BRISTOL – There was a time when Bristol resident Courtney Pope didn't think her father would be able to walk her down the aisle.
"I didn’t know if my dad would be at my wedding,” she said.
Pope took on the role of caregiver three years ago when her father was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer.
“It was a lot to manage as a 27-year-old just logistically and time-wise,” she said. “I work full time, and balancing my life and his was overwhelming.”
Eager to avoid worrying his only daughter, Eric Pope, her father, kept the referral to oncology quiet for weeks, until she found it by accident. He was initially told he would have one to two years to live. But after undergoing several procedures, including palliative radiation and months of chemotherapy, and weight loss of over 50 pounds, Eric Pope has responded well to treatments.
“I’m behavioral health director for Wheeler Clinic in Bristol and after we got the diagnosis I think I went right into helper mode,” Courtney Pope said. “Social workers are great at pushing emotions to the side and dealing with what we have to do at the present moment. My experience at Wheeler helped me to stay motivated and focused and to be there for my dad. I don’t think he once saw me cry; I wanted to show him that I was strong and I was there for him even though we were very unsure what would happen. The prognosis of one to two years at most wasn’t enough time – there were still so many things left for him to do.”
Pope thanked her husband for “great support” throughout her experience as a caregiver. In the first month, her father came to live with them. It was during that time that Pope’s husband asked Eric for his blessing to marry his daughter. Despite the challenge of covid-19, and having to scale back the wedding, Courtney Pope was able to walk down the aisle with her father.
"I wouldn't change that walk down the aisle for anything," she said.
Pope said her role as caretaker has opened her eyes and made her more conscious about spending time with her father.
“When he was doing his treatment, we used to spend a lot of time playing cards over FaceTime and he would always beat me,” she said. “I enjoyed just hanging out and being in his presence. We would also go out to lunch and talk about different things like what I have going on at work, what he does during the day, and trips he wants to take.”
Eric Pope is currently taking Keytruda, which Courtney Pope said he has responded well to.
“He will be on Keytruda for the rest of his life,” she said. “He goes for scans every six months. He has been doing very well. His doctors have been pleasantly surprised with the lack of disease progression. He started with radiation to keep the tumors away from his windpipe and they shrunk way more than the doctors were anticipating. He has been going to all of his doctor’s appointments, checkups and bloodwork.”
Now, she is working with the American Lung Association and speaking to local legislators hoping to increase awareness and destigmatize the disease as well as provide additional funding for research and treatment.
Pope also called for the preservation of the Affordable Care Act and the healthcare exchange.
“A year into my dad’s diagnosis, he was kicked off his benefits – and we couldn’t afford the $700 a month COBRA,” she said. “We, like most families, would give every last dollar to save someone we love, but it's so important that people have the ability to have stable, affordable health care options and coverage for pre-existing conditions. It’s a matter of life and death.”
Pope also asked representatives to provide more funding for lung cancer.
“No family should have to deal with this excruciating disease – and there is hope if they put money behind research for a cure,” she said.
Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or email@example.com.