Ping Pong, Stage IV, and Taiwan

Smack. Smack. Smack.

LARGE GUFFAW.

Smack. Smack. Smack.

ANOTHER ROUND OF LAUGHTER.

That’s what it sounds like at the Makua Alii Senior Center as my dad sweats it up in a fierce match of ping pong. I know, I know. We’re totally playing to the stereotype here. I have images from Forrest Gump cycling through my head as I watch him whoop ass on some frail 87-year old Chinese dude.

It’s a pleasant hour of respite from the onslaught of crazy the last three days.

As with most life-altering events, my dad’s diagnosis of Stage IV colon cancer was completely anti-climactic. His oncologist explained in the most nonchalant way how the mass removed from my dad’s abdomen last week was cancerous, how that meant the other mass near his spine is probably cancerous, and how chemo would probably be necessary in some form for the rest of his life.

It wasn’t until I made a follow-up call for clarification that his doctor broke out the Stage IV terminology and the curious 22-month benchmark. As in, half the people with my dad’s diagnosis live more than 22 months. Half, less. Stupidly, I was madly scribbling notes during this conversation so my dad learned the dire nature of his prognosis by reading it from my notebook.

I hung up the phone. He tilted his head, uttered,”Oh, I’m stage four.” Pursed his lips. Nodded. Looked down. Then stared off in the distance past the golf course his condo overlooks.

Arg.

Between the seemingly casual that-tumor-we-removed-was-cancerous appointment and the you-potentially-have-less-than-two-years-to-live conversation was a lunch at which my dad and stepmother decided the best option for them was to return to Taiwan immediately. It’s where they were both born and raised. It’s where the bulk of my stepmom’s family resides. And it’s where my dad has access to food he loves.

Food is REALLY important to him. Chinese food. A variety of it. An ample supply of it. An affordable way to consume it.

Returning to Taiwan is an idea they’d already been discussing for a month prior to my dad’s colon cancer recurrence. My stepmom’s lung cancer had proven taxing and it left her longing to be around family. With the double whammy of my dad’s situation, it seemed like a no-brainer. For them anyway. My heart was broken when they announced their plans to me a month ago. And it’s in shards at this moment thinking about my dad being so far away. Especially since that decision was finalized just hours before we fully understood the gravity of his prognosis.

After multiple conversations with wise friends and confidantes who’ve had experience with cancer, I know his happiness is vital. The likelihood of extending his life is vastly improved if he’s content with his environment. Of course, I offered my dad the option of coming to Oregon and allowing me to take care of him. I even called local facilities to research treatment possibilities. But my dad loathes the gray days of the Pacific Northwest. And wants his wife to be happy. What’s that saying? A happy wife is a happy life? He’s certainly ascribing to that notion.

So with their decision made, I plowed ahead with data gathering.

Invaluable tools: Skype and Google Translate.

They’re what I used to find the best hospital for cancer treatment in Kaohsiung, Taiwan (at the advice of a dear doctor friend who says academic teaching hospitals tend to have the best researching minds and better access to the newest clinical trials). Google Translate was instrumental in helping me find and correspond in Chinese with the hospital’s colon cancer team leader. And I used Skype to book an appointment over the phone with that very doctor for November 27th.

I also joined an online cancer forum to learn more about the disease, hired an attorney to begin the process of setting up a living trust for my parents and went to their hospital here in Honolulu to request a full copy of their medical records. Oh, and my dad and I made a stop at the Don Quixote – this weird multi-purpose supermarket that reminds me of places you’d find in Mexico or Beijing. He needed blank CDs.

See, he line dances at the senior center. He’s a big hit there, as you might imagine, with that big smile and being the only male willing to dance with a bunch of aging Chinese ladies. He’s intent on bringing the music he’s familiar with back to Taiwan, presumably so he can find another social group to cha-cha with. To the mild frustration of my stepmother, he’s more focused on doing internet searches for ping-pong clubs in Kaohsiung city than he is on determining the best oncologist for his extended care in Taiwan.

I can only smile.

He’s still up right now, using my Ipod headphones to review the playlist I created for him . He’s leaned back with his hands locked behind his head, shuffling his feet to the music as he visualizes the best dance moves. When he goes for his hour-long morning walk, he takes his ping-pong paddle with him, practicing his best chops and slices as he strolls the streets of Waikiki.

A little neurotic and silly but I’ve got to think these quirks are his best defense. His most potent weapons to kick cancer in the arse.

Kung-fu style n’all, naturally.