My Dad’s Name Is Earl

The royal procession to Parliament at Westmins...

The royal procession to Parliament at Westminster, 4 February 1512. Left to right: The Marquess of Dorset, Earl of Northumberland, Earl of Surrey, Earl of Shrewsbury, Earl of Essex, Earl of Kent, Earl of Derby, Earl of Wiltshire. From: Parliament Procession Roll of 1512 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I do know why I am sobbing and chuckling, intermittently. I just heard from my Dad, who we will call Earl, for all intents and purposes, because his name is Earl. I don’t think many people get to say their name is Earl, these days. Except my brother. Who is also Earl.

My father answers one of those LinkedIn requests that I don’t even remember sending to him, to be a professional friend of mine. I agree to friend him, thinking I might actually do better with my dad being a professional associate of mine, because he certainly didn’t get the memo on being a professional Dad. Was he a good dad? Depends on how you look at what the word “dad” means. Earl was the kind of dad who would challenge his kid to a game of chess, then beat them mercilessly. He would then proceed to ask you why you lost and what moves you could have/should have made to have had a better outcome. The same went with backgammon and running races. Did I mention my dad was a professional golfer? Mr Laid Back, he was not. The day after I graduated from University, Earl told me he was going to allow me to goof off for three months. “Because you did so well at school, you can live here until December”, he told me.I had finished a five month internship in a regional theater. “Gee, thanks Dad!”, I said. Like I had just won the state lottery.

On Monday, Earl, being the kind of dad he is, sends me a note, stating that we are now friends on LinkedIn . I also get a humorous note, almost a stand up routine about a guy’s perspective about colonoscopy. Sigh. This is bizarre. It is also, insensitive, insulting, and stupidly brazen. All in the same moment. My husband was pronounced dead, one year ago, this past week. He died of colon cancer. My dad is either a total idiot or brilliant.

I got the LinkedIn request on my phone. I don’t like my phone, I feel obligated to read memos as soon as they are sent. They get in the way of what I’m doing and I can never decided how to categorize the importance of keeping/saving/tossing information. I think I could create a new version of the show, Hoarders, using information that piles up, instead of household objects and garbage, and sometimes small, dead animals. Sort of like the modern-day Collier Brothers, the original hoarders, who were found dead in their NYC apartment, piled floor to ceiling with newspapers. That thought freaks me out, so instead I deal with texts and emails as they come. But I don’t like it. I don’t like cell phones. You can ask any of my friends who try to talk with me or track me down in a given day. I find them a gross interruption of my peace and quiet, or rather my potential peace and quiet. I know many people love them and thrive by keeping on top of the people and places they need to know about during the day and night. I can barely stay focussed with people who are in front of me, never mind invisible people who are ringing or buzzing at top volume within earshot or pocket. I just find it hard to split my focus when I have a phone with me. I hear there’s some medication for that problem. I do not, however, find it rude or worrisome if you choose to use or have yours on while you are with me. That seems about a fair a compromise as I can muster. In truth, I marvel at how wonderful some people are with their technology. It seems like a great giftedness, to me.

My Dad. Brilliant or stupid enough to put his hand in the lions cage? Who the hell sends a joke about colon cancer to a widow who just lost her husband to colon cancer? Honestly. What a fool. I’m gonna give him a good talking to… Alright. I did read the monologue. I didn’t want more memos clogging up the superhighway of my “to do” lists. What would have happened if I had read it and not found it funny? I don’t know. I read the entire post. It was funny. Really funny. Leave it to the Irish to make the dumbest jokes about poop and pee. As I began to read the monologue, I had set my cap on being good and mad. Indignant. How could someone ever think it would be acceptable to send a widow jokes about colon cancer?  It ended up not really being about cancer. To be fair, it was more about the compromising positions and awkwardness that is involved in colonoscopy. It actually created a sense of camaraderie about what we all dislike, but need to do for ourselves .

This makes me happy and sad, both at the same time. I am not ready to go to the “What ifs?” My husband did ask for a colonoscopy from our now ex-Doctor, who found it unnecessary, at age 48. Scott was diagnosed at 49. They believe he might have had Lynch Syndrome for up to 15 years. There were no symptoms. Trust me. I am a professional worrier. I have replayed that tape a million times over in my head. The only symptoms Scott had were extreme fatigue, four months before his diagnoses. In the monologue, there was also a whole section about the prep itself, and how ridiculous the method and process was to the relatively easiness of the actual procedure. I especially loved the actual quotes from the gastro guy, things (mostly men) had said in their twilight induced state and the 17,000 feet of plastic tubing involved.

Earl ended up getting it right. I am sitting here, crying as I write this blog to all of you and hopefully the many more friends you will share this with. I am crying because I am laughing about colons. I did not ever think it would be possible. Yes, losing my husband to colon cancer is tragic. I am reminded of that, everyday. His was a rare, difficult to treat cancer, called Lynch Syndrome.  I had a father in law and a mother in law, at one time. Neither made it out of their 50’s. They were loving and happy and successful and beautiful. They had everything to live for. It is just so, so… tragic. We were told Scott’s dad had died of liver cancer. When we found out in hindsight that my father in law did not die of liver cancer, but rather colon cancer that had spread to his liver, exactly like Scott’s. I had wished with all my heart Scott had been having colonoscopies in his 20’s. Symptoms or not. But it just wasn’t done, at that time. It was only when I sent away for my father in law’s (also named Sandy!) records from Sloan Kettering, did the doctors look at the records and see Sandy did have the same cancer as Scott. It just didn’t have a name to go with it at the time. (Over 24 years ago) Lynch Syndrome is a genetic cancer, with a strong, stubborn streak. It is cruel. It does not discriminate. It is deadly. My children carry a 50% chance of getting colon or ovarian cancer.Yes. This is a hard fact to accept. However, I want people to read this and remember. Scott would want you to know about our children’s chances, if it will help you to take care of yourself and your family.

We will fight. With laughter and tears, and phones, if necessary. This will not happen again to my family. Not if I have anything to say about it. Won’t you please call your Doctor and tell them you are ready for your close up? Get your family history. Don’t listen to the family folklores stories about deceased relatives’ illnesses. Get the hard facts sent to your doctor’s office. Do it for the people who love you and need you to be around, people like Earl.


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