By Darcy Miller
My dad, Rich, was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in the summer of 2013. When diagnosed it had already metastasized to his brain and bones. After starting Tarceva and receiving radiation, the cancer began to stabilize and the large tumors reduced. The Tarceva stopped working after a year and other options were explored. It took a while to find the next treatment that would keep the cancer growth at bay. It took a heavy toll on my dad’s health and the family’s spirit. Thankfully, he is now on Tagrisso and is doing well.
My dad was in the Navy from 1965-1969. He served in the Vietnam War and was assigned to the USS Hancock, an air-craft carrier. He was specially trained as a dental assistant and was stationed shore side with the 3rd Marine Division in Vietnam for a year. He was in northern South Vietnam for six months, and then traveled to remote clinics throughout Vietnam.
Although we don’t know the specific origin of the cancer, the most obvious answer is Agent Orange. The Veterans Administration agrees and has been very supportive of his care. I know this is only due to the hard work of other Veterans who have fought to get benefits supporting the long term effects of Agent Orange. I remember my dad commenting after he had been diagnosed that there were planes often flying near the base and it was assumed at the time they were crop-dusting. Now, we know 1967-1969 were the peak years chemicals were used in Vietnam.
I cried a lot when my dad was diagnosed. I have a very difficult time discussing it still without crying. I can’t imagine my life without being able to pick up the phone and call my dad any time I need his advice or just want to talk. I’ve relied heavily on guidance from my dad in my career and I have tried to take advantage of his wisdom as much as possible. I try to be available to encourage, listen and support both him and my stepmother.
Routine scans are laced with anxiety. Daily life is modified dramatically and roles change. Everyone struggles to fit themselves into an unwanted position, however, we are a faith-filled family and our trust and reliance on God is what carries us each and every day.
This journey has taught us all to appreciate each other more. We are more intentional with spending the holidays together. We see the importance of time and family in a wider frame of reference. My dad has been able to create some amazing memories with his grandkids. I hope he’s around to be a part of our lives to experience so much more. His faith has grown and our bond and love as a family has only strengthened. I don’t like the phrase, “living on borrowed time” so I say that we have been fortunate to steal 3 ½ years from this disease.
I’m so proud of the strength my dad has found in himself, and his perseverance in fighting to stay with us for as long as possible. We are a Navy family and proud of it so, Go Navy!