A STORY OF STRENGTH

by Christina


December 21st, 2011. I'll forever remember this day.

I had just arrived in my hometown of Buffalo NY to embark on a two week holiday celebration with my family. My husband and I had not been home for the holiday season in years, so we were both really looking forward to the time spent making memories with loved ones and enjoying the east coast charm around the holidays.

After a long, red eye flight from the west coast, I decided to catch up on sleep to help get on NY time. During my snooze, my mother and father were heading to a doctors appointment, awaiting the news of a pending biopsy for my father from just a few weeks prior. When I had first heard about the biopsy, I was naive, thinking nothing could ever happen to my father, or any loved one for that matter, it just couldn't.

As I awoke, I headed downstairs to greet my parents and hear the good news that the biopsy came back clear. When I had turned the corner to enter the kitchen, I was greeted with a rather grim look upon both of their faces. They didn't need to say it, I already knew from their expression that the "good news" would not come. Instead, the news was prostate cancer and there was no "good" from it at all.

We celebrated his birthday a few short days later, which admitingly, was a tough day to get through. It was his 60th and the mood was very somber. As I watched my father blow out the candles on his cake, My eyes could not help but fill up with tears, as my mind quietly sank away in this moment. So many questions, so much emotion, so much fear and anger. Why did this happen to him? Why should this happen to any loved one?

March 7th, 2012. A new year and a continued battle that would hopefully come to a hault, as this day was my father's surgery day. After going over the options and treatment plans, My father decided it was best to go ahead with the full removal of the prostate. Chances were good and we had one of the best specialists in the nation on our side, it was all very promising, yet it does not make the process any easier.

I flew in the day before, spending the 5 hours on the plane going over different scenario's in my head. "What if he has complications?" "What if it had spread?".....I simply could not tune out the noise no matter how hard I tried. Prior to boarding the plane, I had gripped onto my husband tight, as my eyes filled with tears, he whispered "Be strong for him and for yourself" which is exactly what I had to do, be strong and believe it will all work out the way it's supposed to in the end.

We arrived at the hospital early in the morning, my mother, father, brother and myself all on little sleep and nerves measuring high. Once he was prepped for surgery, we were all allowed to go back into pre-op and say our well wishes and goodbye's. As my body went through those doors, I instantly got lost in the sea of faces. Families and patients, praying, crying and holding onto the hands of their loved ones with fear in their eyes. Teams of doctors, nurses and anesthesiologists eagerly awaiting to take their patients back and get to work on these challenging cases. My hands got clammy and my heart began to race as I fought the urge to cry. And then, I saw my father.

There were no words, just pure emotion as he lay on the surgical bed, praying, crying. My mother and brother held his hand, said their goodbyes, words of encouragement and kissed him, all while I stood back, frozen in the moment. My life with my father flashed before my eyes. All of our memories together, from weekend breakfasts at McDonald's when I was young, teaching my how to ride my bike, helping me get my first job, to walking me down the aisle instantly crept up. I wasn't ready to let this man go from my life, he deserved a fighting chance and with the grace of god, our faith and all of the thoughts and prayers from loved ones, he was going to get it.

I could not muster up any encouraging last words, not even an "I love you". I simply kissed him, squeezed his hand and nodded my head to him. As I began to walk away, I looked back to catch him giving me a simple "thumbs up", I could hear his thought in my head "I got this, I am going to make it", instantly I returned the motion, acknowledging his thought. What a brave, brave soul.

The surgery took 4 1/2 hours total. Each minute seemed to stand still as we eagerly awaited updates from the surgical nurse and doctors. Just as we began to worry, the doctor came into the waiting room with good news. He had made it through and was resting comfortably in recovery.

As we walked into his room, I was not sure what to expect. I am rarely in hospitals and have never witnessed a major surgery like this before. To my surprise, he was up and doing very well. Entertaining us with his slurred speech and comic behavior due to the anesthesia of course. "BOOYA!" He yelled to us as we entered the room, "BOOYA, IT'S OVER!". Indeed it was, the worst part was over, and I could not have been more relieved that we were all together again.

His hospital stay was brief, a short 2 days and before we knew it he was home again. We had to wait a full week until the reports came back to let us know if he was cancer free, but he made it through the worst and was making a full recovery before our very eyes. In the 5 and a 1/2 years I have lived out of state, flying in every 3 months or so to visit, that week home was my most meaningful trip yet. I rarely left the house, just stayed home with family, taking care of him and enjoying the visitors and amazing support from so many people who love my father.

Before I knew it, on March 13th, it was time to head back to LA again. This was also the day we were supposed to get the final pathology reports back. As the time to depart grew closer, so did the frustration. I needed to know he was ok before I stepped on that plane, yet no contact had been made yet from the doctor. As fate would have it, moments away from boarding, I received a phone call from my father, crying, struggling to speak these words:

 "Christina...........it's a cure, im cured"

In that moment, all I could do was break down and cry. The nightmare was over, he had survived. We had all been through so much through this entire process, so many emotions, fears, "what if's", I could not help but just let it all go through my tears. I was so proud of my father, from day one of his diagnosis, he had said "I am going to beat this, fuck cancer, I am going to survive" and he did.

So why am I sharing this with you all? I wanted to tell my experience, my father's story. A story of overcoming cancer with grace, bravery and strength with all of the emotions in between. It can be a long road, and may not always be a positive one but if we continue to be aware and share each one of our stories, we can help to save the lives of others who may not be so aware, that cancer is a possibility and to take the preventative measures before it is too late.

I would like to thank Roswell Cancer Institute in Buffalo NY for taking such wonderful care of my father. Your incredible team had always made us feel comfortable, well informed and hopeful. I have the utmost respect for your mission and all that you represent. As a thank you, My brother, Bob and I have chosen to participate in "The Ride for Roswell" and bike 30 miles on June 23rd in addition to raising $2000+ for this wonderful institute that has saved my father's life. Funds raised will help researchers and clinicians better understand the causes of cancer and discover new methods of prevention, diagnosis and treatment. These funds also support compassionate patient care programs that promote the quality of life of patients and families. If you would like to support or donate to the cause, you can do so here: Christina's Ride for Roswell Page.

After 3 months off, focusing on my family, I am so happy to be back to regular blogging on Beauty Queen. Sharing with you all stories of health, wellness, beauty and strength. This first post is of course, dedicated to my father, Frank. I am so proud of you and will forever admire your courage. Thanks for reading everyone!