The worry was obvious in my mother’s voice but there was something else, too, something I didn’t care for one bit. “They’ve found tumors all through your father’s liver,” she told me over the phone. The defeat in her tone was thick. I refused to acknowledge it. Even without knowing exactly what was going on with my father, my inner self already kicked into survival mode. The time had come to rise and fight. “Okay, so what do we do?” I replied. “What’s the next step?”
Of course, I never realized how many next steps would come. It would still be some time until my father was actually diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He endured blood work, tests, exams. The tumors on his liver revealed themselves first; little did we know the disease had already aggressively spread from his pancreas. My recollection from the point I got off the phone with my mother until the moment his prognosis became clear was a blur. It still is. I wonder if that’s a result of my own mind dealing with the situation – simply numbing myself to the point I felt and remembered nothing, ready to wage a war alongside my father against an invisible invader. I learned this much – had the enemy been tangible, I never would’ve hesitated putting my life on the line for the man.
My mother withdrew into a shell. I could tell her grasp on reality had been shattered; I saw it across her face, read her body language and heard it every day in her voice. There are times, even now, that I blame her for her reaction. Then there are times that I don’t. Her husband had a disease; I don’t know any possible right or wrong way to handle such a thing. There’s no field manual to help you cope. I just don’t know…what I did know however, painful as it was to admit, was that my mom had my dad buried before we ever stepped foot into the doctor’s office. I know she was scared. Who wouldn’t be? But no matter what my dad may have been facing, that just wasn’t the way to approach the fight.
All my life as a child and even as an adult, I’d meet people through our family business or around town who’d ask me which son of the Pinto brothers I was. When I answered “Joe,” their eyes would blaze with admiration. And without provocation, stories flowed from their mouths. “Your father was one helluva football player… He’d get hit but that sonofabitch would pop right back up…He played like an animal…There was this one time against Garfield High…Smallest guy on the field yet he hit and tackled like a monster…No one ever played the way your father did…” In many ways, being my father’s son was akin to having a dad who was a superhero. I’d hear the stories, the way his name was spoken with such reverence and think, “Who is this man?” It was as if he had some other life, some cloaked past he chose not to disclose. My father never spoke of such things. I’d never know his feats had strangers not gushed to me. That alone spoke volumes, lent great weight to his stature. I grew up thinking my dad was nothing more than a guy who came home tired and soiled from work but as time passed, I began delving deeper behind his alias. I sincerely began to believe there was a phone booth waiting for him in some secret location…
So there I sat in the doctor’s office with my parents. The doctor announced matter-of-factly that my father had pancreatic cancer. It had metastasized into his liver, and chemo would be the only option to keep it from spreading further. There would be no way to cure or remove it. His life expectancy was three to four months.
Without missing a beat, the man who always had everything figured out declared in a firm voice, “I’m taking the ball and running with it. I’m going to score a touchdown. I’m going to beat this thing.”
A rally cry had been born. “Never drop the ball!”
And the events to follow achieved near mystical status….
(Part Three: Faith and Windows coming soon)