Four months ago, my father was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer that had metastasized to his lungs.
To say we were devastated would not even come close to describing how this rocked our world. My father is the head of the family, the patriarch, our hero, the strong man, the invincible man, the man who had survived so many of life’s blows and come out swinging. A man who had survived multiple heart attacks and a severe stroke a few years ago. A man who had outlived his financial advisor and his doctor who said he was uninsurable because of his health history. A man who met my mom when they were young teenagers, who had married when they were 18 and 19 years old, and who had provided so abundantly for his four children even though he had struggled with dyslexia as a child and had never graduated from high school. A self-made wealthy man who worked blood, sweat and tears for every single cent he has. A man who instilled in his children the belief that we could be anything we wanted to be – that nothing was impossible. The man who called himself “Die Man Van Staal” (The Man of Steel) because he had overpowered and fought and succeeded against every battle in life.
We went through hell a few months ago. We hit the lowest of lows. Pancreatic cancer is a terrible cancer. Stage 4 pancreatic cancer is unspeakably terrifying. To be honest, we weren’t sure how much longer we had with my dad. How do you mentally and emotionally process that someone you love so dearly might not be here next week or next month? Especially when that someone didn’t even look sick! It was a total mindfuck.
My sister who lives in Singapore and my brother who lives in London immediately booked tickets to come to Cape Town to spend Christmas with the family (it was 16 years ago that we were all together for Christmas). They were terrified it would be too late.
My mom and each of my siblings rallied around, ready to support my dad. We went into battle mode. We were ready to carry him through these next few weeks, hopefully months while he dealt with this crippling diagnosis. We imagined him getting weaker and weaker by the day.
Except that we forgot we were dealing with Die Man Van Staal. And no one ever tells Die Man Van Staal what to do. Die Man Van Staal was going to fight this battle with all the tough resolve that has carried him for the past 67 years.
My dad is now in his 5 round of chemo and doing amazingly well. All his test results have come back as fantastic. His body is handing the chemo really well and best of all, the chemo is working! His cancer marker level is coming down after each round of chemo. I call this my dad’s ‘stubborn old goat’ character. And it is standing him in good stead with this battle. He is amazingly positive. His mind is so strong and focused. I am so proud of him. He is a warrior of note.
So this Christmas was very, very special to us. A few months ago, we weren’t sure my dad would be around to celebrate it with us.
My sister Nina and my brother Paul cooked the most amazing meal. We had LOADS to drink and eat. It was the perfect, perfect day.
Nina put together a photo book for my parents of all the photos of our childhood and of the grandchildren. It came out beautifully!! My parents were very moved. It was a very emotional day, but in a wonderful way.
I am so grateful for my awesome family. My unbelievably kind, loving, clever, competent, funny, gorgeous siblings and my amazing, generous loving parents. The biggest gift one can have in life is to have a loving, nurturing, loyal family and we have this in abundance.
I am not big on Christmas as you might know, but this was a very, very special day for my family and I am so grateful we were able to celebrate it together.
Thank you to my brother Paul and his gorgeous wife Lisa for coming all the way from London (and thanks to my brother for drinking up my entire wine collection in one day), thank you to my sister Melanie and her husband Gary and their children for all they do for my parents, thank you to my wonderful sister Nina for arranging the entire Christmas celebration. None of this would have been possible without you driving and organizing it all. And thank you to your husband Paul and your children for coming all the way from Singapore and being such awesome house guests. We are going to miss you very much when you go back L Thank you to my friend-sister Candice (WTFICandice) for being the other daughter in this family, for loving my parents as much as I do, and for celebrating the day with us. Thank you to my supportive, patient, giving, caring husband who is the best son-in-law any parents could hope for. Thank you for supporting me and my crazy family J
Lastly to our amazing parents – I am so proud of you both. I am honoured and beyond grateful that I am your daughter. I am truly blessed to have you as my parents.
In closing, my wish is to spend many more Christmases with my family, so Pops – you better carry on being Die Man Van Staal – we need you around for a long time still.
Here is a link to the photos of our very special day https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10154756945641000&type=1&l=6f3bd999e9
My awesome family