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Opinion Make the most of the time you have with your family

Some people can go their entire lives without having to learn the true meaning of a tragedy, without ever having to experience the gut wrenching pain it causes. My family was not fortunate enough to be spared from the experience.

About a month ago, my dad started having knee pains. Working two jobs, he couldn't afford to take off to rest, and with no health insurance, he had no other option but to work through the pain. He took a couple of ibuprofen, and kept working. In a few days, dad's knee pain turned to stomach pain, so he took a few more ibuprofen. He started to get sick. He couldn't eat anything, and would throw up everything. But he kept working, because he had no other choice.

One night about three weeks ago, the pain became too much so he went to the emergency room in Sylva. After waiting several grueling hours, he was finally seen and was told that he was fine. He was given medicine to help with his nausea and was sent home. He went back to work, but over the next few days the pain got worse. He could eat less and less and had started to lose weight rapidly. The next Friday he went back to Sylva's emergency room doubled over in pain. They gave him an IV because he was dehydrated, gave him some more nausea medicine, and sent him home.

By Sunday he was in so much pain that he drove himself to Mission Hospital in Asheville, where he was immediately admitted to St. Joseph's. After a series of tests, they diagnosed my dad with severe pancreatitis and discovered that his stomach was full of ulcers. Not only did he have ulcers, but the ulcers were rupturing and bleeding out into his stomach, a far different diagnosis then the “just fine” he received a day earlier in Sylva.

Doctors started treatment and tried to manage his pain. After a few days in St. Joseph's when he was able to start eating solid foods without throwing it up, he was discharged and sent home.

When he got home, he slept a lot, but the pain quickly came back, and so did the nausea and vomiting. While he laid in bed sick, his boss called and told him that since he had missed a week of work while at the hospital, he had lost his job. Just another blow that my family had to deal with.

By the following Friday, he was doubled over in pain again and found himself back in the Sylva emergency room. This time, even though Sylva knew of the diagnosis he got while in Asheville, they still told him there was nothing they could do for him and that he would have to follow up with his family doctor that Monday. On Sunday night, my mom drove him to the Franklin hospital hoping that some doctor would see that he was sick and offer to help. Franklin began to treat him and were able to come to their own diagnosis of pancreatitis, but before they could treat him, they found out he had been in Sylva the night before, and sent him home with the same recommendation, to follow up with his family doctor on Monday.

On Monday, my dad's family doctor was booked and couldn't make time to see him. He could not handle the pain any longer, and was at nearly 60 pounds of weight loss in just six weeks. My mom drove him to Asheville, where he was once again admitted. My dad's new doctors were apologetic and said that he should had never been discharged in the first place. The doctors started to look for the cause of the pancreatitis.

On Thursday, nearly a month after his first doctor's visit, a simple MRI found that my dad's liver was completely consumed with cancer. Both the right and the left quadrants were covered in masses. The tracts connecting his liver to other organs in his body were also covered, showing signs of the cancer spreading. Doctors gave him four to six months to live.

I was at work when I got the call. I am 24 years old and am expecting my first child, due in May. I answered the phone and was told to come to the hospital because they finally found out what was wrong, and he didn't have much more time. The only thing I could think about was that my son will never get to know his grandpa. Devastation does not even begin to describe what I felt. Complete heartbreak.

When I got to the hospital, I walked into the room with my older sister, and my dad was laying in bed just smiling. He immediately told us not to be sad. Way easier said than done. In complete hysteria, through my tears I tried to explain to him that I was not just sad for myself, but I was sad for Turner, my unborn son. My dad took my hand and told me that he knew God wanted to take him to heaven so Turner would have his own guardian angel and promised me he would be by Turner's side every day of his life, even if we couldn't see him.

When I heard the news, my heart broke for my little sister and her one-year-old daughter Madison. My little sister has always been the baby of the family and a daddy's girl through and through. She and her boyfriend instantly came to the hospital from their home in Knoxville. I want to be happy that Madison has had the chance to meet my dad, but all I can think about is how much she smiles when he holds her, and in a matter of months, I won’t ever get to see that smile on her again.

I can't even begin to think about my mom. She is trying her hardest to keep it together for us and for my dad, but I couldn't imagine what she is going through. And my older sister, who is the spitting image of my dad, and embodies all of his quirks and personality.

The hardest thing I have had to do to date, is look at the man that I have always seen as indestructible and infallible, to see the strongest man I have ever known lay in bed fighting for his life, still find the strength to look at his girls and tell us it is going to be okay because he isn't scared. To hear him tell me that his fate was predetermined by God before he was born and that it may seem hard now, but that it is all a part of God's plan. He is the one who had days left on his life, but just like he has done our entire lives, his every breath is intended toward taking care of us and making sure that we are okay. We should be comforting him, but because of the strong, loving, amazing father he is, he continues to put us before himself. I know that he is right. I know that all I can do it trust in God and pray that he lets me keep my daddy long enough for him to meet his grandson.

I know death is imminent. I am not mad or sad that my dad is dying. I am furious that this tragedy could have been prolonged at the least. If just one doctor along the way would have seen his suffering and wanted to help, my dad may have longer here on Earth.

I am not going to dwell on how bad my heart is hurting. Or continue to suffer through the thoughts of the what ifs. Or blame the doctors who turned him away time and time again, when they could have helped him. I am going to stop asking God why in my prayers, but instead be grateful for the time I did have with him. The hospital did a wonderful job at making him comfortable and taking care of him in his final days.

Three weeks after the doctors told me of dad's diagnosis, at just 55 years of age, he passed away. Although my sisters and I have spent every waking moment in the past few weeks at his side in the hospital, Monday night, he waited until we all went and my momma crawled into bed with him because she said she wanted to spend one last night with him. Tuesday morning around 5 a.m., she slipped out of the hospital room for just a moment, and when she got back, he had gone to his final resting place. I know that he did it on purpose. I know he wanted to spend just a little more time with each of us and then make sure he passed when we weren't there, his last way of protecting us from any hurt.

Sometime today, hug your family a little longer, and throw in an extra “I love you,” because before you know it, you may never have the chance to do so again.


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