Happy Father’s Day!

June 13th, 2014 - by Jeff Ehlers

To those who are fathers, we celebrate you and thank you for being there for us, instructing, guiding and shaping us.  To those who are still able to celebrate this day with your father, make the time to let him know how much you appreciate all that he has done for you.  For those left only with cherished memories, may this day be a time for you to reflect on the good times and lessons learned with your father and sharing those stories with those around you.

“The only thing constant in life is change”

― François La Rochefoucauld

For me, Father’s Day 2014 will mark the second without a father of my own, the 13th as a father to my son and the first as a lung cancer survivor.  If I had been asked to imagine this holiday a couple of years ago, it would have been different than the reality that currently greets me.  One thing I’ve learned in life is that you play the hand you’ve been dealt, make the best of it and push on, which leads me to where I find myself today – pushing on.

My own father had passed away in May of 2013 following a long battle with a terminal lung disease that had kept him on in-home hospice care with a heavy-duty oxygen machine for 10 months. His death was at the forefront of my mind last year on Father’s Day, but there wasn’t much time to sit around and dwell on it. Our family is a baseball family and the spring and summer are filled with practices, games, late nights and long weekends spent at the ball park.   We dove back into baseball season, finished league ball and jumped right in to all-star tournaments.  Typically, we schedule our summer vacation for the brief span between the end of the season and the start of school and that year was no exception.

I had been coughing for about three months – nothing bad, just a little intermittent cough that wouldn’t go away.  Our vacation was coming up and my wife, Diane, had finally had enough and told me to go to the doctor and get rid of that annoying cough.  Through the grace of God and a persistent wife, my life was saved thanks to that little cough. My doctor couldn’t find anything definite to place the blame on, so he prescribed me some antibiotics and almost as an afterthought, ordered a chest X-ray.

The following week, the nurse called to let me know that the radiologist had found something on the X-ray that needed a closer look.  That set off a chain of events with more tests, scans, a biopsy and numerous appointments, ultimately leading to the removal of the upper lobe of my right lung in early September to get rid of a golf-ball sized tumor.  Not exactly how I’d planned to spend the last weeks of summer.

When I was diagnosed, there were a million thoughts going through my mind.  One of the most urgent, was how to tell my son, Josh.  I had never lied to him about anything and didn’t see any reason to treat this situation differently.  I sat down with my wife and son and told them what the diagnosis was and that this was a very deadly cancer, but all of the initial signs pointed to an early detection and we were going to beat this thing as a family and with God’s help.

Fathers are the first idol to their children, the first hero, the strongest man in the world for a time.  I did not want to be anything less to my son and though he was now a teenager and fully aware that his dad was not invincible, I was determined that cancer would not rob our relationship of anything.  He was predictably shocked at the news, worried about what might happen and scared. On the day of the surgery, there were numerous delays beyond our control. The procedure was scheduled to start at 11:00 AM and it was nearly 3:00 PM before they took me back. The surgeon had told us to expect a two hour operation, three hours max, and when he emerged nearly six hours later, my wife and son were understandably shaken.  They were ushered into the CVICU as soon as I was starting to waken and were greeted by my moaning and groaning and appearing to be in lots of pain. Josh told me that it was hard for him to see me in that condition and they didn’t stay long that night.

I was very weak for a month or so following the surgery and had to rely on my family for lots of things during this time. In October, I started the chemotherapy treatments that my oncologist recommended to kill off any stray cancer cells that might be lingering inside me.  Again, we discussed this as a family, including the possible side-effects.  I was on a relatively mild adjuvant dosage and was fortunate to have only a few days of nausea following each treatment.  Everyone took my treatment in stride since we knew it was our best bet to assure that I would be rid of the cancer completely.  Now that the treatments are over and done with, we are all working with our new normal, moving forward with thankful hearts and praying that we are done with this horrible disease.

This Father’s Day, we will celebrate.  Celebrate the defeat of the cancer that found its way into my body, celebrate the memories of my own father and we will celebrate the relationship that I have with my son.  I pray daily that God will grant me the wisdom to be the father that my son deserves and I rejoice that I’ve been given that opportunity for a while longer.

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