Age 73, Lung Cancer

Today I filled out a medical form for an upcoming doctor’s appointment. At my last annual checkup, I had a different life.

That life resembles the one I have now. But it was different.

From a medical standpoint, I definitely had a different history. I had a living father with a family history of heart disease but no history of cancer on either side. Because of the heart disease link, I’ve had regular EKGs for years. They shake their heads and say, “Well, you still have the heart of a swimmer!” The big coronary issue is that my (supposed) paternal grandfather had a heart attack at a very young age despite otherwise good health. But of course, that’s not my true gene pool.

Today I wrote down, next to Father’s Medical History, “Deceased, Age 73, Lung Cancer.” It felt like a lie. I thought, “My dad’s alive!” And he is, but he’s not my biological father. My paternal grandparents? I wrote “unknown.” There was a space for 6 siblings’ medical information. I have ten half-siblings and zero full siblings. I only know the health history of some of them. This first appointment with my new doctor will be interesting.

This journey has been up and down. I’ve written about it before, four times (in order: here, here, here and here). I actually thought about a Christmas card this year that essentially said, “Well, it’s been a year . . .” But the letter that would have to accompany that would be too long, and frankly too exhausting.

Always a fish, I love the water. Yes, the pool is great therapy for me, but more than that, I love large bodies of water intensely. I love being in them, but I also love being near them. The ocean is life-giving to me. This summer was a tough one and I didn’t manage any open water swims as I have in past years, but I missed it.

Today my best friend drove past the lake where my father, a trendsetter when it came to open water swimming in the 60s and 70s, enjoyed his regular lake swims. It hit me. What if I had known him and had the ability to share that love of water with him? What if? If only. I’ve never been to that lake, and I doubt I will go. What if? If only.

So many choices made by others got me to this point. Yes, growth (especially spiritual growth) is a gift from this experience, as is the gift of new sibling relationships. It is a great gift to Skype with my sister Linda and see my expressions looking right back at me. Or my brother Brian’s picture on Facebook, and I think, wow, he looks like a male Kathleen. It is hilarious to see my writing in the writings of my sister Margaret (not to mention the astounding photos; we look the most alike of any of my sisters). It is a joy to see the smile of my oldest daughter on the face of my sister Josephine. I laugh out loud when my sister Mary Pat cracks a joke that sounds just like me.

But is also shocking and spooky and sometimes sad. It has been a helpful time to meditate on the two goals of my life, truth and grace. They often bump up and are in tension with one another, and this is no exception.

Truth and grace. It is true that I was never told of this family I had. Grace leads me to forgive (and forgive, and then forgive again–it’s never a one and done). It is true that I grieve over the lost time, the lost relationships, and the pain that those who parented me carried. It is grace that gets me past that grief towards the next step into tomorrow.

It is true that my father died at age 73 from lung cancer. It is grace that gives me the gift of a dad still on earth here with me.




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