Walking through the parking lot it is unseasonably warm for April in Arizona. Luckily the covered parking provides a little shade as we walk towards the entrance of the grocery store. We’re used to the heat, being golfers who have lived in the Valley for the last 20 years. But this time of year my dad is usually out of town and my mom is the one making this walk into the grocery store.
This particular grocery store is the Fry’s at Tatum and Shea. Actually, it’s a “Super Frys” with a valet out front that will wash your car while you shop. This Frys has a furniture section. It’s got a pharmacy, a special seasonal section for whichever holiday is coming or going, a sushi station, a bakery, a fresh produce section and a flower department. I could go on.
To put it simply--this Super Frys is the Frys for anything you might need if you live in Paradise Valley, Arizona. On any given day of the week the parking lot is nearly full and the checkout lines are never empty.
“We should not be in this Frys,” was all I could think as I hustled down the aisles in pursuit of my dad. Every ounce of my being told me this was a bad idea. We needed to get home.
“I can come back and get this stuff later,” I continued on in my head, debating if I was going to speak up or let my Father continue on his hunt for Gatorade, ginger ale, and some cookies.
I thought it better to keep quiet and continue walking around the aisles at pace that can only be described as “golf course pace.”
Competitive golfers walk quickly. Their strides are long and hurried from heel to toe with a long gate and then heel to toe again. It borders on a speed walk. Their arms swing aggressively by their sides and their walk has a certain purpose that any viewer will quickly notice.
My Father’s walk has that exact pace and purpose. After all, he was a competitive golfer for much of his life and still walks the fairways as a golf commentator for CBS. Today, this walk’s purpose was to find the ginger ale, among other things. But it could have been anything—he walks fast everywhere.
As we perused the aisles at lightning speed we gradually started to check items off our list. My Dad’s Nike running shoes made it sound like we were on a basketball court when he changed course abruptly. Combine the squeaks with the black Nike gym shorts and grey Nike workout shirt he was wearing, and the casual observer probably thought he had just finished a workout.
“I think we should get outta here,” my dad said turning toward me with an uneasy look on his face.
“I agree,” I replied, glad that he decided on his own it was time to head home. His pace started to increase even more. The countdown was on and instead of slow down because he was starting to feel bad he sped up. We paid for the Gatorade and Ginger Ale but left the rest of the items in the store.
The color began to leave his face. A lifetime of golf lessons given in the sun turned into a pale grey hue. If I hadn’t known any better, it looked like he was just dehydrated from a tough workout and the color had drained from his face.
The fanny pack slung over his shoulder told me otherwise. It had an IV tube connected to a port under the skin of his left pectoral providing him with plenty of fluids.
Unfortunately these weren’t fluids designed to hydrate him.
“Try to avoid over-stimulation,” said Dr. Ramenathen, “You know, lots of noise, bright lights, they’re going to make you nauseous.”
“Okay, sounds good,” Dad replied.
The discharge instructions from the Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center at Scottsdale Healthcare were straightforward enough. Sit around, take it easy and wait for the symptoms to kick in.
We had to see how his body would respond to the first chemotherapy cocktail to have any idea what our next 6 months would look like. The effects of the drugs would be cumulative so this first treatment would be his easiest. Each successive treatment would be more difficult for his body to accommodate. That is, assuming he could even make it through all of the treatments on schedule. The doctors wouldn’t let his white blood cell count dip below a certain level. If they did, he’d have to take a break from treatment and let them recuperate to a level the doctors deemed suitable to handle more poison.
The process would, at best, take six months with treatment occurring every two weeks. He opted for the IV treatment route over a pill plan because it shortened the treatment timeline. This was chemotherapy on golf course pace. It would be quick, purposeful, and probably more painful. I wasn’t surprised at his choice—the more difficult test for his body but the most efficient way to accomplish the goal.
“The best thing to do if you start to feel the nausea is find a cold, quiet, dark room and lay down with your eyes closed,” Dr. Ramanathen continued.
“Okay, doc,” Dad said with no follow up questions because he was clearly ready to get out of the chemo center. Despite the marathon iPad solitaire session and visit from therapy dogs, after three hours sitting in a recliner he was bored and ready to hit the road.
“See you on Thursday!” his nurse said as she moved over to another patient with Dr. Ramanathen.
Dad’s treatment included three hours in the chair at Scottsdale Healthcare and an IV fanny pack that was going to be connected for an additional 48 hours as it continued to slow drip another one of his medications. We’d be back on Thursday to get the IV disconnected. For now, he grabbed the pouch with the medicine in it and slung the strap over his shoulder.
We walked down the row of recliners toward the exit, subtly smiling at the people who chose to make eye contact with us. Once we walked through the door we said goodbye to the nurses at the front desk and walked toward the elevator.
“You know—those people were so nice,” dad said. “All of the nurses were happy and positive. That’s one of the first times I’ve been in a doctors office and had such a friendly staff.”
“I know—I was thinking the same thing,” I said.
The car door closed.
I didn’t even ask if I could drive. I already knew the answer. We sat in the car and dad fidgeted with his seatbelt as it came down across the left part of his chest, eventually opting to put the top part behind his back entirely.
“Let’s swing by Fry’s on the way home,” he said. “You’re mom is out of town so we should get a few things while we’re out.”
“Okay, I guess so,” I hesitated. “But, you know I can just go out and get stuff later if you want to go home now.”
“Yeah, I know,” he said.
In the car I couldn’t help thinking about my mom. I wondered how she was handling everything. My Nana’s breast cancer had reinvented itself as bone cancer and she was in the middle of her own chemotherapy treatments. My mom was essentially splitting her time between chemo treatment in Arizona with Dad and chemo treatment in Alabama where my grandmother lived. To have her mother and her husband battling cancer at the same time—hard to fathom. My brother Adam had to be in college at the University of Arizona.
So for this treatment, it was just Dad and I. The way it had been so many times before. Countless hours together on the range at Grayhawk as he taught me my golf swing. A quick nine holes at Whisper Rock on a weekend morning so we could get home in time to watch a football game. Evening golf theory conversations on the couch after dinner. Our life together effortlessly and unintentionally centered on golf. Every range session ended with a hug even if we battled about a few issues. I’ve never had to worry about having an intimate and honest relationship with my Father. This week was a new level for intimate and honest.
I was tasked with the role of caretaker. My mom was gone so I had to look after the guy who always looked out for everyone.
Fifteen minutes prior the Doctor told him to avoid noisy, active places—they’d make him nauseous. So of course, we were headed to a massive grocery store.
“This is my chance,” I thought. “Remind him about what the doc said, offer to go back out and get the stuff after we drop him off at home.”
Nope. No way. After all that Father-Son time there was one thing, more so than anything else, that I had learned about the core of my father’s mindset—he will not accept anything without first experiencing it.
It is this premise that makes him the world-class teacher, commentator, father, and husband that he is today. The will to experience, learn, grow, and understand permeates every ounce of his being. This worldview led him into that Super Fry’s fifteen minutes after his doctor had told him to avoid over-stimulation. That’s why I knew there was nothing I could say to get him home to rest first. He had to experience what would make him nauseous then create a solution for the problem. Sounds like the makings of a great golf instructor. But, it is this desire to experience that gave him the drive to battle colon cancer and be declared cancer free nearly seven months later.
A constant theme of our childhood was to have passion.
“I don’t care what it is,” he would say. “I’ll help you with anything you want—but be passionate about something.”
My father’s passion is learning. Learning to grow through his own experiences even if he isn’t completely sure where they may lead him. It is an unrelenting desire to learn. We hope that the experiences that got him to this point today along his relentless journey help you cultivate your own desire to learn and improve, whether it be in golf or in life which sometimes so closely mirror each other it’s hard to tell the difference.