Introduce yourself (Name, where you’re from, a little background information) - What was your life like before your Dad’s diagnosis? 

I am Dorie Shapiro, born and raised in Scottsdale AZ. I was a big daddy’s girl, I could talk to my dad about anything and felt that he always had a good response and would respect my wishes if I wanted things to be just him and I. Whenever I was going through something personal, my dad always could sense something was bothering me and would pull it out of me with some leading questions. He was the family eye doctor that everyone loved going to, he always picked up the conversation right off where they ended from the previous eye doctor’s visit the year before! I always said he was a teddy bear that everyone just wanted to be around and hug. He had the sweetest laugh and smile. He was an avid golfer and was an all time family man. He even won the award for who our friends would want as their future-father in law when we played the in-law game with our closest family friends.

I was a recent college graduate, trying to figure out my career, what my desires were, I was currently dabbling in non profit world, but had just finished an internship in Washington DC and was living back in AZ to figure out my next career move. I was planning on trying to move to a city, but was not sure where, but my father’s diagnosis put everything on hold that summer of 2013, I stayed at home with my parents to help digest the devastating news of my father’s biopsy result coming back positive. I decided to find a local job at a business that actually helped pave my career into the client services. 

Before and during my dad’s radiation/chemo treatments, every morning, my dad and I would go to the gym/personal trainer to work out, eat a healthy breakfast, get ready for work, and my dad was my personal driver to work every morning. I always treasured those chats in the car before he would drop me off.

Bring us along your journey – when was your Dad diagnosed with cancer? What was your initial reaction? 

My father, Dr. Gary Shapiro was diagnosed in August 2013 with squamous cell carcinoma in the throat.

We were all truly in disbelief. We truly felt it was the most incredibly unfair ever, this man literally will save a spider, he will trap it and release it outside instead of swapping it dead. He could not hurt a fly and I personally felt it was one of the most painful things to punish my dad with when he’s done nothing to the world. It was actually ironic because a year and half prior, our dad went in for a regular check in and the doctor told him he needed to watch his weight as he was showing warning signs of pre-diabetic development; so Dad immediately took charge, stopped drinking soft drinks at work, ate healthier by having protein shakes with me in the mornings, homemade meals, and immediately dropped about 10-15 pounds. 

He did during that visit mention a strange little bump on his throat on the left side which did not feel painful or anything, but it was not super noticeable by any of us including our mom. 

Our father was the kind of man who did not want to cause any fuss over himself despite him ALWAYS worrying about his family, PJ (our family dog), friends, etc. and he always put others before himself so he never surfaced this alarming small bump to any of us at all and likely told the doctor that he wasn’t too worried about it. He definitely downplayed it.  The doctor told him, let’s keep an eye on it and if it does not go away by the next visit next year, let’s review it.

You can ONLY imagine what we were thinking, WHAT THE F***?! You literally let our father leave the office by downplaying the little bump, little did we know that a year and half later because mom had to remind him to schedule his yearly physical visit so he was already 4 months past his yearly visit, that this diagnosis was going to turn our world upside down.

He went through several months of radiation and chemo in the fall of 2013 after having surgery to have his lymph nodes removed and the doctors’ prognosis was really optimistic. In February 2014, the doctors basically cleared him and we felt all his horrible journey to fight cancer was done.

We all felt he fucking knocked cancer’s ass in the ringside and we were ready for my brother to get married to the love of his life, he was going to continue treating his patients’ eyes, he  was going to go on these amazing trips with my mom, and life was going to be a piece of cake after dealing with 2013.

Little did we know that a small cough that started in early July  2014, four months approximately later, was a start to another nightmare for him. Everyone thought it was due to a dry mouth because of all the radiation he went through including himself! Sadly in late August, he started making comments and was confusing himself including going to the wrong location for dinner, that showed signs of something else occurring. 

The last straw was when he was on the call with David and could not verbalize what he was doing. Dad went to the hospital to figure out what was going on with him. The doctors saw that the cancer had spread to his brain and his lungs which is why he was not making sense and had this horrible cough.

Wow, Dad is back in the ring and he was determined to try and kick this cancer’s ass again. 

David was frantically trying to get my dad to be seen by the best of the best doctors, the doctors recommended doing radiation on his brain so he could regain his conscious mind and chemo for his lungs.

My father expressed that he wanted to keep fighting as he felt, well it got cleared in my throat/mouth, why not keep trying in the ring?

Who did you turn to as your support system? 

My family 100%, I probably talked to my brother the most closely by my sister in law Elizabeth. I had a hard time talking to my mom about it because I didn’t want to make my mom feel worse as I was trying to be a rock for her as she was trying to be a rock for my dad.

I really did not know how to talk to my friends about it. They were there for me definitely, but it was hard to express how I was feeling when no one I knew went through anything even remotely close. When I think about it, as I’ve seen more and more of my friends losing their parent to this any type of cancer, I realize that nothing I’d say would really be reassuring, but just know that I am here to listen which is what some of my closest friends have done for me, but it was still hard to really share all of my feelings with them.

What is something you wished you knew before as a daughter watching your parent go through this? 

I wish I knew that I should have done more daily non-cancer activities and not to be constantly asking how he was feeling. I should have taken him on more outings, movies, shared more about me so he would not think about what he himself was going through. I wish I could have found others that were going through the same thing to see what they recommend for remedies/activities, etc. It truly felt lonely, but I can ONLY imagine what my own father was feeling.

I wish I asked the right questions to my mom or brother who attended the doctor visits regularly to understand the chances of survival vs not. Sometimes I wonder if my father would have been around longer if we had not continued chemo the second time around as his life deteriorated dramatically from September (when we confirmed that the cancer had spread) to mid November. 

We kept chasing different opportunities such as getting him into immunotherapy, but the cancer was rapidly spreading everywhere as he did chemo. 

I recall seeing this movie several years later  after my father’s passing which I highly recommend, All Things Fall Apart with 50 cent playing a young football player and the one thing he asked his doctor is, should I continue with these treatments and I vividly remember the doctor stating that he usually would encourage/push his patients to continue, but he knew in the back of his mind that the prognosis was not good and he was frank with him and said, do you want to spend the rest of your life fighting in the hospital or you can leave and go do things you enjoy with the time you had left.

I wish I knew enough to ask the doctors what the chances were because I would have loved for my father to continue playing golf, poker, going to the movies with mom, maybe doing an exciting trip of some sort, etc. rather than chasing all of these “what if” we tried this, or this, etc.

Were there certain side effects that your Dad experienced that were worse than others? 

  • He lost his taste buds for the most part (slowly was coming back), but radiation basically killed this and we are a foodie family so it was hard to see that he couldn’t really enjoy my mom’s cooking which he looked forward to or out to dinner at fun places during trips. He didn’t mind spicy food, but after his treatment, it basically was a no for him.

  • Dry throat

  • Loss of hair: he felt super self-conscious but my mom constantly reminded him how handsome he was

  • Weakness: he lost a lot of muscle

  • Second round of cancer: he wasn’t as sharp as he usually was, less talkative

What are tips/tricks you have learned along the way to help other daughters/sons with their parent’s journey? 

  • Ask questions!!!!!!

    • Learn about their upbringings

    • Share some of your conflict, let them feel like they are still an important facet of your life, you are NOT a burden to them and it’ll make them feel good to provide perspective

  • Lean on your family and friends

  • Find remedies online to help soothe the treatments such as dry mouth/dry skin

  • Find good tv binges for ipad to watch during treatments

  • Find locals that are going through similar to have that person be someone they can talk to as I think my dad was lonely as he felt he was the only person going through it at the time and didn’t know who/where to vent to as he didn’t want to stress my mom out, etc

Any advice for daughters/sons supporting their parents with their chemo treatments/surgeries?

  • Be there & be present

  • Do not remind them of you must do this or that; they are aware

  • Ask the doctor as MANY questions as possible

  • Ask the doctors to be HONEST with you on the prognosis

    • Ask about trials, etc.

  • Distract with anything that does not make them think of the cancer/treatments

  • Ask your parent as many questions about life in general

    • life stories/embarrassing/dating, etc.

  • Do not make it seem like it may be the last time you hug them, as you want to treat each day as if it’s a daily day to day, but definitely treasure every moment

  • Hire a personal trainer that can specialize in patients going through treatments as they will make patients feel good/strong while they can (that is if it’s ok with doctors)