A Series of Deep Familial Misfortunes, Including the Loss of Two Wives, Tests The Mettle of an Advanced-Aged Father Charged with Raising Two Sets of Generationally-Separated Children
byRoland J. Bain
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“Why Her? Why Not Me?”
June, 2001 seemed an innocent enough time. Roland and Nancy’s two teenaged sons are on summer break. Roland, a seventy-four-year-old petroleum industry consultant, and his wife, Nancy, a forty-six-year-old teacher, enjoy their time together as a family. Then Roland’s annual exam uncovers prostate cancer.
Due to the cancer’s stage and the risk of it spreading, surgery is the only option. Before he can enter the hospital, a biopsy determines that Nancy has breast cancer. The tumor is malignant. Although she is rushed into surgery, results are so poor that the next day she undergoes a full mastectomy. The cancer has probably already metastasized.
The ordeal is made all the more difficult by memories of their son’s cancer. At the age of five, their older son Ed underwent surgery to remove a cantaloupe-sized Wilms tumor. He endured the torture of chemotherapy and ended up with only one kidney but survived. They can only hope for the same eventual prognosis for each other.
Their tests, treatments and appointments take on a leap-frog pattern. Soon it’s Roland’s turn for surgery. The results are good.
Over the next seven months, cancer spreads throughout Nancy ’s body and brain. Various chemotherapy protocols and multiple radiation treatments put her on a rollercoaster of hope and pain as her body deteriorates. In the middle of it all, Roland undergoes eye surgery to repair a hole in his retina.
Initially, every effort is made to shield the boys from the details of their mother’s progressively grave condition. They are old enough, though, to grasp the severity and reality of the situation. They are losing their mother.
Even in the face of the traumatic events, Nancy maintains her resilient, upbeat attitude. The pair plan for a Christmas vacation in the Mediterranean but cancel due to her increasing headaches and backaches. Multiple tumors are found to be the source of her headaches. Gamma-knife surgery, a radiation treatment, is performed.
Neighbors set up a guardian angel network. They drive Nancy to school so she can keep teaching, even when a tumor destroys the vision in one eye. They drop off cooked meals for the men and help out with little chores as they are able. Nancy maintains her upbeat attitude even as the chemo causes weight gain and other debilitating effects.
Soon she is admitted to the hospital and kept comfortable in her final days. Nine months after receiving her diagnosis, she takes her last breath with Roland at her side. She was forty-six years old.
Roland is left to raise the two boys, now fifteen and thirteen. The role of single father is not entirely new to him. Thirty years before, his wife of seventeen years abandoned him and their five children. But the lessons and skills he’d learned about child rearing and household management for the most part have disappeared. As he looks forward to tomorrow and all the tomorrows after that, dread overtakes him.
Although endowed with an above-average level of energy, an outgoing nature, a good sense of humor and a deep sense of faith, the road is difficult. His sense of responsibility and concern for his children’s welfare are deep yet the coping skills and patience needed to raise two teenaged boys are difficult to find at his age.
Roland attempts to compensate for the loss of their mother, maintain the home, cope with the troubled waters at their schools and still operate his business. The demands begin to have a telling effect. Coupled with his continuing medical problems, his tolerance level dwindles.
Roland’s cancer reoccurs which leads to weeks of radiation treatments. He has sold his business by this time and is free to focus on helping his sons launch their own careers. Ed’s attempt at enlisting in the Air Force is quashed by the fact that he has only one kidney. That isn’t going to stop Roland. He pleads Ed’s case with the Air Force Surgeon General. Although Ed is called in for a physical, he is still rejected. Roland fires off a letter to the U.S. Secretary of Defense. Ed fails a second physical; however, the doctor recommends a waiver. Ed is given his chance at boot camp.
Scott, meanwhile, is working toward a very real chance at a future in football. The opportunity keeps him in school long enough to graduate. He is even recruited into a junior college where the coaches will make sure he maintains a basic focus on academics while working on his physical skills.
Despite the triumphs, Roland is increasingly resistant to change. With age and the demands placed on him, he becomes aware that he’s settling, quite comfortably, into inflexibility. More and more he becomes a creature of habit; he seeks the highest possible degree of predictability for his life. Surprises are unwelcome, yet many frustrations flow from the fast-paced, agitated world of his sons.
Adding to his frustrations is a growing loneliness. He has no one with whom to share his feelings or the complexities of his life at the end of the day. Even Scott’s plans to move out feel like a rejection. As his children inch their ways into the world, Roland, now seventy-nine, worries about his own future.
For years, he’s been able to ignore his anxiety by focusing on his sons. But as he finds himself alone in the house more and more often, he realizes he has to make his own plans. The bulk of his life has been divided between work and raising children. He longs for someone to share his life. He also resists his older children’s discussions of senior living centers.
Ed, meanwhile, has decided that the Air Force is not for him. He lands a job with the Transport Security Agency (TSA). Scott realizes that he won’t be able to manage both sports and academics and leaves college and enters the work force.
Once the boys have moved out, married and started their families, Roland finally has to seriously attempt to sort out his future, a mission he doesn’t relish. It is much easier to leave matters as they are. For the time being he chooses to leave matters to his Creator.
This life story traces a major segment of Roland’s adult life, an adult life riddled with devastating personal events. During the past thirty years, Roland has had ample opportunities to indulge in self-pity and to become extremely deft at it. In large part, this stems from the parade of very unique and scarring events that have beset his two sets of children and himself: (1) his having to singly raise his five children after his wife of seventeen years abandons him and their children for another man; (2) his having married a young lady, twenty-seven years his junior (Roland 52, his wife 25); (3) his having fathered two more sons, the youngest born when Roland was sixty years old, the other who was at death’s door at age four due to kidney cancer; (4) both he and his wife having been diagnosed with cancer within a five-week period, her with breast cancer, Roland with prostate cancer; (5) his wife dying at age forty-six and the associated emotional devastation experienced by their two young sons and himself; (6) and, for the second time in his life, the necessity of this now seventy-four-year-old parent having to singly raise his children. The support of Roland’s family and friends and, especially, his Catholic faith gave him the courage and spirit to push through these incredible hardships.
About the Author
Roland Bain was a “Great Depression baby”, having been born in Los Angles, California in 1928. After graduating from Los Angeles High School, he enlisted in the Navy near the end of World War II. Following his discharge, he attended UCLA where he earned his Master’s Degree in petroleum geology. While at UCLA he joined the Beta Theta Pi fraternity, becoming its president in his senior year. In 1956, Roland was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study at the Sorbonne and to conduct research at the French Petroleum Institute near Paris, France.
His first employment was with Texaco Corp. where he became engaged in the search for oil and gas accumulations in the Los Angeles Basin. Two years later he was transferred to Sacramento where he spent the following seven years conducting similar research. Leaving Texaco, he became a Consulting Petroleum Geologist and was successful in developing several impressive accumulations of natural gas. His expertise resulted in his consulting for such entities as the Pacific Gas &Electric Co., Dow Chemical and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District.
Roland’s publishing credits include two published books -
HOLLYWOOD DECO FASHIONS OF THE 1920s, a heavily illustrated fashion-design book about his mother’s arrival from France in 1919 and her becoming a costume designer in Hollywood’s movie industry during its1920’s Golden Age, and ENTER THE ENEMY, A French Family’s Life Under German Occupation. Other publishing credits include a seven-year stint as a columnist for The Sacramento Union (the oldest daily newspaper west of the Mississippi), and numerous published professional articles. His dedication to professional reporting earned him honorary life-time memberships in two professional associations.