Most people don't know this. It’s not something I openly share about, largely because I don’t like to think/talk about it. But today, on 1 November, in line with the Movember movement to shed light on and support men’s health, I find it apt that I share some of my thoughts about this.
My dad has been fighting prostate cancer for 6 years now. When he discovered it, it was still stage 1, which is good because it meant he could get treatment early and snuff out the illness before it became too strong. He, however, decided to go by an alternative route, changing his diet to vegan, changing his lifestyle to be super healthy, and looking for ways to fight the battle that didn’t involve surgery or chemotherapy. Why? Well, in my family, I am one out of 5 children, and back then, all 5 of us were still studying, I having just entered junior college. Going to chemo would severely weaken my dad, leaving him unable to support us at a level that he would be comfortable with.
I really respect my dad for choosing this path. It’s not easy, sacrificing many basic things to put health as the priority. It takes tremendous discipline, and it’s something that I know few people would be able to emulate. Heck, even I tried to follow his diet when I was in school. I barely lasted a month. I followed him for odd treatment things like electrotherapy and ozone therapy (they draw pints of your blood out, mix it with pure ozone/oxygen, then pump it right back). Sounds pretty cool, but these were but distractions from the reality I had to face.
My dad is pretty old. At least in comparison to my peers’ dads. Never gave it much thought, just accepted it as a thing. But with cancer, I had to confront something really crazy: our mortality. Simply put, how long did I have left with my dad? And, what would happen if, well, that time comes? All of us, the kids at least, were still so young. I mean, maybe now it’s not as scary because 3 of us kids are working adults, but back then, it was quite the thought.
My dad is one of the kindest and smartest people I’ve ever met. And it shows. When the cancer first came, and the aforementioned questions came to the fore, one key thing that my dad squared away was finances. He comes from a finance background, so maybe that helps, but seriously, for him to be able to retire, and still be sure that we will have enough to support all 5 of us (6 if you include my mom who doesn’t work), it is an absolute genius play. He is a man of few words, but with actions like these, words won’t even do him justice.
That’s finance. Good stuff. But how about the other thing? Mortality? It’s a truth we tend to forget/distract ourselves of as we go about our lives, but it’s a truth nonetheless. We have a limited time here. Episodes like these really help clear the mind and bring this reality to focus. For me personally, it also made me confront another truth. That one day, maybe sooner than I would hope for, I would be the only man in the house. At 17, to think something like that, when life was easy, and my main daily activity was playing computer games, that shakes you to the core. Was I ready to take care of everyone else? Was I “qualified”? Even as I write this, I ask, am I?
People have commented that I come across a lot more mature for my age, and I think this has a big part to play. One of the reasons why I chose to join the military was because I wanted to grow up, fast. Get the discipline and the skills to perform at a level that I can be comfortable with, and start adding value to the family quickly. Maybe that’s also why I pushed so hard to make Rats to Riches work.
Anyways, back to my dad. Alternative treatment. Went well for a few years. Cancer marker went down. It actually worked!
Or so we thought. About 2 years ago, it came back up. Stage 2. All this time, my dad still going strong with the disciplined vegan diet, exercise, etc. But it didn’t seem to be sustainable on its own. So my dad decided to go for surgery. Again, we thought it worked. But the cancer had spread to the surrounding areas of the body, so he decided to go for radiotherapy after. That was just a few months ago. So now you are all caught up.
Throughout the whole episode, I saw how the illness chipped away at my dad. As you see in the picture, he’s a skinny guy, and I’m thankful that I got my skinny genes from him. This picture was taken 2 years ago. Already, he’s proper thin. Now, especially after going through the stronger treatments, it’s.. well, you get it. And it all seems to be happening so quickly. Not too long ago, he was helping me out with algebra, and not too long before that, he was carrying me in his arms to see construction sites near our house cos he knew I loved that stuff as a baby.
As much as I want to share more, it honestly pains me to keep going. If you have made it this far into the post, thank you. It means a lot that people read the things I write, especially when they are personal and very long. Of course, this is merely my summarised perspective of the story, and if you want to know more, feel free to ask. Part of being a Mo-bro for Movember is coming up with the courage to talk about things like this, things that are traditionally considered “un-masculine”. For my family, we were fortunate that we had an absolute gem of a dad to pull us through. But there are many others who are fighting the same battle but struggling to keep on. Charities and movements like Movember aim to tip the scales and help those who need that help. So get involved, and speak up for those who are afraid to speak up. I know I am. And I’m not alone.