Sharing my dads pancreatic cancer story

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So, i'm new here and not really sure why i'm writing this, maybe it will just help to cope.

I saw others sharing their/their relatives stories on here, so here's mine.

Long story short, for the impatient: My dad was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer in February 2019, less then 2 months later, on April 1st, he passed away.

Here's the long version.

My dad has been more or less seriously sick for over a decade. As long as i remember, he was quite a bit overweight and had diabetes, the "milder" form, so he didn't need shots but had to check his blood

sugar every day and control his diet. He was a smoker since he was a teenager and also liked drinking every once in a while.

About 15 years ago, he had a kidney infection, performance of both kidneys went down to 10% - permanently. At this time, he had to retire and go to dialysis 3 times a week, which he tolrated pretty well.

His pension was rather small, but my mom had (and still has) a good income so my dad became the housemaker, did the shopping and cooking and took care of my little sister who still went to highschool at this time. My bigger sister and me were already working and financially independent, so despite my fathers disease, my parents were living a good life. They always loved to travel and my dads health condition did not stop them. They went to the Canary Islands and Croatia every year, even cruises were not a problem, there are plenty of vessels with dialysis on board. Once my little sister left the nest, my dad got very active as a volunteer, he was president of the local sports club for 8 years, board member of the local hiking club and so on. Life was good.

In the mean time, i had to travel all over the world for work. 4 weeks in the US, a week in Canada, a week at home in Germany, 5 weeks in Japan, that was my life and i also liked it. In 2014, my employer offered me to work at our

branch in Shanghai for 2 years. I sayed yes and while i'm typing this now, i'm still sitting here in China.

In December 2018 my sisters son was born and my wife gave birth to our daughter 5 weeks later, last year, both my sisters got married. My mum usually visits us in China once a year, we would go Germany every summer and christmas for a few weeks. While my dad was still able to travel, the 12 hour flight to China would have been to long, so he could see his grand daughter only twice a year. Last year, we spent 5 weeks in Germany, i had to work, so my dad spent most of his time with my wife and our daughter.

They loved cooking together, especially since my dad was always keen to try new things in the kitchen and my wife taught him a lot about chinese cusine. My wife really loved her "Opa" - the german word for grandpa, which is what everybody in the family called him since he became a grandpa.

In December 2018, we celebrated my dads 60th birthday, big party, around 70 people were there. At this time, i already noticed that he didn't look so well, somehow exhausted or burned out but he was in a good mood and said he was alright. I think it was more obviously to me then others, because i saw him only every couple of months.

Then things changed. My mom had her trip to visit us in China booked for end of March. Every sunday, we're doing video calls, so i was kinda surprised, she called on a weekday.

I knew something was wrong from the very first moment, i could see it in my mums face. Then she told me. At dialysis, they checked my dads blood several times a week, but due to his kidney disease, some values always went basically through the roof. Anyway, they were concerned about one certain thing that was oddly off (don't remember which one) in his blooed count and sent him to MRI. There they found tumors at both kidneys, liver, stomach and pancreas.

Since it already spread that much, they first didn't know were the cancer originally came from, but they eventually said, it's the pancreas. Surgery was not an option, but my dad started chemo therapy right away and tolerated it well. I'm not sure if it made a difference after all, but even though it was clear that his cancer was already terminal, chemo therapy gave him hope, i think. He only went to the Hospital for treatment, from being diagnosed until passing away, he didn't have to spend a single night there.

My mum cancelled her trip to China but told me not to worry to much even though the doctors said, that worst case, he'll only have a few months left.

First i was thinking to fly to Germany right away, but my mum knew i had a lot of work because a major exhibition in our business was comming, so we booked a flight for end of April.

My mum also told my little sister not to cancel her holiday. Her and her husband were going to visit us in Shanghai and then go to Thailand and Sigapore afterwards.

So a few weeks went by, we called my parents a lot and it seemed like my fathers condition was stable. My sister spent a week with us, then flew to Thailand, the day after they left China, my mum called.

It was a Wednesday, 27th of March. She said dad was not doing well and the doctors can't tell whether he has 2 months or just 2 weeks left - that's when i got really nervous.

There were two options for flying to Germany, either next day, which would have been tough to organize, especially with our toddler, or Monday, 1st of April. Again, my mum told me not to worry to much,

so we booked the flight for monday. I got a positive reaction at work - this was really the busiest time in 2 years - my manager said i could leave right away and as long as i needed to.

Saturday my mum called again, my dad was looking good, he went shopping in the morning and made BBQ for the rest of the family that was working in the garden that day, that made me feel better.

Next day my sister called me from Thailand, she was crying. She said mum just called and asked them to come back as soon as possible. Since i'm the more experienced traveller, i helped my sister arranging flights, they were arriving almost the same time at Munich airport as our flight from Shanghai, so we could even share a rental. I was thinking about calling my mum again this sunday, but eventually didn't. I just texted her that everything for my sister and me was arranged and we'll be home tuesday morning.

She just replied that she's sure i got everything well under control. Monday, our flight was at night, so i went to work in the morning to settle everything before leaving. After lunch, we started packing and i don't know why, but i suddenly started crying. I told my wife that i was afraid were gonna be to late and i just wanted to see him one last time. She was trying to stay positive, said that he's probably still got months left

to live and told me how she will take care of him and cook his favourite chinese dishes once we're there.

Tuesday early morning, we arrived at Munich airport, met my sister and her husband there and got our rental car. I drove that route a 100 times before, but this time, the 2 hours felt like ages.

Somehow, at that time i was worried most about my little sister, who was always my dads baby girl.

When we got to my parents house and the door opened, i could feel my heart beating like a hammer.

My bigger sister and my mum were standing there, dressed in black, i instantly knew what happend before she said anything, but i'll also never forget her words:

"He wanted to wait for you, but he just couldn't make it."

My father died one day before, 4:30 in the morning.

We flew around half the globe and were just like 30 hours to late.

But here comes the hardest part: My wifes german is not perfect and my mum spoke dialect, so she wasn't sure if she understood and asked me: "Where's Opa? How is he?" And i had to tell her that we were to late.

It crushed her. The days before and during the whole trip she was staying positive and trying to cheer me up, but that very moment eventually really crushed her. I don't know what was harder in this very moment, the death of my father of seeing my wife like this. She really loved him and only had the chance to know him for several years.

My mum then told us how everything happend.

Saturday, my dad had a really good day, he felt well and didn't even need any pain killers.

Sunday morning, he couldn't even get out of bed himself anymore, his blood pressure was down to 90/50. An aunt, my dads sister, who is a nurse on the cancer ward where my dad had his chemo therapy was there the whole day. In the evening, he was in a lot of pain, so my aunt called one of the doctors to visit off duty. After giving him pain killers by infusion, he did better, but still couldn't get up. They were dicussing about taking him to the hospital, but my dad insisted on staying at home. My mum said, she somehow knew it was going to end soon when she realized, that he didn't even have a single cigarette the whole day. This was the first day in almost 40 years of being together she didn't see him smoke.

Around 9, when my mum went to bed, dad was doing quite ok, they talked a lot. He even asked when she was going to work tomorrow and who's gonna take care of dinner.

Midnight, he had difficulties breathing, so my mum helped him sitting up, they were sitting for 20 minutes till he felt better and then lay down again. They repeated that several times.

Eventually, my dad said, "I can't take it anymore", he closed his eyes and was gone.

My mum was holding him and said "Don't go, stay here, stay with me!", but he was gone.

She said she then kissed his cheek and wished him a good journey.

The next few days we were busy arranging the funeral, my wife asked if she could see him for a last time and i was also thinking about it - open coffin at the funeral is not common in Germany.

I kept thinking "Why didn't we just come a few days earlier?".

Usually a few days pass between death and funeral, so they offered to open the coffin for us to say good bye. One of my aunts recommended us not to do this, she said she did that twice when relatives passed away and ever since, she can't get that picture out of her head anymore. I told my wife i'd go see him with her if she wants to, she told me the same, but eventually we didn't. Looking back, i think it was the right choice, i remember my dad as the happy man living his life, celebrating christmas and his 60th birthday, that was the last time we saw him in person.

I was a bit afraid about the funeral, but i gotta say, it was much easier as thought. My dad was a well known man in our small town, there were literally hundreds of people.

We then spent the next 4 weeks with my mum before going back to China, especially having her grand daughter around helped a lot.

I was thinking a lot to try to find some positive things in all the sadness and i found them in deed:

My dad died in his own bed at home, in the arms of the woman he loved, he was married to for 35 years and had 3 kids with. He didn't have to suffer for long. I always thought it was kinda weird when people said "at least he didn't have to suffer", but i have to admit it's true. I saw my grandma, she was already 82, fighting cancer for 2 years, she really had to suffer a lot.

He had a good life and didn't spend his last 6 months in a hospital, connected to machines that barely keep him alive. My grandma used to say, "better 20 years of peace then 40 years of war", i think that's true. My dads life might have been to short, but he was able to enjoy it almost till his last day.

In the end, his body wasn't strong enough anymore, but his mind was clear until the last moment and wanted to fight.

It may sound surprising, but i think my brother-in-law was hit hardest. His father left his family when he was a little boy, he never met him. My dad was probably his best friend and he saw him as the father he never had.

The hardest time for me was actually the day before we went to Germany and the inital shock. And somehow, now, 2 months later. My dad and me were never really close, at least i thought we weren't, but now i miss him like hell.

In quite moments i keep thinking about when my mum told us how he died and start crying. But, i think it's getting better. Everytime i talk with someone about it, it get's a bit easier. Maybe that's why i'm wrinting all this. Maybe i just needed to write it down.


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  • Posted

    So sorry to hear about your loss. Thanks for sharing your story with us. Pancreatic cancer is deadly. Be comforted that your dad died at home and with the support of his family. Reading your story he had a very interesting and fulfilling life all these foreign travels. It must have been hard for you to write such a lenghtly story.

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