46: The Lucky Strike

46: The Lucky Strike

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Hope & Miracles

The Lucky Strike

It was possible that a miracle was not something that happened to you, but rather something that didn’t.

~Jodi Picoult, The Tenth Circle

Things were looking really good. My father, Jeff, was on a mini-break of sorts, enjoying the back end of his two weeks of freedom between old and new jobs. My mother’s lupus had gone into remission the previous year and she had successfully shaken off all of the heavy-duty prescriptions that had kept her groggy but afloat during her years-long flare-up. Now she had tons of newfound energy and was putting it into opening her own business, a gift shop and café, something she had always dreamed of doing.

The business had been open for two weeks, and it was already slowly but surely building up a small, loyal customer base. Even with most things up and running there were always a hundred more little projects to do to get the building fitted out as my mother had planned. Being a handy kind of guy to have around, Dad was always running to The Home Depot down the hill from their house, picking up tools and lumber, bathroom and light fixtures, plumbing and electrical components . . . . You name a job and he was on top of it, flexing his constructive muscles and getting things done.

On this particular day, he just needed to make one quick stop at the store before heading over to the café. He packed his purchases away in the trunk of his relatively small SUV, buckled up and made his way across the parking lot toward the street. There was a traffic light set up to make sure no one had to take any chances trying to turn out onto Lancaster Avenue, one of the busier streets in an area crisscrossed by busy streets. The light was red when my father pulled up, the first in line to leave the lot.

The thing about my dad is that he has always been a very patient, very cautious driver. He never runs yellow lights or switches lanes on the highway unless there’s a really good reason. He always signals his intention to turn and never gets stressed out by heavy traffic. And he certainly never gets mad when some less-conscientious driver cuts him off. Not even a grumble. A wavy, almost cartoonish “whoa!” is just about all you’ll get out of him after one of those close shaves. He’s just not the type.

Dad was watching for the signal to turn green, not creeping up like so many of us do, myself included, but waiting patiently as ever. When the light changed, he made his way into the intersection to make the left turn that would take him to my mother and his latest café project. But there’s this saying, you may know it: “Man plans and God laughs.” My dad didn’t make it to the café that day.

The woman in the minivan had just about had enough of the three rowdy little boys in her back seat. They had been carrying on the whole ride, and after a while she didn’t want to hear any more of their monkey business. The light had been green when she turned around to scold them. She must have just missed it turning yellow in the near distance.

The force of the impact on my father’s side of the car was so strong that it flipped the whole vehicle over, rolling it two and a half times before it finally settled on its side. The driver’s side.

When the EMTs arrived my dad was already trying to work his way out through the car’s shattered sunroof. He had already done a quick assessment of all his limbs, making sure nothing was broken. The EMTs helped him the rest of the way out, marveling over the complete absence of any injuries more significant than the few small scrapes he had gotten from some broken and airborne glass. The air bags hadn’t even inflated, making the whole situation that much more impressive, his intactness that much more mind-boggling.

“I didn’t want to go to the hospital because I felt fine, but I could just hear your mother’s voice in the back of my head yelling at me. ‘Don’t be stupid; go get checked out. I don’t want you taking any chances.’ ”

The EMTs took my dad to the local hospital. Pretty soon my mother arrived on the scene.

My mother Judy is a lady you don’t want to mess with, not when it comes to protecting her family. She also ran a medical clinic for several years, so not only does she know a lot about health and health care, she’s also perfectly comfortable questioning doctors on their own turf. And she will question them like nobody’s business.

“They said everything was fine, but I told them he needed to get at least a chest X-ray. They didn’t think it was necessary, but I told them we weren’t leaving until they did it.” She also persuaded them to give him a CAT scan to make sure everything in his head looked like it should, which it did.

When the X-ray films came back, my mother knew immediately that something was wrong. She quickly dialed her close friend, a seasoned physician she calls Dr. Bob, and told him what she thought. He was out the door and on his way in mere minutes.

What the X-rays showed—and what we would learn much more about in the coming weeks—was the grapefruit-sized tumor that had been growing unnoticed in my father’s chest. After a battery of tests, and appointments with the oncology specialists at the only hospital in the country really familiar with this particular thing, the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, the doctors explained to us that my father had a fairly rare form of cancer called a thymoma.

The thymus gland sits just under the sternum, nestled between the two hemispheres of the lungs and on top of several major blood vessels that attach to the heart, like the pulmonary artery and the ascending aorta. It’s a pretty sensitive and important area.

My father’s thymoma had apparently been growing for some time, but he hadn’t noticed a thing. He played golf and tennis regularly. He had even played on the company softball team, keeping up with the rest of the group despite being the oldest player by a good couple of decades. By all appearances, he was healthy as could be.

What we learned next was that this tumor was discovered at a particularly critical stage. It had already encroached on his pericardium, the thin membrane that surrounds and protects the heart. A few more months of growth and the tumor probably would have put out tentacles, growing into the cardiac tissue or metastasizing into other organs. A few more months and it would have started pressing on those blood vessels, in all likelihood causing a stroke, if not worse. A few more months and it would have been too late to save him.

But it never got those months.

My father was treated with chemotherapy to shrink the tumor, and when it did shrink enough the surgeons cut the malignant thing out of his chest.

That was five years ago and my dad is still cancer-free. His hair grew back a little grayer and coarser, and he naps a little more often than he used to, but he’s back on the golf course, back to walking the dogs around the track at the nearby park until they’re ready to drop, back to gardening and fixing things around the house. He and my mother, despite all of the scares they’ve had, they laugh a lot.

You never know what weird ways opportunity will find to present itself. It isn’t always as dramatic as a car accident, but it somehow finds a way to get your attention.

If it weren’t for that crash, my father would be gone by now. It was the happiest accident, the luckiest strike I have ever seen.

~Marti Davidson Sichel

You are currently enjoying a preview of this book.

Sign up here to get a Chicken Soup for the Soul story emailed to you every day for free!

Please note: Our premium story access has been discontinued (see more info).

view counter

More stories from our partners