I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to sit down and just write in recent months. To write about how I’m feeling. To write about the mountain tops and valleys of life and everything in between. To write about my family. To write about the pull that I feel between here and there — at a time when “here” was Michigan and “there” was Patagonia. That pull is the same, but “here” is once again Patagonia and “there” is now Michigan.
I feel as though the wind has been knocked out of me in recent months. I feel as though life is a bit of a blur these days, and I’m having a tough time bringing everything into focus. I feel as though I’ve been running on autopilot — I can’t imagine how my mom, or my dad and sister, must be feeling — trying my best to support, take care of and be there for my family, those I love and myself.
I’ve felt dried up, void of emotions and words. At times, I’ve felt as though there’s nothing left for me to give to those I love or myself. I’ve felt numb.
The last 2-3 months could be a novel in and of themselves. I suppose all of our lives are that way to some extent. Each day carries so many ups and downs and details that are small but important.
I’m getting ahead of myself. To be honest, I’m not exactly sure where this story begins, but I think this is a place to start.
I went back to the U.S. for the holidays in December. In November, I searched for flights, found good airfare and booked a trip home. When I left Bariloche on December 15, I never could’ve anticipated the course of the next few months — or even where I am now. But hey, that’s life, right?
After spending a few days in Buenos Aires, I flew into Tampa on December 18. My dad had been feeling under the weather. It was quite clear on Christmas that he really wasn’t doing well. Three days later, on December 28, he went to the ER due to extreme pain on his left side. He spent the next six days in the hospital. He was released on a Wednesday. The following day, January 3, the day I was supposed to fly back to Argentina, a doctor called my dad at home.
As my mom and I sat on the floor of my parents’ bedroom with my dad — my poor sister was already back in Michigan — the voice on the other end of the phone told us my dad has an aggressive form of acute leukemia. He must get started on treatment immediately. He and my mom should be where their community is strongest — where family and close friends are nearby. The decision was a no brainer. My dad would be treated at the University of Michigan Hospital in Ann Arbor.
That morning, I remember trying to hold everything in for a moment before tears cascaded down my face in a way they never have before. I can’t tell you my exact thoughts, but there was a rush of everything within me. The world beyond me was quite still. I remember watching my dad — I knew his mind was spinning, too — and exchanging teary-eyed glances with my mom. I remember sitting outside with my parents that morning with a box of Kleenex between us. I remember the beat of one call after another. I remember my mom springing into action — making appointments for my dad, airline reservations to Michigan, etc. I remember the heavy silence of that day, each of us lost in our own thoughts and simultaneously lost in that moment together. It’s amazing how one call can change everything — for good or challenging.
And while it can change everything, life goes on. We can pause for a moment or more, but at some point, we must move forward. We must keep going.
In a flurry of activity over just a few days, my parents packed up everything in Florida and flew up to Detroit. Over two days, I drove their car and our pets up to Michigan. I arrived exhausted into the home and arms of loving, lifelong family friends.
My dad and mom had gone to the ER at the University of Michigan Hospital that day, as my dad was still in pain. Overnight, the doctors there diagnosed him with diverticulitis and an abscessed intestine — the source of his pain. They began treating it immediately. There was talk of surgery, but in the interest of not prolonging the start of his chemotherapy much longer, the team decided to treat it with antibiotics instead. Within a week, the abscess was gone. Within two weeks, my dad was back to good health and ready to start chemo.
During this time, my sister was also admitted to the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio for further testing and observation of her epilepsy. Unfortunately, throughout the past few months, she’s been experiencing increased epileptic activity again.
While my sister was in Ohio, my dad was re-admitted to the University of Michigan Hospital and started chemo on Wednesday, January 30. He weathered 22 days of induction phase chemo, most of which was done while he stayed in the hospital. He was discharged for the last six days of it.
On February 18, two days before his last day of chemo and exactly two months from the day I landed in the U.S. to visit my family for the holidays, I flew back to Argentina. What a blessing it was to spend my final weekend in Michigan with my entire family — my dad, mom and sister. And what an incredible blessing it was that my dad, and mom, were able to drop me off at the airport the day I left. A week prior, it was not something I would’ve imagined possible, as my dad was still in the hospital receiving in-patient chemo.
I’m finding great comfort in my faith and relationship with God lately. He is showing up; He is by my side and my family’s side always; and I am reminded of His goodness — even, or perhaps especially, in the midst of an insurmountably tough time. The list of moments is endless, but just today, I was watching a sermon from Pastor Michael Todd of Transformation Church. One moment in particular gave me goosebumps and literally brought tears to my eyes. Pastor Mike said, “You have not seen an obstacle that is bigger than our God. You have not faced a cancer, a sickness, a trial that is bigger than our God.” There is undeniable truth — and for that reason immense power — in that statement. I am doing my best to lean into and on God and His word every day. There is comfort in Him.
Following the completion of his induction phase chemo, my dad had his bone marrow extracted the last week of February. On March 4, his doctor called to say he was in remission and that he was MRD negative — everything we’ve been praying and hoping for since his diagnosis. My dad still has a long road ahead of him. Remission is good, but if he goes untreated, the cancer would likely return in six weeks and would likely ultimately take his life within 2-3 months. Like I said, his specific gene of B-Cell ALL is an aggressive form of cancer. So he started chemotherapy again on March 6. While he’s undergoing further treatment, the doctors are also planning to do a bone marrow transplant — my dad’s best hope for a cure — mid-April. While I’m not all too familiar with the risks, I know this carries many.
This is the condensed version of a much longer, unfolding story, but perhaps it sheds some light on where I am and where my family is these days. We’re doing our best to take everything one day — one step — at a time. Some days, that’s easier said than done.
I think I’ve been struggling to write lately — and let me be clear: I write for myself first and foremost — because the truth of what I write is grounded in this reality, an ever-changing reality that is altogether within and beyond my comprehension. The facts are seemingly within; the emotions are seemingly beyond — at least right now. I have so much more to tap into, work through and share, but I suppose I wanted to start here. It’s where I — and my family — have been. It’s also, in so many ways, where I still am.
I’m doing my best to meet myself here, where I am. Because we have to meet ourselves where we are. We must start there. As some good friends have advised and reminded me in recent months, we have to allow ourselves to feel what we’re feeling. We can’t force it one way or another. If there’s anyone we can’t fool, it’s ourselves. We have to take our time, and we must be gentle with ourselves. To do that, we have to meet ourselves — and get real with ourselves — exactly where we are.
I am here.
March 7, 2019