Tag Archives: pancreatic cancer

Daddy Day

Dad, Baby Linnea and our neighbors Esther and Don

Dad, Baby Linnea and our neighbors Esther and Don

Peter and I took David out to breakfast this morning at Republic, a cafe in Manchester with truly extraordinary food—something that is not easy to find in this neck of the woods. After we got back home my stepfather Jim called from Utah and I had a chance to wish him a Happy Father’s Day as well.

I’ve been blessed with three different father figures. Jim became part of my family over twenty five years ago, and although we were all grown (in fact, I had two kids of my own by then), he has always considered us his own and we return his love and affection.

In 1985, we lost our first stepfather of sixteen years, known to us (really) as Daddy Dick. He was a character, and upon reflection, not all of his qualities were good ones, but nonetheless, I adored him.

And, of course, our father, Hilding Gunnar Olson, or rather Ollie Olson. He is the handsome fellow in the photo—the tall gentleman who is not sporting a pistol on his belt.

Sadly, dad was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer a mere four months after my own diagnosis with lung cancer. Despite a poor prognosis, he vowed to fight his disease and traveled to MD Anderson for one memorable (coinciding with Hurricane Rita) round of chemotherapy. Too weak for any further treatment, he passed away on Thanksgiving Day in 2005, his favorite holiday.

I haven’t written much about my father, but I miss him so. My first memory is of handing him a brick:  while studying for a PHD in Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering, he worked as a general contractor to support our family.

Ollie was a quiet and gentle person, who loved to garden and began composting and recycling long before such practices were vogue. He canned his own pickles, pears and peaches and our pantry was always stuffed to the brim. In his later years, he developed an avid interest in art, becoming a prolific painter.

For me, he was not just a father, but a good and easy companion. We shared many interests, and I often find myself saying “you’d really like this dad.” And I’m sure he would.

A little like losing a brother

When I logged onto the computer this morning I saw the news about Patrick Swayze’s passing. So sad, but also remarkable that he beat the odds surviving (and not just surviving, working) for as long as he did. Pancreatic cancer is brutal, with a more dismal five year survival statistic than even lung cancer (5%).  My father, Ollie, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a few months after my own diagnosis, in September of 2005.  He passed away two and a half months later, on thanksgiving.

I felt a kinship with Patrick Swayze on many levels.  I knew he was in a hell of a fight and I admired his courage and perseverance.  He had appeared in several movies that for one reason or another were iconic in my life.  “The Outsiders” (from the S.E. Hinton novel that was required reading in elementary school), “Dirty Dancing”, “Point Break” and “Ghost”, all resonated for me.  He also bore an uncanny resemblance at times to one of my own brothers; particularly in the movie “Ghost” (my siblings and I would cry all the harder when watching it because of that likeness).

And then there is the fact that we (those of us with cancer) can’t help but identify with the struggles of everyone else with this disease.  It’s almost like a club, a big stupid club, that none of us asked to join, but here we are none the less.  It is not at all exclusive and we admit new members daily.  Membership is for life, but not necessarily long-term.  When a celebrity joins our ranks, they immediately assume a high profile.

I have anxiously watched Dana Reeves, Peter Jennings and John Updike battle lung cancer.  I have personally grieved when they lost those battles.  Paul Newman, Farrah Fawcett, Ted Kennedy and now Patrick Swayze have succumbed to lung, anal, brain and pancreatic cancer.  Because they were public figures, their personal battles were public as well.  I couldn’t help but feel that I knew each of them, just a little, and had done so for years.  And in each case it was also made painfully clear that no matter how famous or well connected you are, it may not be possible to beat cancer.

At the end of the movie “Point Break”, Patrick Swayze’s character Bohdi pulled a “Thelma and Louise” and rode his surfboard into the sunset.  His game was up, and he wanted to go out his own way.  That is how I will remember Patrick Swayze.