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I Didn’t Want Him to Worry

by David A. Koop

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I wanted to live, not for me, but for Christopher. It was only a few months until his seventh birthday. Would I still be here to plan his party? I had to figure out how to deal with the new reality of my life, at least what was to be left of it. I did not want Christopher to worry about me. That was much easier in the beginning, before the chemotherapy started to do a number on my body. It started with losing my hair.

About two weeks after the first round of chemotherapy, Christopher and I invited my nephew, “Little” Dan and his two kids to join us for a camping trip on the Oregon Coast. His kids, Aidan and Emmy Rose, are just a little younger than Christopher, and they always have a good time when they get together, which is just never often enough. This time though, we pulled it off – the five of us for a few days camping on the coast.

This trip found Christopher and me getting to the campground early on Friday with a chance to set up camp before it got dark. Little Dan and his kids rolled in about nine that night. While Dan got his tent set up, Christopher showed the kids the lay of our camp, a light snack was enjoyed, s’mores were made (they are mandatory, aren’t they?) and consumed with enthusiasm, and off to bed they all went.

I can still see the smile on Christopher’s face,
and his laughter of pure joy still rings in my ears.

Author of Article photo

David Koop

Little Dan and I talked by the fire for a while, and the subject of my hair came up. I was wearing a ball cap, but you could clearly see that I still had a head of hair. He asked, “How come your hair didn’t fall out yet?”

I told him, “I don’t know,” as I took off my cap. I grabbed a handful of hair, and I wondered out loud, “What, you think it should just come out?”

To my surprise, it did! I pulled my hand away from my head and out came a handful of hair. I looked at it for a few minutes and then tossed it into the fire. I grabbed another handful just to see, and sure enough, it came out with no resistance. I thought about it for a minute, while Dan was explaining how gross that was, and I put my cap back on.

This campground had a nice bathroom and shower set up – just keep pushing the button, and hot water will continue as long as you wish. Good thing to know on a day where your bones might get cold on the Oregon Coast, but also a good thing when you are slowly removing your hair, handful after handful. Christopher and I spent more than our fair share of time in the shower that next morning. Christopher was so intent on pushing that button he never said a word about my hair or the fact that it seemed to just wash away.

I had explained to Christopher that because of the chemotherapy my hair would fall out. I shared with him that it was OK because when we were all done it would grow back. Some people said that it would even be better than before, darker, fuller, and that area on top that somehow had thinned without my knowledge or consent would fill back in … cool. I guess he got the message, or perhaps my lack of hair was just no match for that button.

We all had a great time; we played on the dunes, and we rode bikes around camp and went for walks. We drove over to the Sea Lion Caves, a great stop along the coast where thousands of loud barking sea lions hang out year round.

Hiking down to the Sea Lion Caves was more painful and difficult than I thought it would be, but the hike back up was near impossible to bear. I asked Little Dan to go ahead with the kids. I did not want to scare them or worry them.

As our camping trip drew to an end, Dan and his kids headed out not long after breakfast on Sunday. Christopher and I headed over to the dunes, where we rented a dune buggy. It was a red two-seater that would fly over the dunes if you let it. Yes, we flew more than a time or two. The problem was the dune buggy fit Christopher just fine, but I am 6’3”, and with the mandatory helmet, my head hit the roll cage. I had to hold my head off center a little, which I did, but every time we hit a stiff bump or landed one of those flyovers that Christopher loved so much, my head would hit … ouch. But his laughter made it all worthwhile.

I think I still feel the pain of bouncing along the dunes, especially the landings … no words can truly convey how much it hurt. So why do it? Because I can still see the smile on Christopher’s face, and his laughter of pure joy still rings in my ears.

Smiles on our faces and new stories to share, there is no way to love more than I love my son. As I watched him sleep on the ride back home, I could not help but think about how much he meant to me, and I couldn’t stop wondering if I would still be here for his next birthday.

The times that I could get out of bed to do these adventures, I did the best I could to hide the pain and fatigue. Why do these things? Why put myself through it? Because there is no point being alive if I can’t live … truly live life.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

David Koop is an entrepreneur, motivational speaker, and osteosarcoma survivor living in Salem, OR. To learn more about David, visit somedaygroup.com.

Excerpted with permission from Cancer: It’s a Good Thing I Got It!, by David A. Koop, copyright © 2011 by David A. Koop. All rights reserved.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, July/August 2012.