My father-in-law died one year and one day ago. This doesn’t directly relate to cancer but it kind of does.
I met Ba in the beginning of 2012, about six months after I met Younes. I found him to be a kind and family-oriented man, beloved by his wife, five children and many grandchildren.
I did not make it back to Morocco before I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Younes came to visit me instead. Then in late 2013 – bam, diagnosis.
Be encouraged Younes to be with me, which he did. We got married a few months later. If it weren’t for cancer, I would’ve tried to get travel visas for his family to attend the wedding, but due to cancer, we didn’t have the time.
I did a year and a half of intense treatment. It was so intense that there was not time for Younes and I to travel to Morocco. Finally, after 18 months, I got a brief reprieve. In late summer 2015, Younes and I went on the six-week trip that started this blog. We got to see Ba. Younes spent so much time talking with him and enjoying his company. I saw him hold his grandchildren and hoped for the day that I would put a grandchild in his arms – a child with a traditional Amazigh (Berber) name to celebrate their heritage that had been all too often denied by the Arab government.
That trip was the last time either of us saw Ba alive.
2016 and 2017 were swallowed up with mets. Surgery, radiation, chemo. Younes became the breadwinner. We didn’t have time to make it to Morocco.
2018 came and Younes became worried about Ba’s health. I was changing treatment and convinced him to wait until I was stable on a new treatment until we visited Morocco. I regret that now.
In mid-February, the news trickling in from Morocco made me very worried that Ba was in his last weeks. I told Younes to go without me. I was in screening for a clinical trial and couldn’t leave. He started to make preparations with his work. Since I was stuck in the US, I decided to attend a breast cancer conference.
Shortly after I arrived at the conference, I got the news that Ba was partially paralyzed on his left side. I thought “stroke”; in retrospect, he probably had congestive heart failure where blood was no longer reaching his extremities (my grandfather had died of CHF in 1995 and he had many of the same symptoms). But it didn’t matter, I knew in my heart then that he was going to die. Four years in Cancerland had taught me the signs. I only hoped I could get Younes there in time.
On February 24th, I booked Younes’ flights and he flew that night. When he landed in Casablanca, he received the news that his dad had already passed away. I couldn’t be with him because of the clinical trial screening but I knew that was the only way – to drop out of the screening could well speed up my own death and that wouldn’t help anyone. And it did pay off – I got 8 months of regression out of the trial.
But damn, the choices we have to make with this disease are so heavy. Cancer and the death of a parent at the same time? Like, can life cut us a break for two seconds here?
I am forever grateful for my wonderful friend Christine for supporting me that weekend. She distracted me, gave me advice on how to talk to Younes (having lost her own father to – guess what – effing cancer herself), and kept me track for my clinical trial screening. Even in hell, you can find angels.
Younes and Ba