Good Day to Be a Ratermann
Two years ago last week my dad called me to tell me they’d found cancer. I was sitting outside in downtown Columbia, waiting for my roommate to emerge from the tattoo shop, newly tatted. We were ready to celebrate her new ink, our Friday night. The news shook all the celebrating right out of me, but Dad reassured me “I don’t want you to worry, this is going to be okay. I’ve got good doctors; they’ll take good care of me.”
Saturday morning is market morning. I met my mother in the parking lot, as is our habit, and we began walking across the field toward the sea of white tents and rainbows of produce. She turned to me and said “It’s bad, Sarah. It’s really, really bad.” I remember that, I remember those words exactly. And she re-explained it to me, about where they’d found it and what that meant. And she used words like radiation and chemotherapy and stages and chances. I doubled over, my hands on my knees, right there in the field, I remember that too. I remember thinking that I had to stop crying, that everyone was going to see and know. They could all see it, this shock and confusion and fear all over my face, and I was embarrassed. So I stood up, put my shoulders back and kept walking, bought my tomatoes and zucchini, all wearing the brave face.
Over the next few weeks, the news got worse. We were cautioned—this, all of it, was going to be bad. No one made any promises. They said Stage 4. I looked that up on the Internet and then didn’t leave my house for 48 hours.
One doctor said it was the worst case of colorectal cancer she’d ever seen.
“Can you help me?” My dad asked.
“I don’t know.”
That’s when I started preparing myself to lose my dad.
They never said “he’ll probably die.” But they told us what the survival rate for Stage 4 cancer looked like, and I could put two and two together.
After that, there was radiation. And chemo. I thought “you might die” was pretty bad. I had no idea that the fight to maybe not die would be so grisly. My dad, the 6’5” monster of a man, the guy who frightened small children, and embodied quiet power, was nearly broken. I watched that cancer tear out his insides.
We had a silent, pensive Thanksgiving. He couldn’t taste the food anyway, and we were all just thinking about the surgery to come just a few days later. They removed his rectum and part of his colon, and with it so much of what he knew about himself and his body. He was forever changed, and if you’ve never thought about what that might look like, take a moment. I tried to navigate through the hospital and my finals weeks, and I don’t remember how I did it.
Cancer stole Christmas from us, like a big ol’ Grinch. I sat in my apartment watching a fuzzy It’s a Wonderful Life, waiting for the hour when I could go visit. He was in so much pain that even an hour visit from his daughters was nearly too much. We celebrated alone.
There were complications, more operations, more chemo and months and months of painful, excruciating waiting. I saw more of my dad–physically, emotionally, and spiritually— than I ever had before. It was heartbreaking.
Call it a miracle, a gift from God. I call it a damn hard fight won by a nose. Today, Dad’s cancer free.
The fight ain’t over yet.
He didn’t have to be there, it didn’t have to happen. I don’t mean in a big picture sense, I mean, this was a mistake. These two years, all that gut wrenching pain, they were a mistake. Someone made a mistake, and he almost died.
This, my friends, is where rubber meets the road.
My parents taught us two things growing up. One, fight for the underdog. This does not simply mean don’t be a bully, but stand up to the bully. When you see someone smaller getting picked on, stand up for them. Two, don’t burn any bridges, always try to see both sides and don’t make enemies.
Earlier this year when my dad sat my sister and I and our husbands down to tell us of his plans, he said “I taught you girls to stand up for others less able. I regret not having taught you to stand up for yourselves.”
We’re going to have to burn this bridge, and probably a few others to take on this fight. This is not about vengeance or compensation. It is about dignity and integrity. This fight is about standing up to the bully and saying NO. For all the others who have dealt with the same, who have fought and lost their strength, their families, their livelihoods or their lives because of someone else’s mistake. This is about standing up for them.
It is public. That’s scary and hard. For a private person like my dad, it means everything. How would you like to discuss your rectum with the rest of the world? There’s a lot on the line for him. The commentary from the masses is about as much fun as sticking pins under your fingernails over and over (my friend Tracy calls it ignorance with a keyboard).
Yesterday my dad said ‘it might be a good day to be a Beahan.”
Nah. It’s a damn good day to be a Ratermann.
I’m with you, Dad. It’s never too late to learn to stand up for yourself, and the bigger the bully the more united our resolve.
Bring it on.