Knowing It’s Time to Let Someone Go

There is nothing worse than watching someone you love suffer.

My father was diagnosed with metastatic pancreatic cancer that spread to his liver  and lymph nodes in October. This was the most devastating diagnosis I ever heard for someone I love.

Anyone who knows me personally, knows that my father fought a courageous battle for his life for about twelve years.


He worked hard for his family as a carpenter and business owner. He would come home from work late and exhausted, but always had a game face on for his kids. My sister would sit on his lap after work and help him eat his dinner. I’d hang around him until it was time to watch Star Trek or some classic movies on TV. Bedtime would roll around and he’d give us kisses before bed and tell us stories about his father as a shoemaker or make promises to take us to the park on the weekend– promises he ALWAYS kept! At 5:00 AM his alarm would go off and he’d wake up, make his coffee with lots of sugar and milk and prepare for another day of work.

It didn’t matter if it was 8:00 PM after a long day at work or 5:00 AM, my dad always showed his family love and kindness. I still remember waking up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom as a child and seeing that my dad was awake. As an adult now I understand he probably couldn’t sleep because of stress, but as a child I will always remember that he greeted me with a loving smile and asked me why I’m not in bed. Obviously I got excited when I saw he was watching some old western movie on TV and that gave me a good argument for why I couldn’t go back to bed. Forever I will remember what came next. My dad made us the most awesome midnight snack of my entire life– a piece of bread covered with some sour cream and sugar. It might sound like a strange recipe, but combined with this memory with my dad it was AWESOME!

chleb-ze-smietana-i-cukrem(Photo courtesy of

My dad will forever be my hero.

He suddenly fell ill about twelve years ago. After going to the doctor, he was told to go to the emergency room right away. The doctor said he could see something in his lungs on the x-ray and told my mother it could be lung cancer. We all had busy lives. I was in the middle of college finals. We worked and had responsibilities. But none of that mattered when we got that call from our mom that our father might have lung cancer. We entered that hospital as a family. My dad was always there for his family, and this was a moment when he needed us there for him.

Luckily it turned out that the doctor was wrong. My dad did not have lung cancer. He did, however have fluid in his lungs due to congestive heart failure. His lungs were also tired from all the cigarettes my dad smoked. It was soon discovered that a large portion of my dad’s heart was dead and what remained was in danger of following. He had open heart surgery and had a bypass put in.

After surgery, the surgeon came and told us the surgery went well but that we’d need to wake our dad up. We were told that he cannot sit up or roll over and definitively not stand up. He also said we’d need to be loud when trying to wake him up. What came next is one of my worst memories.

My dad was in an ICU room, with lots of machines, and he didn’t look like himself. He looked like he was sleeping, but he didn’t have the same peaceful face I remembered seeing on his face normally when he’d sleep. He looked like he was uncomfortable. I remember standing at his side, holding his hand, and screaming, “Daddy, it’s Joanna! Please wake up!” It felt like I was doing this for hours, but really it was minutes and then my sister would swap with me to do the same while I waited in the waiting room. We were only allowed in the room two at a time. When I had to go back in for my turn the second time, I was more prepared this time. I had a few minutes to grasp what was happening and that my dad needed us more than ever. He needed to know that we need him to wake up. We need our Daddy.

Finally my dad woke up that day. Hooray, we won the first battle– of MANY.


Many days later he told us that he had a spiritual experience. On the day of his surgery, his soul left his body and he saw other patients in the surgical area. He saw that some patients didn’t make it. Which was true! There was no way he could have known that! To get to the cafeteria of the hospital, you had to pass the room where they held bodies of loved ones who passed away. For some reason, every time we went down for coffee or water, we saw another patient make their way in there. It sucked seeing that while my dad was in surgery and worrying if he’ll meet the same fate. Now I know I was meant to see that so that I’d believe my dad’s experience when he told me.

Here’s a video of a doctor explaining a similar experience with one of his patients on YouTube.

Remember when I mentioned that my dad was unconscious but didn’t look at peace? I think it’s because he had a moment when he could have died and his soul would be at peace, but he knew we still needed him. We weren’t ready for him to die.

I mean, can you ever be ready for someone you love to die?

My dad went on to have many more battles with his health. He got a reaction to statin cholesterol medication. The nerves in his legs were irreparably damaged and for the remaining twelve years of his life, he would be in pain every minute with neuropathy.

Doctors insisted that a vascular surgery would help with the pain. Due to smoking and genetics, his veins were pretty blocked, so we all agreed to the surgery. We had hope it would help with his pain. It didn’t.

Years later my dad got kidney stones. He happened to go to the hospital on a day it was snowing horribly in Chicago. We didn’t know it was kidney stones for hours and doctors scared us with warnings that he could have prostate cancer. As always, all of his girls were there with my dad during this difficult time and we got through it together.

They say that it’s not about winning the battle, but rather winning the war. My dad and his army of a family fought a lot of battles.

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My dad was diagnosed with diabetes. It worsened quickly and he had to take insulin shots.

In late 2016, he got out of the shower and stubbed his toe. In early 2017 we learned he really broke it and it wasn’t healing. His toe had early signs of gangrene. For weeks he was in horrible pain and no pain medications were helping him. He would quietly cry in the middle of the night to himself because he didn’t want his family to know he was suffering. When I took him to see a podiatrist in early 2017, the doctor was kind but honest. He said my dad had gangrene and due to his health condition, he would need to have his leg amputated. His nerve damage, blocked arteries and diabetes meant that the gangrene would continue up his leg until it’d poison his blood with infection and he’d die a miserable death.

Again, he had his girls with him at the hospital. We checked him into the emergency room and sat with him until he got a room in the hospital. He had to undergo many tests before getting cleared for two sets of anesthesia and two surgeries. We learned that his heart was still in grave danger, but it was slightly healthier and more alive than years ago. This gave us some hope, but we were still terrified if we should agree to the surgeries. Doctors made it clear, that he could die from the surgery. At the same time, that was more humane than dying from gangrene infection. We didn’t want him to suffer.

A day before his first surgery, a woman came in to my dad’s room while my mom and I were sitting with him. She asked if she can pray for my dad. He and us agreed. She said the Our Father and left. My mom and I looked at each other in silent fear. Was this a sign that my dad was going to leave us and go to Our Father? We both thought it but neither of us said it at the moment. And then, for a moment, there was a sudden light illuminating from the ceiling. It brightened the whole room. We all suddenly felt love and peace and hope. My mom and I looked at each other with tear filled eyes. We both understood that we had to trust God with my dad’s life.

My dad had two successful surgeries. He had a vascular surgery to increase blood flow to his legs to help with healing after his amputation surgery. Within a week, he had his leg removed from just below the knee.

IMG_6354 Ziggy staying positive in the hospital in early 2017.

After so many fights for his life, no one would blame my dad if he said he was tired and had enough. But we weren’t ready to let him go, and he knew it. Deep down he knew.

He spent a month in a rehabilitation hospital. He got a prosthetic leg and went to physical therapy for several months to learn how to use it. The sessions were getting harder for him. They weren’t getting harder because of his leg though. Something else was off. He’d get tired and burnt out faster than ever before.

In June of 2017, my dad walked his first set of stairs after his amputation. He walked over 50 feet without a break. He was determined to show his daughters that he could do it. We were so incredibly proud of him. My husband and I took my dad for his last farmer’s market experience after one of his therapy sessions. He loved it. We got fresh produce and ridiculously delicious bread. We shared treats. It was so much fun.

That summer, I noticed my dad was waking up in the middle of the night. He would occasionally ask my mom what organs were in certain parts of his abdomen. He was watching less television and staying in bed a lot more. He looked uncomfortable. I thought he might be depressed after having his leg amputated, and so I encouraged him to get out of bed and sit at the table with me on many occasions.

Because he was on blood thinners, my dad had to check his INR often. It was usually within range. On the morning of October 2, 2017, it was dangerously thin. He called his doctor and she encouraged him to go to the emergency room. Later that day, we found out he might have pancreatic cancer. That week he had a couple tests done to confirm.

My daddy was diagnosed with metastatic pancreatic cancer that spread to his lymph nodes and liver.

He was too risky for surgery and it was too advanced for chemo. They told us hospice care was our only option. We went home with lots of paperwork and pamphlets on hospice care. At 5:00 AM I got a call from the hospital. They thought my dad had a stroke and were rushing him for testing. I woke up the girls and informed family overseas. My grandma was a cancer warrior for over a decade and her final cause of death was a stroke. So it’s understandable that we were scared.

It was October 8, 2017.

We rushed to the hospital. Dad was unconscious. Just the night before we were talking and laughing. He seemed OK. His numbers were off today. When he was awake, and trying to talk, it was like he was speaking Latin. We couldn’t make out what he was trying to say. Then he’d fall asleep again. His breathing was strange. His lungs sounded like they were underwater. Multiple doctors came into the room and told us he wasn’t going to make it and that we need to prepare for his passing.

We weren’t ready. We all looked at each other with terror in our eyes. We didn’t want him to suffer, but even after all these years, we weren’t ready to live a life without our dad. We didn’t get to tell him enough. We didn’t get to give him the classic good-bye speech when you thank the person for everything they’ve done for you and tell them you love them. We constantly told him that, but for some reason it felt wrong letting him go without that speech. But none of us were ready to start it. None of us were ready to say Good Bye.


I remembered that my dad got a medical patch, Scopolamine, behind his ear that prior night just as I was leaving the hospital. I told my sister and she rushed to asked the nurse what it was called and quickly looked it up. There are rare cases when patients get reactions that are stroke-like. Sometimes it can lead to death. We told the nurse to contact the doctors because we’d like it removed. One doctor came in and insisted that it was not the patch. He recommended we keep it on and just accept that he had a small stoke and is dying. A second doctor came in who insisted we sign a DNR. My mom asked him if he believed in miracles and he responded “not in this case.” He did however, agree to take the patch off. I think he did it because he wanted us to just accept our father’s death without blaming ourselves or doctors for the patch. He thought my dad would die that day either way, and it didn’t matter.

It was my brother’s birthday. He lives overseas. For some reason, I asked my dad to record a birthday greeting for him a couple days in advance. It felt strange when I asked him, but something in my gut just told me to do it. When I watched the greeting several days after the 8th, I realized I missed something my dad had said while I was recording. He told my brother to not stress, because it was his birthday and he had no control over what happened on his birthday. That there are some things that just happen. Did my dad have a feeling he might die on my brother’s birthday days before?

When they removed the patch, they also gave him an injection to clean all the drugs out of his system. We sat in his room and waited.

When the doctor walked into the room the next time that day, he looked like he was going to faint. My dad was awake and talking, smiling and joking. It was as if nothing happened.

He escaped death again. But it didn’t mean he was cancer free.

He came home on the 12th of October. We decided to do hospice care at home. It’s a decision we will never regret.

IMG_5627My brother made it to Chicago and got to spend time with our dad. Family came over and my dad sat at the table with us. I made breakfast for the family and my dad’s appetite returned for a moment and he cleared his plate. There were a couple occasions when he even requested certain things to eat– like apple pancakes or milk and honey.

My family and I spent nearly two grand on various supplements that were reported to help with the various symptoms my dad had. While our focus was making his symptoms minimal, we did give him some supplements that others claimed to cure cancer. As his appetite was improving and his complaints of pain were nearly non-existent, I was getting hopeful. Maybe the supplements and vitamins would save my dad!

My sister and I stayed up late and watched movies with my dad and talked about his past. I got to eat pizza with my dad and watch more movies. I remember watching Tarzan with my dad in the hospital on the evening of the 8th. I wondered if it was going to be the last movie I’d ever watch with my dad. I was upset, because I didn’t feel like it was a good enough movie to be the last movie memory I had with my dad.

On December 2, 2017, my husband and I watched Wonder Woman with my dad. He loved the movie. We loved the movie. It is a movie about a strong woman who is determined and fierce and accomplishes what she sets her mind to. This is exactly what my dad always wanted for his girls. As we were growing up, he constantly told us we are powerful and special. He said we can accomplish great things– especially if we stick together.

On December 3, my dad had a stroke.

On December 5, my dad’s last words to me were “pray for me“.

On December 6, we all took turns saying goodbye to our loving father. He was still breathing, but we just knew. He was suffering so much and it was time for him to rest. We thanked him for everything and told him we love him. We promised to always stick together. But most importantly, we told him it’s OK to let go. We told him he fought a long and hard battle to be a great father by his daughters’ side, but it was time to let go. We’ll be OK. We’ll have each other.

Around 1:20 PM, my mom prayed out loud to Jesus. She asked him to come take the man we love and bring him to God.

At 1:30 PM on December 6, 2017 a wonderful man passed away and he had his loving daughters and wife by his side. We were all holding him as he took his last breaths. We all got to say goodbye. We were all ready for him to rest in peace.


Saying goodbye is hard, but sometimes letting go makes things easier.

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That Next Cigarette Can Cost You a Leg

Lung Cancer. High Blood Pressure. Addiction. Asthma. Still Birth. This is what most people talk about when discussing the health effects of smoking.

It’s not often they tell you that you can lose a leg. But it’s a risk we need to talk about.

Smoking cigarettes can result in your arteries being blocked.

Poor circulation can result in less oxygen getting to your tissues.

Without proper oxygen, your tissues can slowly die, resulting in gangrene.

What happens next? You can lose a toe, a leg or another part of your body.


Having low circulation is extremely painful physically and emotionally.

Recall that painful sensation when your leg fell asleep and it’s just starting to regain feeling– that horrible pain many associate with a million needles prickling your skin. Multiple that by ten. Now imagine that pain never going away. Each step feeling like you are stepping on shattered glass with a bare foot. Or a thousand small knives stabbing you.


Once you start to develop gangrene it’s even more painful. The pain never stops. No position makes you feel better. No over-the-counter pain killer will make sleeping easier. Some doctors say that once your vascular disease reaches a certain point, even the strongest prescription medication won’t lessen the miserable pain.

With gangrene, parts of your body decompose. It smells like it too. Showers don’t help. Changing the dressing covering your dying flesh is painful, but only helps with the smell for a few minutes, hours if you’re lucky. Smoking constricts blood vessels to the point of strangulation. Your body can’t breath, and if left untreated, a day will quickly arrive when you won’t breath either.


What’s next is an amputation. That’s if you’re lucky enough to have your cardiologist approve the anesthesia required for the surgery. If you have clogged arteries due to smoking, chances are you have heart issues as well. Chances are you won’t get approval for the surgery and you will need to resort to “making the patient as comfortable as possible” as you wait for your dead flesh to fall off on its own.

Please don’t smoke.

I’m Terrified of Birds but I Love Them

There’s something about birds that terrifies me. It started when I was a kid. We read an excerpt from Daphne du Maurier’s “The Birds” in school and that same week I caught a few of the worst minutes of Alfred Hitchcock’s film when I went to see what my dad was watching on tv.

How terrifying can the story really be? Read for yourself:

“As he jumped the stile he heard the whir of wings. A black-backed gull dived down at him from the sky, missed, swerved in flight, and rose to dive again. In a moment it was joined by others, six, seven, a dozen, black-backed and herring mixed. Nat dropped his hoe. The hoe was useless. Covering his head with his arms, he ran toward the cottage. They kept coming at him from the air, silent save for the beating wings. The terrible, fluttering wings. He could feel the blood on his hands, his wrists, his neck. Each stab of a swooping beak tore his flesh. If only he could keep them from his eyes. Nothing else mattered. He must keep them from his eyes. They had not learned yet how to cling to a shoulder, how to rip clothing, how to dive in mass upon the head, upon the body. But with each dive, with each attack, they became bolder. And they had no thought for themselves. When they dived low and missed, they crashed, bruised and broken, on the ground. As Nat ran he stumbled, kicking their spent bodies in front of him.”
-Daphne du Maurier

Growing up, we had a variety of pets at home– dogs, cats, fish, lizard, hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits, and even birds. We must have had at least a dozen parakeets throughout my childhood. I was friends with of our first two parakeets, named Romeo and Juliet. It’s when my younger sister got her favorite parakeet named Cleo that my life officially changed forever. My sister knew I had a small discomfort with birds that I was working on. Unfortunately that did not stop her from letting Cleo out of the cage whenever I was in the room. It was as if Cleo could sense my fear too, because she’d always fly toward me! I had to hide under tables and literally run away from her through the entire house at times.

I really do feel like birds can feel my fear. I’ve had to cross the street to avoid flocks of pigeons in the city. I’ll occasionally try to cough loudly in an attempt to discreetly scare birds on the street away from me without people realizing I’m too scared to share the sidewalk with a bird.

I’m not the only one. Lucille Ball, one of my favorite actresses ever, had a fear of birds. Rumor has it that she refused to stay anywhere with birds incorporated into the decor. According to, One Direction’s Niall Horan has ornithophobia because a pigeon attacked him while using the bathroom. Scarlett Johansson is afraid of birds too. According to Page Six, Johansson says it runs in her family.

Former Bachelorette Kaitlyn Bristowe had to deal with birds on her season, and I felt her pain as I watched!

Still, with my fear of birds, I love them! I love any clothing or decorations with birds. I find them to be beautiful. My sister created a graphic art dedication to pigeons a few years ago (click here to check it out) and while I pretended to not like it at the time, I secretly loved it!

While out buying some fabric for an upcoming project, I found myself adding prints with birds to my cart. My mom asked me what I planned to do with it. I don’t know yet, but I’m excited to see what the finished product will look like!


I don’t understand my irrational love for bird fashion, but I will continue to enjoy them as long as they don’t come to life one day like Chuckie.