A cancer dad’s double life

Well, today marks my 43rd full turn around the sun. 

I walked through the snow and slush with Grace the dog. I worked on my website. I took the girls to rent skis for the winter. We sat down for dinner as a family, then piled onto the couch to watch a holiday baking show. 

In my book, this is a damn good day.

When you’re living with metastatic cancer, especially as a parent of school-age children, you live a jarring double life. 

In one, you believe and hope you will live long enough to see your kids graduate from high school, to see them make an impact on the world, perhaps even to meet their children. 

In the other, you feel the crushing burden of time. You are frantic to pack in a lifetime of love and memories now, because you don’t know when your time will come (please no “don’t think about death” comments. If you’re stage IV, it’s part of the job description). 

So here I am as a father and a cancer patient, racing down the razor’s edge.

Sage is a freshman in high school. Elsie is in 7th grade. We function in that chaotic, high energy transition between the stuff of youth and the stuff of young adulthood. Each day careens toward the next, with the bustle of the girls getting ready for school in the morning, and the bustle of homework and sports and dinners in the evening.

During the past few weeks, Sage sang in her first high school chorus concert. Elsie had her first middle school dance. 

I set my intention to draw out these moments, to linger in them. It is pure joy. Yet when each distinct moment concludes, I’m left almost deflated, powerless to slow down time. 

The philosopher and farmer Wendell Berry wisely observed that humans suffer because we tax our lives with forethought of grief. No doubt, much pain can be avoided when we condition our imaginations not to wander. 

To focus without distraction on right here, right now. 

To let go of tomorrow’s troubles.

Of course, letting go is easy in the abstract. It’s far harder to achieve in real life.

Because, man, I’m attached to these humans I share this life with. I love their unique voices, the way they walk, the scrunched-up faces they make when it’s too early and too cold to get out of bed on winter mornings. I love the way Sage sways just a bit from side to side when she sings on stage. I love Elsie’s laugh when she has her headphones on and she’s listening to a book no one else can hear. 

I love their warmth, their breath when they hug me, their spirits. 

I love how, after 26 years into our relationship, Sarah and I still look forward to reconnecting after our day’s work is done.

So when I’m troubled by forethought of grief, I remind myself that’s the natural byproduct of love. I let the grief pass through, and I search out the next moment of connection. After all, any man who lives in such an abundance of love, well, that’s one lucky guy.

Published by Trevor Maxwell

Trevor Maxwell writes about life as stage IV colon cancer patient, and about overcoming challenges. A former newspaper journalist, Trevor is passionate about the power of words. Follow at www.trevormaxwell.com

16 thoughts on “A cancer dad’s double life

  1. Oh to be a fly on the wall. Elsie is always happy as she navigates the MS halls.
    I still can not believe Mary, Sage and Cayden are in HS.
    Love to you all!


  2. Thank you, for sharing how you are making friends with death……I envy your children…..my family kept mothers cancer a secret and at age 10 was told god wanted her. I began hating god that day I needed her more than he did.
    Healing did not begin till I became a volunteer at Center for Grieving Children ……and listened to other mothers try to find a way to do what my mother could not.
    I will think of you all often this holiday……your story matters….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So glad to hear that you healed from that awful experience. Thank you for sharing, and thank you for the volunteer work you do. Wishing you a wonderful holiday season!


  3. Trevor,
    By the grace of God, mine was only stage 2. But I understand the dark cloud, and it’s a menace. Will it come back? Will it be worse next time? And all we can do is choose joy, and choose to be in the business of living, and do our best to move out from under the dark cloud and into the sunshine. So glad to read your writing again. Stay well.
    Your former P-C colleague,
    Tricia (DeWall) Brown

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Tricia! I’m glad to hear you are cancer-free and I totally hear you about the fear. It’s real and it sucks, no other way to say it. Thanks for your note. Happy holidays!


  4. Beautifully written Trevor. Thank you for sharing. I’m a father of six and a Stage IV colon cancer survivor. BTW – I was 43 also. I had three little ones when I was in treatment, and was lucky enough to be able to have three more after. As shitty as it is, cancer allows you to experience deeper levels of connection. The trick is to carry it forward as you emerge. I wish you and your family the best of journeys together.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Robert! Thanks for reading and for sharing a bit of your story. I thought maybe I had already responded to you, but I’m not seeing it. Hmmm. In any case, I’m so happy for you and your family! All the best, my friend.


  5. Trevor, I completely relate to you as I am almost 43 with stage 4 lung cancer. I have 2 daughters 16 and 12 . Thankyou for writing this article it’s nice to have someone to relate to . Godbless

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Libby, thanks so much for reading and commenting here. Guess we’re in the same boat! Sorry to hear about your lung cancer. I figure if we are going to go through this awful stuff, we might as well try to connect with each other through writing, art, music, whatever outlets we enjoy. Wishing you the best, Trevor


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