Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Cancer and Eating Whataburgers in the Car

Yesterday I sat in my car in Target's parking lot, eating a hamburger and thinking wistfully about my dad.

Dad died April 1, 2004 of esophageal cancer. I was down in Texas taking care of him back then. In the months preceding his death, a tumor in his esophagus left him unable to swallow anything that could not fit through a straw. This made eating quite a challenge. If that wasn’t bad enough, Dad also suffered from dementia (possibly from cancer in his brain) so he really didn’t understand or remember that he had to be very careful about what he ate.

Consequently, anytime we were eating together we'd eat only liquids or something super soft that could fit down his obstructed esophagus. His favorite, his “comfort food”, was Milk Toast, which if you’re not an "old timer" from Texas you may think that is just a term used to describe a wimp. Milk Toast is hot milk poured over buttery toast, and really not too bad, but it's not getting featured on the Food Channel anytime soon, either. Most of the time the Jell-O, soup etc. was fine and a good reminder to me of what Dad was going through, how much he'd lost to not be able to even eat normally.

Occasionally though, I'd get really hungry for some "chewable" food and sneak off to get a "Whataburger". The first time I did it, I sat in the restaurant and ate. When I walked into the house an hour later Dad asked me where the hamburgers. He could smell them from my clothes.

After that, whenever I would get the burger buzz, I'd used the drive-thru, then I'd park a block or so away from home and eat in the car. After I finished, I'd bury the trash outside under what was already in the can and leave the car windows open to make sure there was no burger aroma to give me away.

It was one of those sad/funny/guilt inducing things that you do when someone you love has cancer and you're the primary caregiver. As I sat in the car back then, I'd feel silly and guilty, with my heart aching because of what Dad was going through.

The worst was probably dealing with the dementia. Dad couldn't remember why he couldn't eat or what the problem was. It was a constant struggle, but we were blessed with a strong and loving relationship of trust in each other and God got us through that oh, so difficult time. As hard as it was, it was also one of the greatest blessing of my life to be able to give back to my father just a fraction of the loving care he'd always given to me.

Today my dad is in heaven, healed, and eating heavenly hamburgers every day I suspect.

I'd like to ask you a favor. If your dad is still here, please give him a big hug or send him a loving e-mail for me today.


  1. What a wonderful post Gail. I went to Texas when I was in high school, and my cousin asked me if I wanted a water burger. I said, "No, that sounds gross!" I imagined a burger with a soggy, water-laden bun. It was later I found out he was saying "Whataburger." The southern accent made it lost in translation! BTW, My dad is still alive, and I will give him a big hug for you next time I see him.

  2. Thanks so much for the comment Marie! You know what a thrill it is when someone reads what you wrote!
    So sorry you missed out on the "water burger". LOL, tho that's what I SHOULD be eating these days!