Day 21: Pray For Ron.

When Dad was first diagnosed with Cholangiocarcinoma, I sought out resources and people who might be able to hold my hand through the process and/or to tell me what I should expect. I struggled to find people who had heard of “bile duct cancer”, or even had any idea what the bile duct was. I found a handful of active blogs from various places in the world of people or families dealing with this type of cancer. And I learned that it’s easy to become emotionally attached to someone thousands of miles away. And though you may not have ever met, you could still feel like you were on that journey with them. Because you were—I was. Their journey was my journey.

A friend I’ve known for a very long time shared a link on his Facebook profile seeking help for a friend of his who had been diagnosed with cancer. Ron is 36 and has a 5-year-old son. It had only been 7 days since my dad’s death, and as I read his story and saw those 5 words—stage 3 bile duct cancer—my heart broke all over again, as though it was August 2, 2012 and we were just learning of my dad’s diagnosis.

After sharing this story with my family and talking about it more with them this past weekend, we decided to give all cash contributions made to our family to Ron’s family, in honor of my dad. We’re on this journey with Ron, his son, his sister, and their family, and I hope you—my friends and loved ones—can continue to show your support to us and to our new friends. They have setup a daily 9pm devotional prayer, so I ask you to join us in prayer for and with Ron.

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Strength is a result of courage, inspiration, motivation, and will. While I will continue to ask God to provide Ron and his family with the strength they need to go on this journey, we will do what we can to offer them inspiration or motivation in this fight.

If you are moved to make a donation or want to be able to follow Ron’s story, visit his YouCaring page here.

Day 12: Remembering Dad.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about my dad in the last 12 days, it’s that he was loved. He made such an impact on the lives of everyone he came in contact with. At his viewing and service, a large group of his co-workers from “the machine shop” came and shed tears with us… even the manliest of men were brokenhearted at losing this quiet and simple man. My parents’ neighbors came. Most of them didn’t even know who I was, even after living there for half my life. But they knew him. He was the kind of guy you wanted to know. One of the nurses who treated him in the ER 18 months ago came. One of the receptionists from the infusion center came. Even his dentist came. The list goes on and on, but it all contributed to a single message. My dad may not have had wealth, fame, or power, but he will forever be remembered for the impact he had on other people’s lives.

Below are some videos from his viewing and service for those of you who were not able to attend. Many thanks to my cousin, Leny, for videotaping these!

Live performance of his grandkids and I while we shared the slideshow of our family photos (also below):

Photo slideshow:

Eulogy:

My parents’ church also hosted a Celebration of Life service in my dad’s honor. It was so moving to see how much he meant to his church family and to also hear of the impact he had on them and their church as a whole. Many thanks to Abe who also created a video/slideshow to honor my dad’s memory. It’s a real tear-jerker! Just hearing my dad’s voice gets me every time. :(

Twelve days… which means that it’s been almost 2 weeks since my dad has passed. How quickly time has flown by. That just proves that time doesn’t just fly when you’re having fun. It flies all the time. Cherish every day. Tell people you love them. Show them you love them. Let’s not wait until they leave us to express how much they mean to us.

We are so thankful to all of you for getting us through these last few weeks and beyond. We find our comfort in your and our wonderful memories of him and hope that you do, too.

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We love and miss you, Dad!

Day 579: See you later, Dad.

With heavy hearts, we said goodbye to my dad this morning. And in true character, even in his death, he put everyone else above himself. He waited for everyone he knew was flying in to be with him. He continued to fight death while dozens of us hovered over him in tears, not wanting to let us down. He held on until his hospice room fell quiet as people began to go home (or sleep on the floor next to him). Minutes after my mom sent my brother, my nephew and I home, my dad exhaled for the last time peacefully, sharing his last moment on this earth intimately with my mom.

While we grieve the loss of a wonderful man, it’s hard not to feel relieved for him. Although he made it look easy, his cancer battle was no walk in the park. No more doctor appointments. No more blood draws. No more IVs. No more chemo. No more insulin. No more pills. No more random concoctions that we read about or saw on Dr. Oz. :)

I see my dad in my reflection. I see him in the things I say and do. I see him in my mom, my brothers, and in all of his 9 grandchildren. I see him in his 7 brothers and 3 sisters. I see him in my cousins. I even see him in my friends. He will forever be with me.

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)

i fear no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

e.e. cummings

See you later, Dad. I love you.

In loving memory of Renato Felix Merced. (May 24, 1950 – March 4, 2014)

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Day 566: 1 year, 6 months, and 17 days.

It has been 566 days since Dad was diagnosed with cancer. If you sat with some of the medical experts we’ve met or read the blogs/articles we’ve read along the way, they would tell you that life expectancy of a cholangiocarcinoma patient upon diagnosis usually ranges from 3-6 months. But the last 1 year, 6 months, and 17 days (and counting) has been a journey, a struggle, a blessing, a blast, and a whirlwind all rolled up into one.

I apologize for not having posted for quite some time. 2 months after Dad’s diagnosis, I started at a new job, and as things got busier at work, my dad’s health was stable and treatment continued normally for the course of the next year. So needless to say, I have plenty to share since my last post!

In August, we hosted our first fundraiser for Stand Up 2 Cancer. It was in the form of a mini-concert and the kids and I threw together a set of songs ranging from Bruno Mars to The Beatles to Journey to Sara Bareilles. My dad was going to join us for the songs he knew, but he decided at the last minute that he’d rather play with us the entire time!

The few months after that, I began planning a surprise trip to celebrate my parents’ 35th wedding anniversary. My dad had mentioned to me how he really wanted to visit Universal Studios in LA again. It had been 15 years or so since we’d last gone. Almost the entire family got to share in a weekend of celebration. We spent some time at the beach, hired a private chef for a 5 course family dinner, and finished off the weekend by experiencing Universal Studios in the best way possible… with the VIP tour!

My parents impressed us all by riding almost every single ride with the rest of us! They only didn’t ride the last two because it had been a long day and Dad was exhausted, but they rode all the big ones! It was such great fun and since we were escorted for the entire day, we got to share every bit of it together as a family.

I highly recommend the VIP tour, especially when you have a big party of 12-25 people. And I’d be doing you a great disservice if I didn’t also recommend you ask for Heather as your tour guide. She was PHENOMENAL!! Team Heather! She was also coerced into being our videographer for a mini movie my brother insisted on creating on the set of War of the Worlds.

Shortly after all the fun and excitement of our mini family vacation, it was time for the holidays! My brother DJ, his wife Corinna, and their daughter Summer were packing up and getting ready for their new adventures in Houston and I also moved to a new place closer to my offices, where I hosted our joint Texas-themed Christmas and going away party. It was great to end the year with the family, good food, and (for some of us) too much of “Auntie Gemma’s Sexy Texas Tea”. ;)

Since then it’s felt like the new year has been spent as a much needed recovery period from the last six months! All the kids are back in school, DJ and family are in Texas, and the rest of us are back to work. And Dad continues with his chemo treatment.

In the last few weeks, Dad’s edema in his feet has gotten worse, which makes walking very difficult and painful. Because of the effect this cancer has on his liver, his body is unable to flush out these fluids normally, so they remain in his body. When he wakes up in the morning after hours of being off his feet, the swelling appears to go down, but as soon as he stands up, the water rushes down into his feet and legs. His legs feel extremely heavy, and simple things like getting in and out of the car have been hard.

His blood pressure has also been extremely low and his blood sugar has been extremely high, and combined with the edema, the normal things like eating and drinking are conflicting with his ailments. The low blood pressure requires him to have more salt, the high blood sugar is making him very thirsty, and salt and water are making the edema worse. As you can imagine, it’s been quite a dance trying to get everything under control.

After 15 months of chemo, it’s beginning to look like the cancer is building a tolerance to the drugs and Dad’s body is responding less to the treatment for now. Our oncologist will continue to monitor my dad’s lab results as we move forward with chemo, and we’ll consider making changes depending on how things progress. The treatment plan Dad is currently on is the most aggressive “chemo cocktail” for this type of cancer. If we switch to different drugs, they will likely be less effective and opens up the possibility of new and different side effects which is why Dad elected to keep on track with the current plan.

I will continue to post updates in the coming weeks, but please continue sending your prayers for my dad. It is very much appreciated!

Day 307: Graduation.

I apologize for going silent on this blog for a while, but sometimes no news is good news? Hopefully I haven’t worried you.

I’ve actually had very little need to continue updating this blog in recent weeks because Dad has been well enough to stay in touch with friends and family himself, so I’ll consider it a good thing that I’ve been able to keep quiet. ;)

In this case, I’m posting about good news. Great news, actually. It’s been two months since my last post, and I know that because today marks the day my dad completed his classes to become a certified Senior Peer Counselor for San Mateo County.

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(I will share more photos in a future post, but we’ve misplaced the cord for the camera.)

For the last two months, Dad has been attending 3-hour classes twice a week to complete this certification program. And meanwhile, he has continued with his chemotherapy treatments with only a short break so that he could visit our family in Chicago for a weekend and celebrate his brother’s birthday there.

His health has remained in good condition and he continues to “make chemo look easy” as his nurses have said in the past. He had a CAT/CT scan two weeks ago and Dr. Huang has confirmed that the results were also stable, so there is no reason to make changes to the treatment Dad’s on.

We appreciate the continued prayers and the warm thoughts that we’re often sent. Please continue to keep Dad in mind.

Day 244: What Makes My Dad Awesome.

I see my dad in such a different light now. Every day, he amazes me with his strength, his faith, his positivity, his humor. Everything.

Last night, I learned something even more awesome about him. Yesterday, my dad went to an orientation to find out how to become a certified counselor in San Mateo County. Beginning next week, he will be spending half a day on Mondays and Tuesdays helping to counsel people who are ill, depressed, and/or troubled.

If my dad were depressed himself, I don’t think any of us would blame him. These last few months have certainly not been easy for any of us, especially him. But to think that he has found the inspiration to help other people amidst all of this… I can’t even find the words.

But I am glad. He is the best source of inspiration that I could think of. Hands down.

Day 237: Clarification.

It appears that information I shared in my last post was misinterpreted and has spread like wildfire.

In other news, my niece and nephew’s mom (Michelle) just wrapped up her cancer treatment on Wednesday after just about 6 months. She was undergoing both chemotherapy and radiation, and still served as a point of encouragement and inspiration for me and my dad.

As stated, Michelle is the mother of my niece (Allison) and nephew (Aaron). They live here in California.

My post did not have anything to do with Michelle Merced (my cousin) or her mother (Tita Melly), who live in Illinois.

Just wanted to clarify. :)

Day 233: Chemo Cycle #6, Week #2.

Today we’re wrapping up the last leg of Dad’s 6th chemo cycle. He really could handle these appointments on his own. Even the nurses say he’s got his routine down!

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I just don’t like the idea of him being alone. Plus, it’s our time to catch-up and gossip. And eat, of course.

Dr. Huang is concerned about his blood sugar level. Apparently, not only does sugar stimulate the growth of cancer, but it also can contribute to an infection. That was the first we’d heard of that, so we’re going to have to try and get his sugar back down to a manageable range.

Outside of that, he’s still handling the treatment well. His liver counts are back in the abnormal range, so there is some concern from his oncologist, but nothing that he’d call surprising. With the cancer where it is, this is all expected from a medical perspective. We’re just hoping that the treatment continues to hold the growth and spreading of the cancer at bay.

In other news, my niece and nephew’s mom (Michelle) just wrapped up her cancer treatment on Wednesday after just about 6 months. She was undergoing both chemotherapy and radiation, and still served as a point of encouragement and inspiration for me and my dad. Please pray for continued health for her, and strength for her and the family!

Day 226: Chemo Cycle #6, Week #1.

Today Dad started his 6th cycle of chemo, which means it’s been four months now that he’s been going through treatment. Overall, he is still doing very well. No major side effects which we are thankful for. Dr. Huang told him that he could stop taking the diuretics, but after just a week without them, Dad said he felt more sickly, tired, and weak. He’s resumed taking them for now and it has seemed to help.

The metallic taste that he’s been battling with since before he even started chemo still comes and goes, but seems to be coming more frequently. His appetite also fluctuates, but he is really good about eating anyway, or eating various things to see if something else might taste better.

We are just thankful that he continues to push himself to eat because we know it’s important in keeping him strong.

On April 25th, he will meet with Dr. Huang again to see how the chemotherapy treatment is progressing. Please continue to say prayers for us. They are much appreciated!

Day 205: Chemo Cycle #5, Week #1.

Hi all. Yes, we kicked off Dad’s 5th chemo cycle today after meeting with Dr. Huang yesterday. Although we were hoping to take a little break from treatment for a while, we are very happy that the doctor is pleased with how treatment is going.

According to his oncologist, Dad used to have a lot of fluid in his gastric area. He was afraid that the fluid would eventually aid in the spreading of his cancer to other parts of his body. His CT/CAT scan from last week shows that the fluid is gone! The tumor itself is the same size… hasn’t gotten smaller, but also hasn’t gotten bigger! We’re hoping that the continued treatment will now directly affect the tumor especially now being rid of all the fluid.

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We consider this good news and we are thankful for the continued prayers and love for our family. If you wouldn’t mind, please say prayers for my friends Eirish and Ron as well.

Eirish’s dad is in the Philippines and has been in and out of the hospital for several weeks. He currently has been showing signs of improvement, but it wasn’t long ago that his circumstances didn’t look so good. Ron’s mom is in the hospital and is currently in a coma state, though now breathing on her own. Please pray for continued improvement and full recovery for both as well as for strength and faith for my friends.

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