Christmas Eve In The Hospital - A Dad's Perspective

The alarm on my phone goes off early.

I don’t remember the exact time, but I pressed snooze like I always do. 5 minutes later, it goes off again...again once more...snooze. After another 5 minutes, I dismiss the alarm and I am up.

Today is different then most Mondays. Usually I would be getting up early for work, but today I was getting up early to take my family to the hospital for Luke's surgery to remove the mass that has been growing near his skull. We know that mass is malignant (cancer) and so they need to remove most of it. At this point, I think I was in denial. Or at least not fully aware of what was about to happen. 

I just knew this was the next step. Just get up and get your family down to Rady’s Children’s Hospital. So that is what I did.

Christmas was fast approaching, only three days remaining. And with Christmas in mind, that is what gave me hope. I knew Luke would have surgery the next day Tuesday the 23rd, but I figured that would give Luke plenty of time for recovery and we would be home for Christmas. Possibly Christmas Eve, so with that as my hope and my motivation for a positive attitude, I was ready for whatever came our way.    

Monday at the hospital was all tests. MRI, CT scan, blood test, and a couple more that I can’t remember, but I know Luke had to go through it. So our family hung out in the hospital waiting for the next day's surgery. 

And that is when we started to make jokes.

To laugh at this unfortunate situation partly because my side of the family tends to laugh or make fun of the uncomfortable/nervous situations that we face. But also cause I knew we couldn’t let this crappy thing called cancer get us down, especially so close to Christmas.

That day was a bunch of waiting. We waited for the tests, we waited for the results of the tests, we just waited. 

Finally, the day of the surgery came. Most of our family was there. Both sides. The surgery was long. They were able to remove most of it. Since they already knew it was cancer, I figured they knew exactly what kind of cancer, but I guess they could not tell that from the first biopsy. Again, something I was not aware of. I thought once they determined it was cancerous, they knew exactly what type of cancer. 

Maybe I just didn’t realize how many types of cancer there actually are. But we were about to become very familiar with our son’s cancer called Osteosarcoma. That was part of what they were doing with this surgery. They were removing most of it to determine what kind of cancer he had to make the best decision on what treatment to give him moving forward. It's called resection and staging.

We woke up the next day in the hospital, thankful that the surgery was a success and they got most of the mass.

According to his ENT Doctor, she said she got everything she could see.  So I was really looking forward to going home and spending Christmas with family. But those plans quickly changed. Sometime in the morning, Luke's oncologist walks into our hospital room and pulls Michelle and I aside to talk. I figured this was normal, the Doctor just wanted to go over the details of surgery. Maybe she would tell us what they found or maybe talk about things to be aware of moving forward. But that is not what she did. 

In mere seconds, I was crushed. 

Luke's doctor explains that they still do not know exactly what type of cancer Luke has, but our best chance to beat it was to start chemotherapy now. I was trying to hold back tears, she kept talking about the 4 types of cancer he most likely had. She talked about the possibility of radiation. She said we could be part of a clinical trial or do the recommended treatment for his cancer. We chose the recommended treatment for his cancer, even though they did not even know the exact cancer he had yet. 

Bottom line, he had to start chemotherapy on Christmas Eve and my positive attitude was gone.

I don’t know what other people saw as they looked at me, fortunately all eyes were on Luke, but I was not in good spirits. It took all day for me to accept the fact that this was happening, I was going to spend Christmas Eve with my son and wife in the hospital. Our family would be split apart because my daughter would not be able to stay with us once Luke started treatment.

Being Christmas Eve, most people were off work and so we had many people visit us in the hospital. Everyone that visited was amazing and they will always have a special place in our hearts. I believe it was that out pour of love that helped me get through that day. I didn’t have time to think about my crushed feelings. I was constantly surrounded by loving family and friends. Those visitors also kept reminding me that Luke was the patient.

It didn’t matter that I was sad, Luke was the one who had to start a treatment that is designed to kill your body, so the cancer cannot survive. And so it started - the journey that was changing the way we live.

Yes cancer changed our lives forever, but it wasn’t going to change the Sybert family. I knew we had to stay strong for Luke, and I didn’t know what that looked like exactly, but remember I was devastated and barely making it through the day. 

I mentioned earlier that my family jokes and makes fun when faced with uneasy situations, so I think with that background I made a decision the next day to help my family find the fun and joy in this situation, if there was any at all to find. If cancer was going to change the way we live life, it was not going to change us, it was not going to beat us.

I can’t tell you that I prayed a prayer and everything changed. I was praying, but not every moment like the Bible says to. I wasn’t even waking up everyday in prayer, remember I just woke up and got ready for the day. Praying every morning would have been the best thing to do in that situation, but I didn’t. 

I prayed with Michelle after the doctor told us we had to start treatment. Looking back, I feel I should have prayed more. Regardless, after we got through that week in the hospital, something started to happen. 

As we accepted what was happening and with my decision to find the joy,  we started joking around with the nurses. I started to make fun of the hospital room and anything else I thought was funny. Sometimes even making fun at my wife’s expense, (I don’t recommend making fun of your wife-there have been many times since that experience where that did not go so well), but trying to get us in a laughing mood started to help. Luke became more relaxed and he started to laugh and have fun with being in the hospital. But that is where my influence stopped.

Over the next few days and weeks Luke took that positive attitude, that joy of life and laughter to a whole new level. I honestly don’t know how he did it, but he started changing the attitude of my wife and many of our other family members that he came in contact with.  Sure there were many days to come, when he felt so horrible he would cry, but whenever he had any energy he was laughing and having fun. What I was surprised by was how much Luke would grab hold of that laughter and joy and he would out shine all of us in his love for life and his love for God.

Luke first influenced Michelle and I, then his nurses and doctors, then our family members and then the rest of the world that started to read my wife' updates on Facebook and see all her posts and photos. I thank God that Michelle was able to share our son’s journey as it was happening with anyone who wanted to read and stay connected. 

Luke’s story, his journey, is just the beginning of a life that would battle cancer and give others hope.

You can read the first installment of this When I found Out My Son Had Cancer- A Dad's Perspective here. Part 3 is coming soon as well.

You can read more posts about Luke's cancer on the blog.
You can read Michelle's past updates on Luke's Facebook page


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