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Three days into "that horrible phone call" and I don't know what to do with my dread and grief


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My 89-year-old dad has been receiving care for a long-term heart issue. He got a routine CT scan a few months ago that showed what they said was a mucous plug. Three months later, that so-called "nothing to worry about" spot has doubled in side and there are nodules in both lungs and his lymph nodes show inflammation. 

He's a "young" 89 and I'm devastated. We won't know anything until our appointment with the doctor tomorrow, then the biopsy and PET scan, but I'm dreading everything that's in front of us. 

If it grew that quickly in three months, I'm convinced it's already spread to his lymph nodes and perhaps beyond. 

Is this it? Is this the last few months of my dad's life? He's my biggest fan and I love him so much. I am his medical advocate and I feel so helpless.

I can't stop crying or concentrate on my job. The only way I can sleep is a Xanax. I've put the wheels in motion to get a therapist, but that will take some time. I'm floundering today and just want to go back in time to that first CT scan and make myself say "Hey, Doctor, let's get a PET scan just in case." I know this is pointless thinking but I go there over and over. 

I don't want any of what is to come. How does anyone deal with the death of a beloved parent? I really don't know if I can endure this. And I need to be there for my mom, too.

If anyone can say anything that might help, please do. I need help right now. 

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Hi Kirsten. Let's take things one step at a time.  Are they doing a biopsy on the nodules? When will that happen? 

Here is Lung Cancer 101 which is filled with information that may help figure out the next steps. 


There are many different kinds of lung cancers with different treatment options.  We have many long term survivors here.  We are here for you.

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Oh my, unfortunately, I do know what you are feeling.

If your dad's current circumstances happened say 5 to 8 years ago, there would be rationale for your despondency. But, things have really changed. First, please understand, there is more than a remote chance that your dad does not have lung cancer. The only way the disease can be diagnosed is through a tissue biopsy. Let's wait for the biopsy report and then more importantly the follow-on laboratory test to check suitability for targeted therapy and immunotherapy. These new drugs have dramatically reduced the lethality of lung cancer.

From the description of your dad's involvement, there is a possibility that surgery might be a treatment method. The PET scan results should help physicians make that decision. Fortunately, lung surgery technology has improved dramatically since my thoracotomy to remove my right lung more than 17-years ago. There are many minimally invasive methods (click the right arrow labeled What are the different techniques used to perform lung surgery) that now make these procedures available to the elder statesmen and stateswoman. Moreover, radiation methods have dramatically improved to the point that radiation can be a very effective alternate to surgery. His tumor might be "fried" using a precision radiation technique. Fourteen years ago, I was one of the first to benefit from a FDA approval to used CyberKnife (a method of Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy) to zap a chemo-resistant tumor in my left lung, thus saving my life. Now use of "precision radiation" is exploding throughout the lung cancer treatment community. Here is more information on precision radiation (click on the right arrow labeled How is radiation therapy administered). 

We understand what you and your dad are feeling now. You live near the Revolutionary War Brandywine battlefield. Our war for independence from Britain was dealt a severe blow as a result of that battle. General Washington could have given up, but he withdrew after the defeat, endured a horrific winter at Valley Forge, trained his fledging Army, and won our independence at Yorktown. Make Washington's fortitude your flag for your dad's fight. He has "not yet begun to fight".

Stay the course.


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Listen to Tom G.

Your dad is at a pretty advanced age but I would wait for the diagnosis and treatment plan. So many advances in the last 10 years.

Give him a hug and support him in whatever decision he makes.

In my thoughts 



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Hi Kirstin,  One way to deal with the death of a parent is to remember he's not dead yet.  It sounds llke he needs your support now, to help him live as long as he can, with the best quality of life he can have.

Let us know what you learn from the doctors. Try not to get too far ahead of yourself.  

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