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Candy Bars and Chemotherapy

by Robin Laurinec 19 days ago in immediate family · updated 19 days ago

A Memoir

I remember watching my father walk down the street, the bright yellow shirt with the solid black zigzag pairing perfectly with his bald head. An adorable Charlie Brown if there ever was one. He was laughing with my mother (who was dressed as Snoopy), watching my sister rushing ahead in a witch's costume as she darted from door to door. I had lingered slightly behind, trying to commit as much of the scene to memory as I could. After all, it was possibly the last Halloween I would get to spend with my father.

For most children, starting middle school was already tough enough. With the pressure to fit in, and the looming presence of high school hanging over your head, to call it a turbulent time would be an understatement. Add in a father with cancer and, well, you've got a recipe for disaster. We had found out late in August, after my dad swore up and down that the pain in his back was merely a pulled muscle, but my mother (a cancer researcher, an irony which didn't ever escape us) forced him to go to the hospital anyway to get it checked out. When the results came back cancer, naturally we were all shocked. My father was a healthy man, in his late thirties, with no preexisting health conditions other than bad knees which he had inherited from his father. The doctor went over the plan, noting that of all the cancers he could have gotten, his was the most survivable, but with the worst and most painful treatment regiment. So, as I prepared to begin the new phase of my life, my father began a new phase of his.

Perhaps the weirdest feature about my father as he struggled through round after round of chemotherapy was his lack of eyelashes. Though many children neglect to draw eyelashes on their doodles, the human face seems barren, almost alien without them. Yet, as October rolled around, my father decided to embrace his lack of hair and began planning his elaborate Charlie Brown costume. That was the thing that always struck me through this whole process. My father was always optimistic and looking for the best in every situation. At the time, I found his positivity infuriating (I was a middle schooler, after all), but now looking back, I am eternally grateful for the hope he provided us during that trying time. My family always went all out for Halloween, but this year, it was different. You would swear we were trying to open up one of those Halloween stores with all of our decorations. Hours spend perfecting our costumes slipped away until the big day came, and we set out for the neighborhood next store's trick-or-treating.

Maybe it was because of my father's cancer that I never really rebelled in middle school. While other kids had free time to explore their angst, my family was focused on caring for my father. We slipped into new routines, such as making dinner after coming home from school or making sure that we were always clean before we hugged my father (as his immune system was weakened by his treatment).

Middle school was supposed to be the time where people explored who they were and who they wanted to be. They pulled away from their families to try and find a unique identity. They saw their parents as burdens blocking their development into miniature adults, whereas on that cold October night, I finally saw my parents for who they were. Not demigods, blessed with unbelievable knowledge and power, but as people, struggling against forces which didn't discriminate between good and bad people. My father, attempting to hold on and be the strongest member of his family, who didn't think my sister and I could hear him crying himself to sleep at night, or noticed as his eyes became more sunken as the year waned on. My mother, carrying the weight of her husband and children, never complaining, and always willing to step in to help us with even the most simple homework assignment. They became much more than gods, for gods are born with their power. No, they became warriors, struggling against foes using everything they had, and relying on one another to get them through.

As the Halloween night waned on, it dawned on me that this was perhaps the last time I would go trick-or-treating with my father. Who knew what the next few months would hold, but in that moment, I knew that I would make whatever time I had left with him count. I would step up and become the helping hand my mother never asked for, and the emotional support my father needed. I glanced down at the sack brimming with candy, and though I knew that many of my friends had declared they were "too old" to go trick-or-treating, as I watched my father forget, even for the night, about the horrors he was facing every day, I couldn't feel anything other than a deep seated pride.

They say on Halloween, you can transform into anything you want. Well, on that Halloween night, as I rushed to catch up to my parents, I could feel myself transforming into something new. On this cold autumn night, as the leaves blew across the street and children laughed, I knew my childhood was at an end. Like a caterpillar, I had formed my cocoon and begun my metamorphosis into a beautiful moth. It would take the coming months to fully transform, but in that moment, I could feel my wings beginning to blossom. My father reached into my bag and snuck out one of my chocolate bars, and as I fake scolded him, I couldn't help but laugh at how our roles had switched. He would always be my father, but as I reached in and plucked out a Butterfinger (my father's favorite), I finally found a sense of purpose that I hadn't known I had been missing before.

immediate family

Robin Laurinec

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