We understand that everyone in the IHC community is concerned about the new coronavirus. Learn more about how to limit your exposure.

It Took Getting Cancer For Me To Understand Cancer

September 21st, 2015 |
Family & Parenting

by michlyko | Survivor: Stomach Cancer    Connect

At an early age Michelle lost her father to cancer. It wasn't until she faced a cancer diagnosis herself, years later, that she had the opportunity to properly reflect on her and her father's lives.

When I was 5 years old, my father was diagnosed with terminal bowel cancer. The earliest recollection of my father being sick that I have was visiting him in hospital. I remember that visit because I buried my head in his overnight bag so that I didn't have to watch the nurse change his drip. He thought it was extremely funny...although my fear of needles lasted for the next 27 years!

I remember sitting on his knee and looking him right in the eyes.

"Dad," I asked, "Are you going to die?" Of course, he lied. How do you tell a 6 year old the truth without breaking her little heart? "No Princess, I'm not going to die." When he passed in 1978 at the age of 36, I was 6 years old and my little brother was 4.

I remember getting a lot of attention from adults after my father's death. A steady stream of people flowed through our home baring food and gifts to cheer us up. I guess it worked because I cannot remember being a grief stricken child. At school, my art design was chosen for the Christmas card competition and I was given leading roles in ballet. My teachers were generally overcompensating, especially around father's day. I was never given a real opportunity to grieve the loss of my father because everyone around me always tried to keep me happy.

But as the years went by, the magic in life just seemed to disappear and things got hard quite suddenly. When I got older I realized that not only did I lose my dad that day, but I lost a part of my mum as well. I became angry and resentful that my father had lied to me about dying. I was never able to let go, even though my adult logic knew why he did it.

It wasn't until I was 39 years old with young children of my own and diagnosed with stage 3 stomach cancer that I really began to understand. The frightened little girl who stuck her head in the overnight bag immediately resurfaced. I was given an opportunity to see my father's diagnosis through my own eyes and I was finally able to grieve the loss of my father in a really real way.

I would look into my babies' eyes at night and feel the overwhelming sadness and heartache my father must have felt knowing he was not going to see us grow up. I cherished every moment with my family, not knowing if I was heading for the same terminal diagnosis as he had. The time I was able to sit on the floor and play with my boys became ever so precious. My husband became my caregiver, my strength, and support. He took over running the household. I only had one job, to get myself well so I could give my boys the opportunity to have what I never had growing up- two parents. My surgery was successful and after months of chemo, radiation, and healing I was given a second chance at life.

Four years after my surgery and 37 years after my father's passing, my mother decided it was time to scatter his ashes. I got to hold him in my hands again as we scattered his ashes in the sea. I felt life come full circle and I was finally able to put some closure on the funeral I did not attend as a child. My fight with cancer allowed me to open up and release that part of me that needed to let go.

Can you relate to Michelle's experience? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Sign up to join our community here to continue the conversation.

Want to blog with us ? Learn more here.

michlyko's picture
Michelle Lykokapis was diagnosed with stage 3 stomach cancer in 2011 at the age of 39. She had surgery to remove her stomach followed by chemo and radiation. Four years on and she is living a full healthy life with her family. She hopes to help the stomach-less community learn about what is possible post surgery, and also hopes to inspire those going through treatment. You can find Michelle on IHC under the username michlyko.