Just shy of his 70th birthday, my beloved dad, Arpad Kolozsvary was taken far too soon by the horrendous disease that is pancreatic cancer, often referred to as a “silent killer.” Dad, originally from Hungary who legally immigrated to the US when he was eight years old, was always the biggest personality in the room, loud but warm and quick to crack a joke. When dad came to this country, he, like many immigrants, did not speak the language, nor was he well-received by his American peers. Although he had a difficult past, my dad was never one to look back on his early misfortunes, always forging ahead to the future with optimism and wit. He earned his engineering degree then his Master’s, working throughout his career as a chemist, an environmental engineer and then an adjunct professor until just before his diagnosis. Dad was a hard worker, but he valued his family even more than his work, opting to commute to Rochester everyday for 18 years rather than uproot our family from Syracuse. This was just one of many sacrifices he made for my mom, sister and me, and he never forgot what was most important. This is what I hope to emulate when my husband, Ryan and I start our family this summer. Our baby would have been Dad’s first grandchild.
When I went to my parents’ house in the Eastwood neighborhood where my sister and I grew up after a call from my mom in January that we needed to talk, I was not at all prepared for the news. Dad, who had complained of back pain since just after Thanksgiving and subsequently lost several pounds without trying, had finally gone to urgent care at my insistence where they had found a tumor on his pancreas. While it was not confirmed to be cancer at that time, just hearing the word “pancreas,” combined with the somber look on my dad’s face, told me this wasn’t good. My mom had been diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer several years prior (and thankfully, not only survived, but is coming up on her 6-year anniversary of being cancer-free), but unlike her diagnosis, this seemed much scarier, much graver. The one thing I remember my dad saying that night as we said our goodbyes was how he didn’t want to leave my mom. This, after 42 years of marriage. Hearing that was heart-breaking.
Dad went to see the oncologist that following Monday and given the gravity of his diagnosis and the immense pain he was in, he was admitted to the ER, then eventually to the oncology wing at St. Joe’s within a chaotic 48 hrs. Tests revealed that the cancer had spread everywhere in his body. It was now not a matter of if, but when he would die. I was fortunate enough to say goodbye to dad when he was still semi-conscious. My last words to him were, “I’ll always remember the man you were, dad,” to which he whispered back, “You better.” After one torturous round of chemo, only five short and painful weeks later, my dad, the man who I had always envisioned outliving us all, passed away surrounded by his immediate family. We looked on helplessly as he struggled to take his last breath.
My family has a long history of cancer, not unlike so many other families I know. Mom was only one of many on both sides of my family affected by the disease, including her parents who passed because of two different yet equally aggressive forms of cancer. Because of this, “Fuck cancer” is burned into our human experience.
My dad’s death has changed me, but not in the ways you might think. I no longer take the seemingly mundane things in life for granted. Instead, I treasure everyday like it’s my last, just as I know he would have wanted.
I have teamed with Sophie, who’s dad’s story bears a striking resemblance to my own, because, well…fuck pancreatic cancer. While survival rates have been improving from decade to decade, the disease is still considered largely incurable. According to the American Cancer Society, for all stages of pancreatic cancer combined, the one-year relative survival rate is 20%, and the five-year rate is 7%. That’s bullshit. We believe we have a duty and obligation to fight for those still in the throws of battling this awful, shitty disease, so that one day, we might eradicate pancreatic cancer in my child’s lifetime. We are demanding better…for patients…and for survival. Join us in donating to this important, life-altering cause and let’s do our part to save lives and spread hope!
Here’s the link to register and donate: https://events.lustgarten.org/team/229551
Why not join us for the walk!