My Dad Francisco
It was August 2010 when I sat on the sofa with my Dad, the same sofa where we shared endless conversations, where I would fall asleep after a long days work and he would gently cover me with a blanket, where he would sit in the candle light with my Mother, the love of his life, and sip wine whilst listening to the melancholy melodies of Engelbert Humperdinck… this same sofa witnessed that day in August, where my 61 year old Father told his only son and daughter he had pancreatic cancer.
The rest of the 14 months went like a flash of light but looking back, the effort, drive, motivation and constant search for a glimmer of hope, seemed like it couldn’t condensed into an infinite lifetime. The determination of hoping for only the very best outcome seemed to get stronger and stronger after each set back.
Dad was a fearless fighter. He endured an extremely invasive removal of half his pancreas and numerous lymph nodes, with no painkillers after being discharged from Hospital. All the Doctors and Nurses were surprised when he would turn down the offer of any pain medication to alleviate the pain he claimed he didn’t feel. We believed him because Dad could not let pain deter him from coming out the other side healthy.
Although we felt the sunrays for a short moment starting to make it’s way through the dark clouds that had lingered above us since that day in August, this glimmer of light was short lived. We received news that the diagnostic tests made on his lymph nodes resulted in 1 lymph node being ‘compromised’. In our mind, one out of many still left us with hope. The hope that existed in every fiber of our body since ‘that day’. The same hope saw us through the coming months of Chemotherapy and Radiation. I remember sitting by Dad’s side in the treatment room while he underwent chemotherapy. What do you say to those suffering beside him? Then I realized that the awkwardness that could have existed didn’t, as I looked around the room and over heard conversations that were taking place. Everyone in that room, including my Dad, went about their role in this fight against cancer with the same vitality, enthusiasm, will and hope like we all should have towards this thing that we call life. Being grateful, for another day. It’s not about being the ‘sick’ one, it’s about life and being present each day. Present in mind, body and spirit. There my Dad sat, exuding the same presence as he always did when he entered a room – a 6ft, silvered haired (he chose silver rather than grey to describe his ‘maturing’ hair colour) with a smile and serene energy that could calm any anxious spirit. I think, that day, he calmed my spirit.
My Dad, with the inquisitive mind that he was born with, sought to do what he could for himself. He relied heavily on those within the medical profession but in the midst of scheduled appointments he was determined to lead a healthy life by nourishing his body as much as possible. He had his own methods of trying to help his immune system that was failing him. Dad would make juices for the family which were just as cringing to look at as it was to drink. He nourished his body with all the nutrients he could ingest, and so we, as his number one fans, jumped on the juice bandwagon with him.
With the help of his beloved Brother-in-law, he was lucky enough to have access to an infrared sauna that he used twice a day for the majority of his time with cancer. It helped his body combat the imposter that was claiming territory in his body. It made Dad feel good afterwards, which was the most important thing. Mind, body, and spirit. The combination that Dad made sure he nurtured on a daily basis.
Everyone was fighting this battle with Dad from near and far and there was never a moment where we gave in. Yes we dealt with several rays of sunshine, several dark clouds, several rays of sunshine and what felt like a ride on a Ferris Wheel, we soldiered on through every downturn and basked in the highs. He maintained positivity so why shouldn’t we? I remember asking my Dad ‘Why him?‘ his response reaffirmed the selfless and humble man that he was, ‘Why not me? What makes me better than the next person?. I would answer, ‘Because you’re my Dad’.
It felt as though, between my Brother and I, we should have graduated with a degree in Medicine, Psychology, Oncology with honors in Medical Research. There was not a day where we would not educate ourselves on the medication Dad needed to take, on the possible side effects, the next best treatment available, any trials he could be a part of and learning the psychology behind someone that has one of the most aggressive cancers on this planet. It felt like all the late nights researching, was like cramming for an exam where we eventually got every answer wrong – not because they were wrong per se, but because there are sometimes things just out of our control and the outcome, well, is not an A+.
After many months of this Ferris Wheel ride, Dad left the decision with my Brother and I on whether he should be admitted to palliative care. It was suggested to us by a kind palliative care nurse that used to do home visits. My family and I had never understood what palliative care meant, and I remember she mentioned that there was a stigma on palliative care units where if someone is admitted, they will never leave. Again, with all our research, the current state of Dad’s pain and our hope, we decided on giving him the help he needed to alleviate the silent torture that was taking place throughout his body. My Dad, like all Dads, seemed to know more than us. I believe my Dad knew we would say yes and he also knew he would probably never leave. Although he may not see the comfort of his bedroom ever again, Dad hoped and did what was needed as he was always in the present. Overcoming each hurdle with as much optimism as physically possible.
Francisco George Eugene Solar Oyarzun, fought the good fight against metastatic pancreatic cancer. The cancer had spread to his bones and Dad never made it back home from palliative care unit. On the 30th of September 2011 at age 62, contrary to what his mind wanted, his body claimed defeat. He departed our lives so quickly which didn’t seem fitting for someone that made such an impact to so many. He maintained optimism for a better outcome no matter the many invasive procedures he had to endure. Although he wasn’t granted his wish, he always relied on the power of thought, attitude and determination. My Dad was a man of principle, a devoted Father and Husband – he fought the fight for all of us. I know Dad would be proud of what the Avner Nahmani foundation was doing for all of those Fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, friends that are soldiering on through the battlefields of this illness. I only wish he could have ‘put his foot down’ with me and his grandson he unfortunately never got to meet, on the 23rd of September 2014. I walked in memory of his 3-year anniversary and in memory of the 30 years of fond memories he left with me. He did what was needed every step of the way and although he was enduring discomfort, he wouldn’t fail to give time to his Family, on that same sofa, to talk about anything and everything. It was the same sofa that I would gently place a blanket on him when he would fall asleep. Now Dad, we sit here without you but we admire your bravery and the courage you had to have, to face such an ending to the beautiful story that was your life. To say that we miss you does not encapsulate the void that you have left within all of us. However, we continue to soldier on through life nurturing our mind, body and spirit like you always taught us. We love you and remember you always.
Your daughter that misses you – Jacqueline Solar Balsamo