Dad’s Real Plate

My Dad HATED paper plates. In hindsight, I don’t really know why. Mom would dish out paper plates to all of us kids, especially on pizza night. Dad would always say, “I want a REAL plate not a paper plate!”

One day I found a plastic plate that looked just like a paper plate. It was his father’s day present one year when I was still in high school. The plate was moved to my parent’s new house in town and just the other day, (remember how I said our favorite pizza place has $13 supreme pizzas this month? Yeah – we’ve been using that coupon to the full extent) we brought mom some pizza.

Craig told me to just use paper plates to save on dishes. I went in the cupboard and found this. Roger’s “real” plate. It made me smile.

The past two weeks have just been really heavy. I’ve really been missing Dad and so has Carver. Craig mentioned how he misses talking to him about woodworking and having someone to talk farming with. I think we are all in a bit of a slump. Carver has been talking about Papa Moo non-stop which is great but makes a hard day a little harder. There are little reminders are everywhere. Some days they make me laugh, some days they bring me to my knees.

Thanks for reading. See you all again tomorrow morning bright and early at 0530.

For more content on grieving and the loss of my father, check out more posts from my “Fatherless Daughter” category or see these posts:

One Year Ago: Reliving Dad’s Cancer Journey

My father, Roger Kramer passed away from lung cancer on June 2nd, 2019 after his 129 day battle. His cancer progressed quickly after his diagnosis on January 24th 2019. The cancer spread to his C2, eating away at the bone and fracturing his neck. After finishing chemotherapy and radiation, a PET scan t revealed the cancer had spread throughout his body. I was honored to care for him in his final days and he passed away 4 days later. We not only lost a father but Craig and I lost a dear friend and community member. A Fatherless Daughter is a blog series that highlights his last few weeks and the struggles we have had to overcome as a family as my dad’s cancer battle came to an end.

One year ago on February 7th, I wrote this:

Today was a tough day.

Mom and Dad ventured through the ice storm to get to Lacrosse for an appointment with dad’s surgeon and for breathing tests to see how he would fair without a portion of his right lung.

The news wasn’t great. We originally thought he would get 2/3 of his right lung removed. Today the surgeon made it sound more like maybe they would take the entire right lung. It’s amazing the difference just one lobe would make. Things would be a lot harder without that one lobe. Dad would probably be on oxygen for a long time. He might need a pacemaker. It would have a significant impact on his life as we know it.

There were a lot of big scary statistics that the surgeon brought up. A lot of big scary “if this then that” was discussed. Mom and Dad left the appointment feeling very overwhelmed.

We also found out Dad will need more biopsies on lymph nodes next week and will be in Lacrosse again on Tuesday and Wednesday. IF these biopsies come back okay – the big surgery will be scheduled the next week. IF they come back cancerous – we will start chemo first and the surgery will be delayed.

We all thought we would get a solid treatment plan by today. That keeps getting put off. We are ALL a family of planners. We so desperately want a clear plan and path of how to navigate this ugly disease. No such luck.

So we will wait until next week. We’ve been waiting until “next week” since January 24th.

We are all feeling a little defeated. I say “we” because Dad’s fight is our fight. Dad got some really nice cards in the mail today and their neighbors shoveled their sidewalk for them for when they got home which was so sweet. Mom got an inspiring message from a blog reader about her husbands triumph over the same cancer dad has. You never know when your well wishes or small acts of kindness are needed. Today they were needed. Dad reads all the comments on mine and mom’s Facebook so feel free to drop him a note.

I completely forgot that it was ever a part of Dad’s plan to remove his lung. When he did go in for surgery on February 18th his tumor was to intertwined in his chest wall, pericardium, and lung. They tried and tried to get the tumor out and then get the lung out but they couldn’t. It was so hard to watch Dad recover from the “failed” surgery. They just sewed him back up and sent him on for chemo and radiation.

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“What is it like when a parent is diagnosed with cancer?”

I’ve gotten this question before: What is it like when a parent is diagnosed with cancer?

I happen to be an expert in this topic considering both of my parents have been diagnosed with cancer.

As yesterday was the first anniversary of my dad’s lung cancer diagnosis, a thought occurred to me. At the time, my parents diagnosis of cancer was devastating. It was the biggest shock I’d ever had in my entire life. My mom’s thyroid cancer diagnosis actually came AFTER her thyroid was removed. My dad’s lung cancer diagnosis was found through a routine CT scan.

In hindsight, the diagnosis day was the easiest part of my dad’s cancer journey.

Was it shocking? Yes. Was it devastating? Yes. Now that I know what I know and I’ve lived through what I’ve lived through, the diagnosis day was easy.

I always hear people talk about how their pain scale is adjusted as they move through life. A 10/10 pain right now for my son is getting his finger slammed in a door as is for many 3 year olds. Now that I’m older my 10/10 was my gall bladder attack or walking for the first time after my c-section. I hope I don’t have a new 10/10 pain but I know that as I get older and progress through life, it’s likely my pain scale will be adjusted again.

My “hard” scale has also been adjusted as I move through life. It also adjusted as my parents have navigated their way through their cancer journey.

In hindsight, diagnosis day was a good 7/10. At the time? It was a 10/10.

It wasn’t easy but it wasn’t as hard as the next 129 days were. We were so hopeful then.

  • Watching my dad writhing in pain after a failed attempt to remove his tumor? 9/10
  • When his cancer turned from curable to treatable? 8/10
  • When his cancer went from treatable to terminal? 8/10
  • Watching my dad break his neck right in front of me as he was leaning back in his recliner? 9/10
  • Watching my dad, my big burly I can eat half a cake in one sitting dad, struggle to sip a milkshake? 7/10
  • When my mom called and told me the cancer had spread to his femur, iliac crest, colon, his lungs, his abdominal wall? 9/10
  • Picking out a gravesite with my parents after my dad was given 2-3 weeks to live? 8/10
  • Watching Dad say goodbye to his friends, family, fire department, first responders, neighbors and community? 8/10
  • Giving the eulogy at his funeral? 8/10
  • Listening to his final call come over the pager? 8/10
  • Watching dad say goodbye to his wife? 10/10
  • Watching my dad take his last breath? 10/10
  • Watching my mom’s tumor marker creep up month after month and they can’t find the cancer anywhere? 8/10

So as hard as it is when a parent or a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, there are worse things.

If there is one thing I’ve learned through it all is I can do hard things. When I’m tired and I feel like I can’t pick myself up again or when I think things can’t get worse, I know that I can survive hard things. I am resilient and there is life on the other side of loss.

I can survive the 10/10. I can find happiness on the other side of 10/10. I have survived 100% of the horrible days I’ve had and you can to.

That’s what it is like when a parent is diagnosed with cancer. You test your limits, you build resilience. You come out stronger and wiser. Most importantly, has hard as it is, you survive even if they don’t.

For more posts from my perspective as a fatherless daughter, check out these posts:

January 24th, 2019: Day 1 of 129 – Diagnosis Day

“You will never forget this phone call.”

“Huh? What do you mean?”

“Dad’s CT came back. They released the results on MyCare It says he has advanced lung cancer.”

Immediate tears. Not even tears, sobbing.

“I’ll be right over.”

That is literally all I said. I hung up the phone.

I called Craig. Bawling. He couldn’t even understand what I was saying. I’m scrambling around the house. I’m trying to get Carver in the car. It’s so freaking cold outside. My huge pregnant belly is in the way. I have to scrape my car off. Carver wants to know why I’m crying. What do I even say.

I get to my mom’s house. I walk in the door. I’m okay for the moment. Mom is in the bathroom with kids. I can tell she’s been crying. She can tell I’ve been crying. I can tell she’s being extra chipper for the kids.

“The results are up on the computer.”

I read it over and over again.

Advanced lung cancer. 9 cm tumor. Critical result. Advanced lung cancer.

“Does dad know?”

“Not yet.”

Just then mom’s phone rang. It was Dad. He had gotten a call from the clinic. They want him to come in this afternoon to review his results. They didn’t tell him anything more than that.

“I’ll watch the kids. You can go.”

Dad came home. Mom showed him the results on the computer. Dad went down to shower before his appointment. He came back upstairs. I can remember the shirt he was wearing. Long sleeved navy blue striped. He was eating a cookie. He needed a haircut and to button just one more button. He was leaning on the baker’s cabinet he built.

“Were you expecting this?”

I was so nervous. This was so delicate. Dad and I didn’t talk about this kind of stuff yet.

“Well I’ve smoked since I was 13.”

“Yeah…”

“You know it might not even be cancer. Some people get misdiagnosed.”

Advanced lung cancer. 9 cm tumor.

“Yeah…true…” I mumbled…

“I really appreciate you watching the kids.”

“Of course.”

To think I’d lived 22 January 24ths without realizing how significant this date would be. Now I know better. I know how a phone call can bring you to your knees. I now know how any day could be that date that you’ll never forget.

I can still see the test results in my mind. Advanced lung cancer. 9 cm tumor. Critical result.

That was day 1 of 129. Diagnosis Day.

Above and Beyond

How many times do we hear that phrase “above and beyond?”

ALL. THE. TIME.

I hear it in award speeches, I hear it in those cheesy AIDET classes we have to take, I even hear it in interviews.

“Describe a time you went ‘above and beyond’ the call of duty for your patient?”

What is your above and beyond?

My dad died from lung cancer on June 2nd 2019. He had a long 129 days from diagnosis until his death. He spent most of his time in and out of hospitals.

My dad was a pretty gruff guy. He wasn’t one to show much appreciation or affection. He really avoided the doctor at all costs prior to those final months.

His first hospital stay was following a failed attempt to remove a 4 inch tumor from his right lung. It didn’t work. They sewed him back up.

His second hospital stay was following a fracture of his C2 vertebrae. He was leaning back in his recliner. He spent a week in the hospital.

His third and fourth hospital stays were a week long each. We thought he had radiation pneumonitis. He didn’t. He was dying. We didn’t know yet.

Throughout the hospital stays, my parents had picked out their favorite nurses.

Lauren was my dad’s nurse when he broke his neck. Dad was on the medical oncology floor which was a really busy floor. Lauren’s phone was constantly ringing. I knew she had her hands full. Yet all I heard about was how smart Lauren was. I was so excited to meet her because I’d heard such high praises.

I spent two days with my dad in the hospital. I met Lauren. Don’t get me wrong, Lauren was a fine nurse but she didn’t have the superpowers my mom and dad had described. In their eyes, she was “above and beyond.” My mom went as far as to write a letter to make sure she was recognized for her efforts.

Do you know what Lauren did?

Lauren listened. She sat down, she talked to dad, and she actually listened. More than that, before she responded, she thought.

Dad always commented on that. He said he could “see her wheels turning.”

When the strongest pain medications weren’t touching his pain, she listened. She sat down, talked to dad, and she actually listened.

When he had concerns about his new feeding tube, she listened.

Lauren worked on a busy floor. Lauren wasn’t always on time with her medications and assessments. She was already preforgiven because Dad knew whens she got to him, she would listen.

That’s it guys. That’s the BIG SECRET to getting all those fancy nursing recognition awards: LISTENING.

I have bent over backwards and sideways four ways to Sunday for patients.

I have bought people the giant packs of depends, I’ve paid for people’s taxi’s, I gave a patient a ride home or to their hotel on several occasions. I have literally saved lives. I went and bought a family member of a dying resident cheese curds after work and brought them back to her. I went in on my day off to be with an old man with no family so he wouldn’t die alone.

All of these grand gestures may get me into heaven one day but do I listen to my patients?

  • Do I make sure they feel like more than just a task I need to complete?
  • Do I see beyond the tubes and wires and remember they are a human?
  • Do I sit down on their bed and look them in the eye?
  • Am I listening to respond or am I listening to understand?

In a world of screens and monitors and technology I challenge you to disconnect and reconnect.

In closing, my fellow nursing friends, I challenge you to rethink your above and beyond.

The Hardest Conversation

The hardest moment of the entire year was after my dad was put on hospice. The hospice nurse was coming later that afternoon to admit him to hospice.

That morning he started having a harder time breathing. He was sweating more. He was so anxious and kept checking his oxygen saturation and his heart rate. I could tell he wasn’t doing well. His heart rate was hovering in the 120s and his sats, despite the oxygen, were dropping to the mid 80s.

My dad was dying.

Well, I knew my dad was dying, just days prior he was given 2-3 weeks to live. The cancer had spread to his femur, his colon, both lungs, and his neck.

But now, my dad was actually dying. I knew it. He didn’t.

My dad was not an anxious person but that morning he was.

Mom and I were whispering in the kitchen about how difficult this was going to be if he was going to be this anxious. It was so hard to watch him knowing this was the beginning of the end.

I was helping him to the bathroom. He was to the point he needed helping walking and getting around.

He asked me “Do you think I should go back in? Do you think this is pneumonia again?”

I took a deep breath. I could lie. I wanted to lie so bad. I wanted to tell him that he would feel better once we got him settled in the recliner. I wanted to tell him that antibiotics could fix this. I wanted to reassure him.

I couldn’t lie.

I took a deep breath. My voice shook. “No dad, I think this is the hard part.”

I told my Dad he was dying.

Instantly we both were sobbing. He held his head in his hands and cried like I’d never seen him cry before. I rubbed his back. We cried together in the bathroom. It was maybe one of 3 times I’d seen my Dad cry in my life. It was the first and only time I’d ever seen him sob.

After a few minutes he told me something I’ll never forget.

“You know Kalissa, you’re one tough son of a bitch. I could never do what you are doing for me.”

“How could I not do this for you Dad? You were such a good dad to me.”

We sat in silence a few more minutes. I’m not sure how much time went by.

When we eventually came out. I called the hospice nurse to make sure she brought medications to make Dad more comfortable when she admitted him to hospice.

Dad passed away 4 days later. The medications hospice provided helped ease his breathing and helped him relax.

I take great pride in knowing I made Dad as comfortable as possible during his final days. He was able to stay at home. Friends and family flooded the house those last few days.

We spent the Saturday before he passed away in the living room with him. We laughed, we cried, we planned his funeral, we took long naps.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. I never want to forget those days and it hurts so bad to remember them.

I’m sitting here typing this and tears are streaming down my face. I was doing fine. Even with the holidays I was doing just fine.

This wave of grief came out of no where and I just needed to get these words and these pictures on paper.

I’m afraid I’m getting too comfortable in his absence. Am I not missing him enough? Am I working hard enough to keep his memory alive? Am I remembering him beyond his cancer diagnosis? Am I grieving the right way?

That’s what I have for today folks. Check back tomorrow morning for another post.

Last Christmas…

I can’t help but reminisce on last Christmas. Dad was still here.

The anniversary of his lung cancer diagnosis is only a month away now. I’ve been just dreading it. I don’t know why.

We didn’t even know he was sick. In all of these pictures there’s a 4 inch tumor sitting in his right lung just festering. On bad days it hurts to look at old pictures before he was diagnosed with lung cancer. If only I could scream at myself through time and tell him to get to the doctor maybe he would still be here.

Christmas day was usually pretty low key for the Kramer family.

It was always just me and Karl and mom and dad until Craig came along and now Gannon and Carver. Most of the older kids had Christmas with their other side of the family so us four/five made our own traditions.

Dad would always go do chores until he came home around 9 or 10. I was such a selfish child looking back – when I was little I would beg Dad to get up super early so he could be done with chores earlier so he could come in and we could open gifts. How selfish begging him to go out EARLIER THAN 5:30 AM on a holiday just so I could have the gifts he worked so hard to buy. Ugh.

Anyway, we always play board games on Christmas. Usually Karl challenges mom and dad and Craig in chess followed by drinking Mogen David and playing The Farming Game. We graze on ham all day and pickled herring.

Last Christmas Dad was here. Ruby was here. My cousin Jody was unknowingly spending her last Christmas with her family. Our world has been turned upside down since last Christmas.

Look around the room at Christmas. Please don’t take the people who are there for granted. They might not be there next Christmas.

Man, what a downer of a blog post. Sorry. I can’t help but feel his absence. I’m so thankful for pictures. He hated pictures but I’m so thankful I took them anyway. Here are a few from last Christmas:

Look at the way Carver looks at my Dad.
Looks like Carver doesn’t approve of that chess move.
We couldn’t tell who was more excited about putting the combine together.
One happy (spoiled) farmer!
Jesus’s Birthday Cake

I hope you all are enjoying your Christmas with your family. I’ll let you know how ours goes in next week’s recap. Be sure to check back tomorrow for a new blog post!

Drive Safe.

August 24th, 2019

Our family is not super affectionate. In fact, I can count on probably all of my fingers and toes all of the times I’ve heard my dad tell me “I love you.”

Of course I KNOW my dad loved me. There is no doubt in my mind. He showed it by coming to every talent show, musical, concert, and watching my cheer in high school. He showed his love with whisker rubs and tickle fights and by how hard he worked to put food on the table and make sure my mom could stay at home with us kids.

The standard “I love you” was replaced with “Drive safe” whenever us kids were heading out – sometimes when we weren’t even driving anywhere more than across town.

Here’s an excerpt from my mom’s blog:

“So…one day we were driving home from a trip to Lacrosse. I was on the phone talking to Kayla telling her the latest news about his upcoming plan. Kramer was driving. Kayla said, “Tell Dad I love him…but if that’s awkward, just tell him ‘Drive Safe’ “. So I hung up with her and I said to Kramer, “Kayla says I’m suppose to tell you that she loves you…but if that makes you feel awkward, she says, ‘Drive Safe’.”

Kramer and I both bust out laughing. It was the ice breaker to the conversation of being more affectionate that we all needed. To be honest, it seemed like saying something as simple as “I love you”, was an elephant in the room.”

You can read the full blog post here:https://www.joscountryjunction.com/drive-safe/

Anyway, after my Dad died I wanted something to remember him by. Not only that but the fact that those 129 days were the hardest of my entire life.

Dad HATES tattoos and us kids always joke now that he’s gone we can all get one. It isn’t completely off of the table but I know he would roll over in his grave if we all got tattoos to remind us of him.

So I settled on jewelry. Huge shout out to Mark’s Jewelry for helping me find the PERFECT piece for me. I picked it up this morning and I absolutely adore it.

I felt it was fitting to stop by the cemetery on my way home. I dusted the grass off of his grave and someone was kind enough to bring flowers to dad and leave them on his gravestone as well. It was a beautiful day. Dad’s final resting place is just perfect – surrounded by farmland just outside of town. When we buried him the corn was barely knee high. Now as you can see it is almost ready for harvesting.

It will be almost 3 months without you Dad. I miss you every single day. Anddd……I didn’t get that tattoo 😉

A Gift for Mom

Every year around this time my did usually enlists me to help him shop for a gift for mom. While Dad let me take the reigns, I always kept him updated and asked for his input along the way. It was always one of my favorite Christmas traditions.

Well, as you know, my Dad passed away last June. This year will be the first Christmas without him. I’m missing out on our annual Christmas gift planning.

I still have this want/need to shop for a gift for mom from dad but obviously it isn’t the same.

Last year about this time, Dad and I were going to get her jewelry. I had gone to our local jeweler but nothing seemed right. Mom isn’t very blingy and she doesn’t get dressed up for work. I wanted something meaningful but something she would also wear.

Mom has a necklace from Julie at Me and My Stitches. You can follow her here. https://www.facebook.com/Me-My-Stitches-121655861247257/

I messaged Julie and told her my plan. She was ON IT! She was so so fun to work with and was so excited to help! Each grandchild has a charm – Scotty has a flag from the 4th of July, Carver has a pumpkin quilt charm for his September birthday, Lucy has a Christmas tree charm for her December birthday, Gannon has a snowflake charm (not shown) because he was born right after a blizzard, and Georgia has a clover for her March birthday.

Last year at this time when we gave her the bracelet, there were only three grandkids. I bought her two more in the Spring and now after our new arrivals come in the Spring again I’ll buy her two more.

Julie is so fun to work with. If you are looking for something unique for a quilter in your life I highly recommend finding her on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/Me-My-Stitches-121655861247257/ or her website http://www.meandmystitches.com/

I still get really sad when I think about how mom won’t get a gift from dad. Do you have any suggestions? Mom HATES the gaggy memorial angels and statues and quotes about heaven. I have plenty ideas to get her as a daughter to mom but I just still really feel a responsibility to help dad get mom a Christmas gift.

Here’s a link to mom’s blog about Christmas 2018: https://www.joscountryjunction.com/my-christmas/

Shine a Light

When my dad passed away, my Mom and I ventured up to Lacrosse for a “final” appointment with his doctors.

Dad went from a strong, hardworking, “nothing slows me down” kind of guy, to withering away and unable to even swallow water to his eventual passing on June 2nd, 2019 in a matter of 129 days.

When we scheduled the “final appointment,” neither of us really knew what questions we had or what the goal of this appointment was. We just knew that we felt like we needed closure.

We met with several members of Dad’s care team. We asked a lot of questions. There were tears. I guess our biggest question we needed answers to was WHAT. JUST. HAPPENED.

You can read more on our visit on mom’s blog here: https://www.joscountryjunction.com/the-last-doctor-trip-for-kramer/

I feel like those 129 days were awful. Everything progressed so quickly. We asked lots of questions to see if we may have missed something. Were the steroids that made him feel good actually bad for him? Did his surgery shake his tumor and spread the cancer everywhere? How long had the tumor been there? Have you ever seen cancer spread to the C2 like that? On and on, after about 45 minutes of tears and laughter, we got the closure we needed. By the end of the conversation, they asked us to be a part of Gundersen’s “Shine a Light” program.

Of course we agreed. We wanted to help spread awareness about lung cancer and screening for lung cancer.

Dad’s lung cancer was found on a “routine” CT scan to screen for lung cancer. Dad had been “slowing down” for a few months but we all just figured it was worsening COPD. By Christmas time, Mom had talked to him and was really concerned about his breathing and wanted him to ask his doctor for a CT scan of his chest.

He finally got up the nerve and asked his doctor for the CT scan. Dad qualified for the scan because he was over 55 years of age and had an 80 pack year history of smoking. Here is the criteria for screening for lung cancer from GO2 Foundation for Lung Cancer: https://go2foundation.org/

He got the CT scan where they found stage 3b lung cancer in his right lower lobe. It was a big tumor. In hindsight, this screening should have been offered to him when he turned 55. All patients who meet the criteria should be screened for lung cancer. It should be as normal as getting a mammogram or a colonoscopy. More specifically, we need to be focusing on patients who are high risk for lung cancer.

Existing High-Risk Criteria

  • You are between the ages of 55 – 80
  • You have a 30 pack-year smoking history
  • You are a current smoker or quit within the last 15 years

Across the country, Shine a Light events are being held in November for Lung Cancer awareness month to increase awareness, celebrate those who have passed, those who are being treated for lung cancer, and screening for those not yet diagnosed. Dad’s cancer team will also be attending the event.

And you guys I am so jazzed, they asked me to speak at the ceremony! They also said mom and I could give a speech together but Mom is letting me take the reigns.

I’ve got about a 5 minute time frame to come up with a speech about Dad, cancer, screening, lung cancer, WHATEVER I want to talk about!

If you’re in the area and want to attend, here are the details:

Gundersen Health System

November 14, 2019 5:30 p – 7:30 p (CT)

Gundersen Health System

ICE House – 4th Floor

1827 Sims Place La Crosse, WI 54601

To RSVP please call (608)775-6600 (Cheri Hill)

If you’d like to attend a Shine a Light ceremony in your area, here is a link to find one near you! https://go2foundation.org/shine-a-light-events/

So I’m off to write my speech! I’ve been told the ceremony will be recorded so I will be sharing that with you all as well!