birthday in the Hospital
The nephrologist in charge of his case was very puzzled as to what could've caused such a severe kidney failure episode on this, otherwise healthy, man.  He put a consult with an Oncologist who immediately suspected Multiple Myeloma.  His urea was super high, his hemoglobin was very low and his kidneys were shut down.  All signs of this horrible disease in it's later stages, when the kidneys are involved.

The Oncologyst started all the tests that would confirm her suspected diagnosis, but we had a major hurdle:  The hospital did not have the capability to perform certain tests or biopsies.  So we had to wait until he got stable enough to move to another, bigger hospital.

A few weeks after he was released, in August 2012, his first bone marrow biopsy was performed.  The result? His bone marrow was 90% contaminated with cancer cells.  Yes, positive for Multiple Myeloma.  The same cancer that was responsible for his foul mood, his bone pain and his kidney failure.  My father will have to have dialysis for a long time.  And chemo... and radiation.

During that hospital stay, which was 2 weeks after getting released from the first hospital, my father was very, very ill.  He was on all sorts of medicines that made him have diarrhea and had to use a diaper.  His eyes were glossy, his face swollen... and he was in pain.  Severe pain.  I had never seen this man, this rock of a man,  so weak, so sick.  I tried not to cry in front of him, and now, as I write this and I remember, tears stream down my face.  He was in so much pain, he would roll around on his hospital bed in pain.  This man, who never let us girls see him cry, or naked, had to endure that we cleaned him up and changed his diapers, with a look of horror and humiliation... I could never begin to imagine what was going through his mind during those days.

Dad and I on my 40th Birthday
By September 2012 my father could not walk.  He had to be in a wheelchair.  He had to be carried to the bathroom, had to be bathed, fed and clothed.  We had to close his business.  His time was spent between dialysis and chemo.  Between doctors and needles.

My 40th birthday arrived, and my husband, trying to make me feel better threw me a surprise birthday party.  My father was there, wheelchair, pain and all.  He wanted to be there.  He needed to be there.  My husband told him it was on a second floor, that there were stairs involved.  He didn't care.  A bunch of the guys carried him up the stairs, wheelchair and all, and the whole place turned into a pool of tears.  It was hard on all of us, but it was good.  We had fun; he had fun.  When the party was over, they all brought him down the stairs also.  He was in pain, but he didn't care.  His baby girl was turning 40 and he wasn't going to miss it.

In my party, he promised everyone that by Christmas he would be walking again.  It was a promise to himself more than to us, and we cheered him on.  And by God, he did it!  Tears again flooded everyone's eyes when he walked by himself into my patio that Christmas.  He was there at the Christmas celebration as if nothing was going on.  All dressed up, shaved, with his cologne on.  If you didn't know he was so sick, you wouldn't have guessed it. He had fun that Christmas.

Dad with my nephew, his grandchild
As 2013 rolled around, he started feeling better, but new tests showed that the radiation and chemotherapy was not working as expected.  A new bone marrow biopsy sometime around Spring showed his bone marrow was now 98% contaminated... he was getting worse.

Upon my insistance we switched oncologysts.  This meant a new chemo schedule, more tests and the confirmation that a bone marrow transplant was not an option.  We were devastated.  His kidneys were still not working and he was going to dialysis 3 times a week and chemo twice a week.  He spent all his time in hospitals and doctors... Since we had to close his business, he was living on Social Security and was very tight and he was miserable.

Around summer 2013 he lost his ability to walk again.  But he was so bull-headed that he refused to be confined to a bed or a wheelchair.  He used a cane to walk around short distances, but the wheelchair to go the doctor and such.  The doctor prescribed a compression belt to help with compression fractures of his rib cage.  He already had 9 ribs fractured and 2 "holes" in the frontal part of his skull.  The Myeloma was raging in his body!  All we could do was make him comfortable... and happy.

My sister brought the kids over as much as she could.  My niece was 7 and my nephew was 2.  My little brother, J,  was 15 and helped out as much as he could.  He was my father's favorite crutch.  He would bathe him, dress him and help out with him so much!  I am so proud of him for being such a good son to our father.

Dad, J and my stepmother, J's mom
I had promised J that for Junior High graduation I was taking him on his first Caribbean Cruise for Christmas.  He was so excited for that, and I was grateful I could do that for him.  He, a teenager, had gone through so much with dad's illness, that I felt he needed a break.  But dad fell ill in November... very, very ill.  So much that the doctors told us to "get ready".  But dad pulled through!  He got to the hospital almost unconscious, and not walking.  He left the hospital 8 days later, walking and laughing as if he had just gotten back from vacation.  Oh, Dad!

He encouraged us to go on our cruise.  In fact, he insisted.  He wanted J to have a nice Christmas.  We were due to leave on December 22nd.  The Friday before, he calls me and says, "I want to go to breakfast with you.  Just the two of us."  So, I picked him up on Saturday morning and went to breakfast with him at Mango's.  The morning was perfect.  It was breezy, and the sky was blue.  We sat down and talked ,and had the greatest time.  Just the two of us.  It was the last time I really spoke with my dad.  He was saying goodbye.

Dad and I at breakfast. December 21, 2013
He waved goodbye to us from the pier the next day.  He even had my sister take him to the pier again that night, just so he could see the boat float away.  Me and J were in the railing waving goodbye to him, frantic.  It was dark, and we couldn't really see him, but we could see the silhouette of his wheelchair.  And he saw us, waving like 2 crazy people from the railings.  With tears down our faces.  We kind of knew we were saying goodbye, but we didn't know how true that was.

We spend a semi-sweet vacation in the Caribbean, because every time we called, dad didn't feel like talking to us.  He was getting sicker, and now in hindsight, it was a blessing that J didn't see how bad it was.  I think it would've ruined Christmas for him forever, and I think dad knew.  He was only 16 and up to that point he really enjoyed Christmas.  So, the Cruise was a blessing in disguise.

As it turned out, I got back really, really sick from that cruise.  I had the worst flu ever!  And I didn't want to get my dad sick, so I stayed away from him as much as I could.  I knew what a simple cold could do to him, and I sure didn't want to make him sick.  His immune system was completely shot, and a simple cold could kill him.

Dad and my sister on NYE 
We got back on December 29, just days shy of the New Year.  My dad spent NYE with my sister, and I spent it in bed.  We spoke briefly the days following; I still wasn't completely healed from whatever bug I brought back from the cruise, and I didn't want him to get sick.  January 6 is Three Kings Day here in Puerto Rico, and I called him to go visit him, but he said NO.  He was very tired and didn't want anyone visiting.  Next day, my step-mother called me from the ER.  Dad was unresponsive and very sick.  I needed to get there NOW!

I rushed to the hospital and saw him for a bit.  If you pushed him he would open his eyes and mumble something, but would fall asleep very quickly.  I stayed there and hid my tears... I knew my daddy was dying.  A little while later, they moved him to the ICU.  He stayed there until he passed away at 1:45 am on January 15, 2014.

Dad in the ICU. 
I regret not being with him more those final days when he was still talking.  If I would've known that I only had a few days with him, I would have been  with him all the time, even though I was so sick.  If I had known, I would've have kissed him and hugged him until he got tired and kicked me out.  If I had known... 

What breaks my heart every time I think of it, is not being there with him in his final moments.  He always told us he was afraid he would die alone.  He didn't want to die alone.  He wanted to die with us, listening to us, just like he did when we were little and would pretend to be asleep, just to hear us play next to him.  He wanted to die with the TV blasting, his grand kids jumping on the bed... but instead he died alone.  I just can't help but feel very sad when I think about this.

It has been a year since my daddy passed away.  And not a day goes by that I don't miss him.  At times, I find myself picking up the phone and calling him, or just driving to his house... when all of a sudden it hits me: he is gone.  Cancer took him.  So, at those times, I just say a prayer for him, and tell him how much I miss and need him still.
Baby Issys and Daddy

Dad and I when I was little

Dad and me when I was in the Army

Dad and I in my wedding