As I'm sure most of you know my father was recently diagnosed with head & neck cancer. I am cautiously optimistic that the doctors will be able to completely cure him and that one day I will talk of his experience with awe and admiration.
Just the other day he was fitted for a mask that will be placed on his face so that radiation may be administered to him in a very precise manner. At that appointment the doctors were very straight forward with him and explained everything that could potentially go wrong with the treatment. They don't anticipate that anything is going to go wrong, but to cover themselves legally they have to explain everything up front and get his consent.
Now, I'll be honest the list of things that could go wrong is quite daunting and I'm sure (though he'd never admit it) my father is a little intimidated, maybe even scared. And as I thought of this I found my mind drifting back to November, 1997.
I was 19 years old and serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in St. Petersburg, Russia. I was new to the country and barely spoke the language, not to mention that I was still struggling with the "Cold War" mentality that the Russians were not our friends. And then, when I was least expecting it I developed a terrible knee infection in my right knee and was rushed to the hospital for treatment.
I was sick, I mean really sick. The doctors were debating whether or not to medivac me to Helsinki, Finland as I was dehydrated, delirious and running a fever of 105. They determined that I needed to remain in the Russian hospital as I was in what they considered to be a critical state and needed to be treated immediately.
What happened immediately after that is difficult for me to remember. I remember being poked and probed by a medical staff of 4 people all of whom spoke very little English. I remember having my knee cut open and drained of the infection inside. I remember the large epidural needle being placed directly under my kneecap and injecting me with medicine. I'll never forget this moment because I almost passed out as the pain was so intense that 2 people had to hold me down with another person holding my leg steady. Most of all though, I remember being left alone in my room with my leg tightly wrapped and being more scared then I had ever been in my life.
I was thousands of miles away from my home and family, I was physically and emotionally exhausted, and I didn't understand what was wrong with me as my grasp of the Russian language was still very basic. So, I did the only thing I could think to do and cried all night long while pleading with my Father in Heaven in prayer.
My parents were very concerned and I'm sure much like I feel with my father's cancer felt helpless. All you want to do in that situation is solve the problem for the person you love. You can't do that though, and you have to face the fact that all you can do is provide moral support while the individual goes through recovery. That moral support for me came in a letter a few days later.
My morale was low and in my moment of weakness I simply wanted to call it quits and go home. It was almost as though my father could sense that and so he wrote me a letter detailing his sadistic experiences at Ranger School in the mountains of Georgia along the Tennessee Divide. He concluded the letter by writing:
"Now, why have I told you this long, tedious story about something that happened to me more than 30 years ago in the mountains of Georgia? I'll tell you why.
Because whenever I've been miserable in life- from Vietnam, to numerous field outings in awful weather, to times at work when I just wanted to scream, to disappointments, to whatever..... Whenever I have felt really low, I just remember that there is a Ranger patrol out there in the mountains somewhere, probably tired, cold, hungry and wet - and I'm a lot better off than they are feeling right now.
And guess what, after this winter in the cold and gloom of Russia, with people turning you down left and right, when you're tired and sick and hungry, you too will be building up an experience like mine in Ranger school. That experience will stay with you forever, and you'll look back at it and laugh as well as cry. But it will make you stronger, forever."
It was exactly what I needed to hear and gave me the courage to continue and complete my 2 years of service in Russia. And so, as my father faces this new challenge of cancer, I know that he is prepared and ready to tackle it. He will fight it at all costs and never give up and I will make my meager attempts to support him as he did me 10 years ago. Thanks dad, I love you.