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  • Writer's pictureCorinne Baldwin

The Cancer Journey From a Daughter's Perspective

Cancer affects everyone...and here's how it affected me.

Ugh. This one’s not gonna be easy.

It actually has taken me three weeks to write.

Someone recently asked me to share about what it’s like to go through cancer treatment…but not from the patient’s perspective. How did I feel going through my dad’s cancer journey? 

This isn’t something I’ve really thought of, honestly, since when my dad was sick, I tried my best to treat him as normal and when people would ask, I would give his updates. Thinking about my own perspective is weird…which doesn’t make sense since I experienced it? 

So I guess I’ll do my best and take it from the beginning. 

I got the call right before Thanksgiving break. I was a junior in college. I found out just a few days before that my dad was getting a colonoscopy. “But he’s only 47…” I remember telling my mom. I didn’t even know he was having symptoms or not feeling well. Then, only a few days later, my mom called to tell me that he had colon cancer.

Colon cancer.

I’m sorry, what??? MY dad? Cancer? I remember screaming. I don’t remember much else after that. 

After that call, my roommate Morgan came into my room and sat with me on the bathroom floor as I gagged. I was fully panicking. I didn’t know what to do.

My anxiety was at a high, and the depression was kicking in quickly. The week before, we had to say goodbye to our dog of 15 years, Max, and now we were being slammed with this new devastating news, all right before Thanksgiving. This used to be one of my favorite holidays. Now, it’s filled with dread. And I don’t say that to be pessimistic, but I can’t help but associate that week with so much sorrow. It was also the first major holiday we spent without my dad after he passed away. It just doesn’t hold the same meaning anymore.

I remember going home for Thanksgiving that week and it was quiet. My dad looked at me with tears in his eyes and said “please don’t look at me differently. I’m still your dad.”

OBVIOUSLY. But how could I not look at him differently? Not only was he still my dad…he was my dad with a ticking time bomb. We found out that next week that his cancer was stage 4 and that it had metastasized in his liver, lungs and nearby lymph nodes. The doctors said that cancers with this diagnosis tended to give the patient a mortality rate of 9 months to a year. I wasn’t ready to lose my dad that quickly.

But as the course of time went on, we realized that we weren’t going to lose him that quickly at all. You see, his cancer journey was actually filled with a lot of hope. He defied a lot of odds right from the beginning. His tumor marker numbers consistently went down. He overall didn’t have many symptoms other than neuropathy. His tumors were all shrinking and he was generally feeling really well.

The only tumor that wasn’t responding well to the treatment was the one on his liver. When he was first diagnosed, this tumor measured at 9 inches long. That’s a really big fucking tumor. The doctors recommended that he move forward with a treatment called Y90. This was a procedure in which they were going to go in and implant radiation beads inside his liver tumor to burn it from the inside out. There was a 90% success rate with the procedure. We were game.

But my dad was in the 10% that it didn’t work for.

His body reacted horribly to the treatment. The procedure was while I was visiting Los Angeles for the first time, too. I got a text that he was vomiting, running a fever, and overall in really bad shape after having this done. The procedure basically destroyed his liver instead of the tumor, and his body was taking it brutally. 

I called my mom and said I was cutting my trip to LA short; she said don’t you dare. I felt so guilty. I wanted to be there for my dad. I also was scared…but I stuck out the rest of my trip because my parents told me to.

From this point on, my dad’s liver didn’t work. He had to have a bag put into his abdomen that drained his bile for him since his body could no longer do it naturally. This changed his day-to-day life immensely. Over the course of the next 3 years, his body would start to reject food, liquids, treatments, medicines, etc. This procedure was his health’s downfall.

However, the one thing that remained was his positivity. He never lost hope or faith in himself. He tried to keep as much normalcy in his life as possible. He even moved to Orlando with my mom and sister to allow them to do more of what they loved to do (quite literally, go to Disney World). 

On the flip side, though, it broke my heart to see him unable to do what he was always so passionate about – playing guitar, riding his Harley, working on cars, riding the bigger coasters in Disney World, and eventually even eating his favorite meals. Cancer robbed my dad of these pleasures, and it really took a toll on his mental health. But he still tried to remain positive because he didn’t want to set an example that he was letting cancer win.

Every time we ever talked about the inevitable, he said he fought for his girls. For my mom, for me, and for my sister. He didn’t want us to have to live life without him. He knew he was the backbone of our family.

What my dad didn’t know was that in his fight, he set the example of how to live a strong and determined life. How to live a life of gratitude. How to love others no matter what it is you’re going through. 

Okay, okay…back to the journey. So that awful liver procedure was summer 2019. Come the beginning of 2020, everything seriously took a turn for the worst. My dad was sick beyond what words could adequately describe. He was vomiting all the time, weighed 90 pounds soaking wet, couldn’t eat anything, and was frail. He looked like he could’ve been an elderly man with how frail he was…and he was only 49. This was right as the pandemic was beginning, and we were all so nervous for him to get even more sick from COVID. But cancer was seriously taking over his body.

He stayed in the hospital for a few weeks. I came home from school. We had the unthinkable conversation…what do we do when he dies? No longer if…when. In that moment, we were certain that death was around the corner.

This was still when my family lived in Nashville, so there was also the added stress of what they were going to do with this move if we lost him.

But something miraculously changed, and he started to improve. He began eating again. His weight started to build back on. His face rounded back out. I have no idea what changed, but it gave me 2.5 more years with my dad.

So then they move to Florida. He starts being seen at Moffitt Cancer Center, one of the best treatment centers in the country. Things overall are honestly going really well for my dad, which brings me lots of joy and comfort. He’s clearly still sick at this point, but doing things that he loves, namely going to Disney World with my mom.

I had come to visit my family several times after their move, and decided to have a sit down conversation with my dad on one of these visits. My lease was almost up in Memphis, and I wanted to leave and either move to Orlando to be closer to him, or move to Los Angeles to pursue a dance career. I was leaning towards Orlando because of his condition and because I wanted to be close to him and the rest of my family, but he told me, “If you don’t move to LA I’m gonna be so fucking pissed.” 

It was because he always supported my dance journey and wanted me to live the life I would be living if he weren’t sick. I knew it. But I also knew that I would have major regrets if I moved. However, I had to listen to my dad. So I moved to LA.

I still visited all the time; basically, once a month. But around Thanksgiving 2021, I was really struggling financially and wasn’t able to fly to Orlando then if I wanted to come home for Christmas. Christmas was more important to me, so I sacrificed Thanksgiving that year to come home for a longer period of time in December. 

It was one of the lowest days of my life, honestly. I wanted to be with my family so badly for Thanksgiving, but money wouldn’t let me. And in hindsight, I think it was such a low day because, at the time, I didn’t know that I’d never get another Thanksgiving with my dad, but I think my subconscious knew it.

Life went on. Things were status quo. Every day, I’d ask my dad how he was doing, and he’d reply, “SFSG,” which meant “so far so good.” Most of his days were good days. 

In March 2022, my Pops, who’s my mom’s dad, passed away from Parkinson’s disease. This definitely rocked our worlds, and we needed to get to New Jersey to support my Gram through this loss. It was the first time my parents traveled since the onset of the pandemic, which was scary, but needed to be done. They had a lot of travel issues that day, but we all made it to NJ. 

That entire weekend was so hard on all of us, but especially my mom. She needed to be with her mom and her brother (my Uncle Bob), and my dad did an incredible job being there for my sister and me. I had never been to a viewing before that weekend, and my dad supported me through it all. It was a really hard time, but he made it easier. We even had a daddy/daughter date to get Philly cheesesteaks at one of our favorite New Jersey restaurants, Brothers.

After that, life resumed as normal as it could be, but we got the news that my dad’s tumors had become resistant to the treatments that he was on. This was absolutely guttering to hear. But he was doing so well??? He was living as close to a normal life as possible??? We didn’t understand this news. We thought things were going okay.

My mom did some research and found a clinical trial in *drumroll please* LOS ANGELES. There’s a hospital in Monrovia, CA, called City of Hope that was offering consultations for a clinical trial that could potentially save my dad’s life. My mom got him an appointment and they came to LA together. And it just so happened to be the same weekend as my birthday.

At this point, my dad was incredibly weak and couldn’t really hold down a meal. You could tell the cancer was really taking a toll on his body. It was hard to watch because just months before, he wasn’t in this kind of condition. However, he still tried his best to make the most of the trip. 

I’m going to start with the bad part of the trip first: after his consultation, the doctors said that he wasn’t eligible for the trial. His liver was in such bad shape from the failed surgery a few years before, and they didn’t think his body would be able to take on the treatment. We were devastated. We knew what this meant.

However, my dad still persevered. It was my birthday weekend, and he wanted to celebrate and have a good time. We all went to brunch to celebrate, and we even got a second candle to celebrate my mom’s birthday from a few days before (our birthdays are really close together!). Then, we got a text from my mom’s friend Richard that he would give all of us park hopper tickets to go to Disneyland together for the day. How could we say no?! 

We had to get a wheelchair for my dad, but we truly had an amazing day. We rode everything we wanted to ride, finishing with Radiator Springs Racers. My dad said that was his favorite ride of the whole day. We laughed, we smiled, and we enjoyed each other’s company. It was a good day.

Little did we know how many lasts we were facing that day. It was my dad’s last visit to a Disney Park. It was my dad’s last meal. It was my dad’s last relatively normal day.

The day that my mom and dad got back to Orlando, my dad’s O2 dropped significantly and my mom had to call an ambulance. Of course, I freaked out when she told me this. Never had my mom ever told me I needed to come home…but this time she did.

I got on the first flight I possibly could have and saw my dad in the hospital. Within only 24 hours, his condition had rapidly decreased. The doctors said he had pneumonia, and that since his body was in such bad shape, they couldn’t do much to treat it. At this point, it was just a waiting game.

I went back to LA for a few days to get some work done and to collect my thoughts, but then I went back to Orlando Labor Day weekend to spend more time with my family. This was the most emotional weekend of my life. 

My dad had officially started hospice care. The dreaded H word. It didn’t make sense to me. He’s only 51 and he’s in hospice?! How…but it was reality. I spent the majority of that weekend by his side; we watched Food Network, we talked sports, and I just tried to take his mind off of the inevitable.

If you’ve never watched someone in the process of dying, it’s a disturbing, yet beautiful thing. My dad was fighting so hard to stay with it, but his body was so tired and weak. His brain was starting to go too. He would find himself confused sometimes. Because of that, I tried to just be there as a support system for him and treat him as normal as possible.

I also took advantage of the fact that many of my friends from high school were actually in Orlando that weekend. Rachael and my best friend Ashley and I all went to EPCOT together one of the days we were there in an effort to get our minds off of things. Ashley knew and loved my dad like her own…we’ve been best friends since the 7th grade. That night, we all went out along with several of our other friends from high school. It was a really good distraction.

It was time for me to fly back to LA because I had to get back to work…I hated myself for having to leave. I didn’t want to. I felt torn apart and guilty and still feel remnants of those emotions to this day. My dad mustered up the strength to join us on our ride to the Tampa airport. As I was getting out of the car, he opened his door. He couldn’t stand up, but I leaned into him and gave him the most important hug of my entire life. 

While we were hugging, he said, “You’re going to take on the world someday. I love you.” I didn't let myself cry in front of him, but once I walked inside, I lost it. I knew that was the last time I’d hug my dad. I hated my intuition for knowing that, but I knew.

The following Monday, I FaceTimed my dad. The Eagles had just won a preseason game 38-35 against the Lions. He knew the score like the back of his hand, despite everything else being a little foggy. I asked him what color I should paint my nails next; he said green. I had to get back to work, so I told him I loved him and he said he loved me too.

I went ahead and booked flights to come back to Orlando on Thursday to be with him again. I had to get through a few more days at work, but I was coming back as soon as I possibly could. The night before, I had prayed so hard for God to give my dad peace. In my head, I wanted my dad to be healed. There had to have been a way. But seeing his face on FaceTime that morning told me that peace was coming in a different way, and I wasn’t ready.

A few hours after that call, my mom called me and said she was scared. He was sleeping, but his breathing was starting to slow down. She had called hospice and they said it was normal. I tried to calm her down a little bit.

But only a few minutes after that…she called me to say he was gone. He passed away peacefully in his spot on the couch. He finally got his rest.

When my mom told me, I didn’t wail. I didn’t scream. It was just a heartbroken cry. I couldn’t believe that he was actually gone.

I’d never be able to talk to him again. I’d never feel his hugs again. I’d never share sports banter or dance drama or Disney knowledge with him again. He would never walk me down the aisle. He’d never meet his grandchildren. My life would never be the same.

I changed my flights and flew home that night on a red eye. While I was waiting for my flight at LAX, I had a beer for him. I cried. I got on the plane. I had a layover in New York City and saw the sunrise over the Manhattan skyline. I cried some more. My mom picked me up in Orlando. I cried some more.

My dad didn’t want a funeral. We had a little gathering of friends and family at our home and watched a montage video of my dad’s best moments that my sister and I put together. It was quiet in the house. 

Life had to go on. But it would never be the same. My mom went back to work, and I went back to LA. I came home for Thanksgiving. I came home for Christmas. It was quiet.

I think about my dad every single day. He is with me always. He would always say that he fought for us girls…he didn’t want to leave us. And he never did.

This is easily the longest blog I’ve ever written…and it’s because of how much this story has impacted me. Losing a loved one is hard…watching them suffer is hard…missing them is hard. I miss my dad, but I feel his presence with me.

I’m publishing this after a hiatus of not writing because this blog took so much out of me emotionally. However, it’s the last day of Colon Cancer Awareness Month. Check your colon; you could save your life.

Dedicated to you, Daddio. I miss you every day.

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1 Comment

Joe Cutroni
Joe Cutroni
Apr 02

The impact your Dad had on everyone's lives is his legacy. He was a great man. This one was tough to read, but you did an amazing job. They never truly leave us, remember that.


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