My father was diagnosed with glioblastoma in November 2011. One night, after my mom and dad went for a walk, my mom found my dad on the patio having a grand mal seizure. He was rushed to a local emergency room, where they thought he had an infection. However, the seizures continued to get worse, to the point where he was having one every hour like clockwork. As soon as we heard “brain tumor,” we transferred him to MD Anderson.
At that time, I had been working at MD Anderson for about a year. My mom also works here, so we felt fortunate and blessed because we knew he was getting the best care possible. Before I started working at MD Anderson, I hadn’t been directly impacted by cancer. During my first year of working here, I had three family members diagnosed with cancer within three months of each other.
An eye-opening experience
My dad had surgery the day before Thanksgiving, his favorite holiday. Neurosurgeon Sujit Prabhu, M.D., was excellent and removed almost all of the tumor. Dad then had chemotherapy and radiation under the care of W.K. Alfred Yung, M.D., and his team. They got rid of the cancer, but we knew how aggressively glioblastoma typically comes back.
My dad also worked with the rehab team since the cancer caused paralysis on his left side. They were so supportive of him and helped him re-learn to walk with canes and walkers. Dad had a fighting spirit, and he never gave up or quit trying.
The entire experience was eye-opening. My job at MD Anderson doesn’t involve patient care. I work in the Ombuds Office, which provides resolution options to work-related concerns for employees. To be on the other side as a caregiver, and see the health care teams, patients and other caregivers first-hand, allowed me to truly empathize with their journeys and struggles. Every employee we encountered embodied MD Anderson’s core value of caring. My mom and I both felt tremendous support, care and understanding from our co-workers throughout this trying time as well.
Learning to take care of myself as a caregiver
Throughout my dad’s glioblastoma journey, I wanted to do everything I could to help him. My dad spent a lot of time in the hospital. When he was an inpatient, I would visit him after work and sometimes before work, too.
Being a caregiver is difficult because you feel powerless, as does your loved one. To be the best caregiver, I realized I must also take care of myself. At first, I felt guilty about taking time for myself, but I realized it was necessary. I started going to MD Anderson’s employee gym during lunch breaks and after work to help ease stress and anxiety.
When friends or family members wanted to help, I let them come visit my dad so my mom and I could take a break from the hospital. When this happened, my dad got to visit with a loved one, and we got to run errands or take time for ourselves. It was meaningful to him and invaluable for us as caregivers.
Fighting cancer with humor
My dad passed away in 2013, two years after his diagnosis. Yet while cancer ultimately took my father from us, so many of my memories of his cancer journey are filled with humor. My dad had a great sense of humor and constantly made us laugh. Seeing the humor in everyday things was healing for us. One of my fondest memories is from a day when it was just my dad and I, watching a funny TV show together. At one point, I was laughing so hysterically that I was silent. My Dad was quiet as well, so I looked over at him and saw he was silently laughing hysterically, too!
These are the memories I recall during difficult times, and I’m thankful that MD Anderson gave us two more years of memories together.
On Saturday, Oct. 8, I’ll be honoring my dad’s memory when I participate in the fourth annual Head for the Cure Houston 5K, an event that benefits brain cancer research at MD Anderson. I became involved with Head for the Cure when I started going to gym after my dad’s glioblastoma diagnosis, and leading team “Run for Rod” in honor of my dad has been restorative for my entire family. We look forward to celebrating his life and remembering him fondly in the company of other brain tumor survivors and families like ours.