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Strength Runs in the Family

Strength Runs in the Family

If I could spend time with anyone in the world, I would likely choose my dad. He and I have been close my whole life. We share interests like fishing together, playing country music, running, and laughing together. Thomas George McElroy is tall but not so lean, has gray hair, and wears glasses like me. His laugh is strong and makes people feel comfortable around him. He is a First Sargent of the Maryland State Troopers who loves his job. My dad is a very strong man. He never gets sick and never misses work…Then in October of 2012 he started to feel ill.

It started out a typical Tuesday morning as I prepared to drive to school. I walked down the long steps to the hardwood floors of my kitchen and expected to be greeted by the smell of coffee brewing. There was nothing going on in the kitchen, no coffee, no breakfast, no Dad. I could not figure out why my house was so quiet. My mom was not ready for work, but she is either late, missed her alarm, or just spends hours among hours on her hair. So, I did not think too much of that. However, my dad was not standing there asking me if I want some of that freshly brewed coffee, and that did not sit well with me.

I walked back up the steps to find my parent’s door closed and the dogs sitting in front of the door, begging to be let in. I knocked to say bye to my mom and ask where dad is. She came out and told me he is not feeling well, that he was going to stay home from work and she was going to take him to the doctor. At the time, I thought he caught the flu or something minor, and that my mom was just stressing out. Yet all day long I had this weird feeling. I could not focus on school I was so worried about my dad. Even though I really did not have any proof of what was wrong, I worried. I kept saying to myself he will be fine, he is strong and knows what he has to do, whatever that may be in this case.

At lunch, I got a voicemail from my mom. “Hey sweetie, I just wanted to let you know that I took dad to Patient First this morning and they want him to get some more tests done at the hospital this afternoon just to be safe. So, if you could ask to leave hockey practice and take him for me since I have a meeting this afternoon. Call me when you get this, love you - Mom.” At that moment I felt all of my insides drop.

There was nothing to worry about yet. The doctor at Patient First just wanted dad to go get some more tests done just to be safe. After school, I called mom back and told her that Coach Bo, who is an older man and loves my dad, told me it was more than okay to skip field hockey practice. When I got home, my dad was already to go to Greater Baltimore Medical Center to get the tests. We were done around 4 o’clock pm and went home so I could start dinner, which normally my Dad would cook, but this time I cooked. As we were sitting down, the phone rang. I picked up the phone and the caller ID read “GBMC.” I tried not to get worried, thinking they were just probably just calling to tell us that my Dad’s test came back okay. I handed my Dad the phone and tried to listen to what he was saying but the only things my Dad calmly replied were, “Okay, I can do that. See you then.”

When my dad hung up the phone he told me that I should call mom and have her meet us at GBMC. I asked him if everything was okay. “Everything is going to be okay,” he replied. My mom rushed home from work and we all went over to GBMC together. When we got there we were put in the waiting room and waited for the doctor to instruct us on what was next. As the minutes slowly ticked by, I kept looking over at my mom and smiling since I knew she was scared out of her mind. Even though all this was happening and I was sitting there with my dad in the waiting room of a hospital, I still did not feel like anything could be wrong with him. It was difficult to imagine my strong, healthy father not being okay.

The nurse, who looked just so happy to be there in her purple scrubs, finally came in and took us to a room where they hooked up IVs and other weird cables to my Dad’s arm. Around 8:00 o’clock pm, Dr. Pheron came into my Dad’s room and introduced himself. He was a very nice man with gray hair, small glasses, and a really cool accent. I could not figure out where he was from as he asked questions about my Dad’s health history. “Have you ever had a heart attack? Is your father still alive? Have you had colon problems before?” As my dad answered these questions, I started to get a little more nervous. I felt every organ in my body start to churn. My arms and legs felt week and my mind was racing. Dr. Pheron then asked his nurse to schedule my dad for a test. He explained that he thought there was something growing on my Dad’s colon and that is what is making him uncomfortable.

While my Dad was at his test, my mom and I went to the cafeteria to get some food. I got some nasty chicken that tasted like they cooked it with mud and dirt. My mom had a salad, with all the good toppings like carrots, cheese, seeds, chicken, corn, green beans, and broccoli yet, she did not finish it. In fact, she barely touched it. After not eating all day, this was unusual behavior. I asked my mom why she did not finish her salad and she was hesitant at first but then went on to tell me the story. She told me that my Dad’s uncle, Unc was his nickname, who passed away a few years ago, died from colon cancer. This type of cancer can skip generations, meaning that because Unc was my Grandpop’s older brother he skipped the cancer. My dad was the next generation in the family. Now I was not hungry either.

When we got back to the room, my dad was sitting there playing his favorite game on his phone, Sudoku! When the doctor came in, he brought charts and drew us pictures so we could all understand that my Dad had developed a tumor on his colon and he would have to stay the night so in the morning they could perform surgery. At the time, I would not let myself think that it was anything really serious, even though it was. My dad was not even scared. He told the doctor, “Let’s get it out and do what we have to do.” I was so proud of my dad. I think a part of me knew that Dr. Pheron was going to take care of my dad and everything was going to be okay.

Later that night, we had to let my Dad rest and prep for surgery. Before we left, I gave him a kiss but he was the one telling me to keep fighting. He made me promise I would. He said tomorrow he would give me a hug in the morning, butterfly kisses after surgery, and for me to watch over my Mom. I did not understand why he told me to keep fighting. My mom gave my dad a kiss and told him she loved him and that she would be back in the morning.

The drive home was a rollercoaster of emotions. I knew my Mom was scared and so was I, but one of the hardest jobs was still to come: calling my sister, Maggie, who was away at college and busy with the Women’s Basketball Team, and telling my grandparents, who were sure to be extremely worried. When we finally got home it was around 10:30pm. Somewhere inside my mom, she found the strength to call my sister. I had to leave the room because I could not bear to hear them cry and hear my sister on the other end of the call. As the night grew on, my mom made many phone calls. The strength my mom showed on the phone to our family and friends was amazing. She is a true fighter and believer in God; she knew He would take care of my dad. Maggie was texting me all night long and I tried to keep her calm.

My mom’s best friend, Ms. Beth, who lives right down the street, came over so my mom would not be scared. Ms. Beth is like another aunt to me. She treats me like a daughter and loves my mom and dad as if they were brother and sister. She always smells like the beach and wares sundresses, mostly in blue, and brings a comforting atmosphere anywhere she is. Seeing her come over in the middle of night to be with mom and me filled my heart with warmth and comfort. Let’s just say it was the best feeling I could ever have. Knowing that there are people out there who love us and support us made my day change from a dark cloud hovering over me, to a dark cloud with a peek of sunlight.

Before I decided to go to bed to rest for the long day I had tomorrow, my mom and I said a prayer: “Circle me, Lord. Keep protection near and danger afar. Circle me, Lord. Keep hope within. Keep doubt without. Circle me, Lord. Keep light near and darkness afar. Circle me, Lord. Keep peace within. Keep evil out. God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Amen.” Throughout that whole tumultuous day, the word “family” became a stronger and more meaningful word to me. It expanded from just my parents and sister to our neighbors and our community. We were not alone in such a difficult time.

My Dad recovered fully from his surgery and is in good health. With the love and support of our immediate and collective family, we were able to overcome the obstacle placed in front of us. The strength that God gave each of us was what got us through such a tough time. When I look at how my Dad stared his illness in the face and did what needed to be done and how my mom stood right by him to comfort him, I realize that there is a strength that runs in my family. It is something I admire and respect most about my parents and something I aspire to have. Although it can be very difficult at times, I have a great example in my Dad, who reminds me that no matter what I am facing to always keep fighting.

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