by Heather Connolly
The past six months have been ones of reflection for me, of deep grief and deeper gratitude. My father was diagnosed with cancer about 18 months ago, a Myxofibrosarcoma in his right leg. That was about the worst news I could imagine and something none of us were prepared for. He was 64 years old at the time and extremely healthy and active. He went through six weeks of radiation and then had a major surgery to remove a large portion of his right thigh. Recovery was grueling but he didn’t miss a beat, did his physical therapy religiously, walked every day and took notice of his many blessings. He was given a clean bill of health in November.
By May he found another lump in his leg. He called me in a panic on a Saturday since I am the resident doctor in the family. I asked him all the usual questions, is it mobile, does it hurt, can you separate it from the surrounding tissues? He failed every question. I tried very hard not to scare him since I knew it would be two days before he could see a doctor, but I couldn’t disguise the fear in my voice that the inevitable had happened. Two weeks later after a CT scan, MRI and PET scan, our worst fears were confirmed. His cancer had returned in that same leg and they found a metastasis in his left lung. We were all devastated. But this is where I saw my father start to shine.
The day we got the confirmation, he cheered me up. He said, “Heather, it’s better to know what we’re dealing with than to be waiting for results forever.” He made a choice on that day that he was going to fight this with everything he had. He enrolled in a clinical trial at OHSU in Portland, Oregon and has been travelling there from his home in Bend, Oregon for his treatments. He has been undergoing chemotherapy treatments every three weeks for the past 15 weeks and has his last chemo in early October. Then he is in for one or two more surgeries, followed by post-surgical radiation. Through this whole ordeal he could have shut down, given up, become angry or bitter. Instead, he chose to fight. He is walking daily, started at 4 miles a day and now is down to 1 mile a day, but he still goes out, no matter how he feels. He is an author and he has spent weeks revising his compilation of children’s stories that he plans to publish this Spring. He took my six-year-old nephew and his best friend on a two day camping trip this summer, something most healthy 66-year-old men wouldn’t even consider doing!
When I think about my dad, all I can think is that I want to be just like him. I hope to have his courage and strength, his compassion, his calm through all the adversity life has given him, his love of nature and his devotion to family. He reminds me that life is about the choices we make, and that we can shape our experiences in this life simply by how we decide to handle adversity. I don’t know how this is all going to work out in the end, but I can only face it with hope and the expectation that he will beat this and he will be here for many years to come, to help instill these values into my children and guide me through my life. I am 35-years-old but I feel that I have never needed my daddy more than I do now. I am deeply grateful for every day that I have him and for having such a strong, positive force in my life. He is an inspiration to me and to the hundreds of people who love him.
*This was written in late summer 2012. My father, Brian Connolly, lost his battle with cancer in June 2013 but he remains an inspiration to me and my daughters. His nature writing also lives on and carries his messages of connectedness and respect for nature and for one another. His books can be found at www.bconnollybooks.com and on amazon. – Heather Connolly
Heather Connolly is a chiropractor in Montpelier.