My dad has cancer.

That’s been the reality for the past three weeks, whether I’ve wanted to admit it or not.  Those are the four words that have sprinted in a continuous loop through my brain every hour of the day, whether I’ve been able to say them out loud or not.  That malignant mass of cells gone awry has been the robber of my dad’s way of life, whether we’ve known it or not.

My first reaction was anger.  Why didn’t he listen to me and go to the doctor months ago, why hasn’t he taken better care of himself, why is this happening when I’m still in my twenties, why is this happening to my dad?  A day or two of that, and denial set in.  I’m an only child, gleefully content by myself on the best of days, in desperate need of solitude on the worst, so I simply . . . disappeared.  If I ignored the world, maybe it would ignore me, too.

Last Thursday, after what felt like a millennia of tests with no answers or plans, it was finally time to see the oncologist.  My parents live at a pesky distance from me, close enough that I should visit more often, but far enough that I don’t.  But this was one event I was not going to miss, so I battled through rush hour to get to their local hospital, a surprisingly modern affair somewhat adrift in otherwise undeveloped farmland on the outskirts of town.  The sun was annoyingly bright that day, making the lush, green fields glow; it would have been beautiful were I not driving down a road following signs that read “Cancer Center.”  Cancer Center.  The words made my stomach drop.

It’s safe to say that I am a daddy’s girl in every sense of the words.  It’s rare that a man actually wants a daughter rather than a son, but my dad wanted me, and always went the extra mile to be a part of my life.  When I hit high school, the other girls on my dance team had “Dance Team Moms” that came to every competition and helped out behind the scenes, but I had a “Dance Team Dad.”  My dad.  My Daddy Fix-It.  The one sitting at the cancer center, no longer the strongman I knew as a child, but rather a withered soul waiting to hear his verdict.  It was time to be strong, time to put the anger and the denial aside, time to ask the questions that needed to be asked, and time to get the ball rolling on improving the rest of his life.

Fortunately, the oncologist is one of those rare breed of amazing doctors who inexplicably decide to settle down in a tiny town, bringing a level of care to a rural community that otherwise wouldn’t be there.  I like her.  I trust her.  I think my dad is in good hands.  It was a long appointment, and it was hard on everyone, but his prognosis at this point is good.  The road ahead will be long and hard for everyone, most of all him, but as long as he’s willing to fight–and boy is my dad a fighter–I think he’ll be ok, eventually.

At times I’ve been rather irritated by what I perceive as a complete lack of interest or caring on the part of people who should be interested and should care about what is going on.  But that’s a selfish feeling I have to fight off.  This isn’t about me, it’s about my dad.  And focusing on the people who don’t care is at the peril of all the people who do.  I’m almost at a point where I can really start talking about this–other than in vague social media posts or on a blog–and stop ignoring the people who care and want to be there for me and my dad.  Almost.

In the meantime, pretty much the only thing that has made me feel sane is baking.  My dad can’t eat real food these days, but boy does he still have an appetite; whenever I talk to him I try not to be mean and talk about food, but I couldn’t resist telling him about the Daddy ‘n Me cupcake I was working on last night.  A devil’s food cupcake–the result of a flop of a dark chocolate cake recipe in one of my cookbooks that turned out to be anything but a dark chocolate cake, but it worked out since devil’s food is his favorite–filled with fudge which we both like, topped with marshmallow creme frosting which I love, and garnished with hand-died turbinado sugar and a maraschino cherry.  Maraschino cherries were a special treat my dad and I would share every so often as I was growing up.  I could practically hear him salivating as I told him about them.  He said he can’t wait to try one.  I can’t wait for him to try one either, because my dad eating real food means my dad’s treatment is working and my dad is kicking cancer’s ass.

I hope the day I have to make these cupcakes again comes sooner rather than later.