I remember the first time my father looked old.
I mean, he’s always looked older to me, mainly because he is older than me. But from when I was a kid, he’s always looked pretty much the same to me. There might be grayer hairs, or a few more wrinkles, but he was still always the same old dad.
And then we went to visit him and Mom after he had had his heart attack, and he wasn’t the same old dad. He was tired. He shuffled his feet as he walked. He was still quick with a snappy comeback, but there wasn’t as much snap in his voice. He was old.
I don’t think it was something I was entirely prepared for. It was natural to feel like I was going to live forever when I was young, but I always felt like my parents would, too. They’d always been there, so why wouldn’t they continue to be? They’d get older, but I never knew they’d get old. Never REALLY knew, at least.
I can’t hold it against them, though, since they ARE old. My dad was around 70 when he had his heart attack, so he has every right to be tired and run down. He’s lived a long, full life, and I can’t begrudge him the opportunity to rest when he finally has the chance.
And this is the one thing that scares me about having cancer. I look at my dad now, and he looks old, and he’s SUPPOSED to look old. But when my kids look at me, what are they going to see? After one chemo treatment, I’m already starting to feel the old coming on. They give me a drug, but it has side effects, so they give me another drug to counteract those, but IT has side effects, and so on. I’m not overly tired yet, and this first shot of chemo actually went really smoothly, but I know the effects can build over time. I’d always pictured playing catch with the boys, or taking them to comic conventions, depending on which end of the “boy” spectrum they end up on. Am I going to have the energy? Or will I be the dad sitting on the park bench, or at home while their mom brings them?
Part of me (the morbid part) thinks it would be easier if I’d just had a heart attack or got hit by a bus. Then I’d just be a picture, the dad they’d miss even though they never knew him, the would-have-been-a-hero-he-was-really-great memory that would far surpass anything I’m actually capable of. Instead I can watch the disappointment when Dad can’t because he’s too tired or his belly hurts or the reflux is particularly bad.
In John Scalzi’s novel, Old Man’s War, the protagonist says that “…[t]he problem with aging is not that it’s one damn thing after another—it’s every damn thing, all at once, all the time.” That’s kind of what it feels like right now. The two days of treatment weren’t bad at all, but now that my body’s dealing with what it just went through and the drugs they gave me to lessen the side effects have worn off, I just feel beaten up. I know it will get better, but try telling that to my stomach. (Incidentally, a mixture of lidocaine, benadryl, and Maalox may be the ideal thing for my stomach, but it does REALLY weird things to my mouth going down.)
Ultimately, though, it will get better. I may never get back the feeling in that two-inch strip under my incision, but hopefully I can get back a feeling of normalcy. My future (and my bowels) may never work out quite the way I had anticipated, but that doesn’t mean they won’t work out. And my belly ache will never go away if I keep on belly-aching.