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A memoir: Coping with my stepfather's Stage IV terminal cancer

Site owner Will Turner (right) with his stepfather, Wayne at a Rays vs. Cleveland Guardians game in 2022.

I think I could go my entire life without hearing a cliché ever again.

 

It’s incredibly striking that the things humans say that seem tacky yet have a remarkable amount of truth to them. I’ve spent a lot of time dissecting those phrases, attempting to find a way to debunk them, which is a task that’s easier said than done. Jeez, there’s another one.

 

The most frequent one that has punctured my eardrums over the last two months?

 

“Everything happens for a reason.”

 

I had some other ones written out on a previous version of this memoir, but my constant struggles with Microsoft Word popped up again and deleted them. It’s honestly for the best. I’m too exhausted to remember what I’ve heard over the last 60 or so days.

 

“When it rains, it pours.”

 

Ah, yeah. Right. That was the one I was looking for. The phrase that has felt the truest during this time of my life.

 

It’s ironic. As a tournament director, the one thing that I fear the most is rain. At this year’s Elite Invitational, we got a small sprinkle on the first day, then nothing on the final two. Two consecutive events without a mad dash to adjust schedules to try and dodge a couple of rain drops. It can rain every other day of the year, and I’d be alright with it. Just don’t mess with my three days in March.

 

The universe listened, albeit at a price.

 

Because two days after I closed shop at Greco, the rain started, and it hasn’t let up for 60 days.

 

If I had an arc, they’d call me Noah.


 

For the first seven years of my life, I was raised single-handedly by my mother, Tracy. We bounced between apartment complexes in Brandon and did the best we could with what we had. Times were tough, but I never knew as a kid. She was protective, almost to a fault. As an adult, I can understand it, because I was all she had. Mom would go to work, I’d go to school, and when school was out, she’d send me to my grandmother’s house in Valrico – where I always enjoyed going, because I’d get a slightly longer leash to be a kid.

 

One of those weekends spent at my grandma’s house had a bit of a different aura to it. We were getting the opportunity to meet someone for the first time. Again, as a seven-year-old, I had little idea about what this meant, so I just sat on my grandma’s laptop in her front room playing a video game – knowing me, it was Cars – when there was a quick knock on the door before it opened. In came mom, and a 6-foot-5, dark-haired man with a friendly, soft smile that I had never seen before.

 

I’ll never forget the first words I said to him, as a pint-sized elementary schooler looked up at a human double his height.

 

“Wow, you’re tall.”


 

I was nearly home from Mandarin Heights in Tampa after enjoying discounted espresso martinis on a Sunday night as a quick moment of relief following a successful tournament. It was minutes to midnight when I got a rare late-night call from mom. I was on another call, so I switched over and picked up, knowing that it was unusual for her to be up, considering she’s normally in bed by 9:30 on work nights.

 

My Hyundai reached my driveway simply to turn around and go back in the direction I came. Before I knew it, I was on my way to the Tampa General Hospital HealthPlex in Brandon.

 

The tall, friendly man that I mentioned in the previous section was off to the emergency room.

 

Wayne became my stepfather in January 2007. For the past 17 years, he’s been my primary father figure, a man who has been steadfast in my life, whether I’ve taken the time to realize it or not. A man that my mom put so much trust in with her life that they wed two months after their first date – something that felt daringly out of character for my overprotective mother. A mild-mannered man from Brooksville via western Pennsylvania took a chance to take on a son that wasn’t his and he’s been nothing short of excellent to my mom and I over the years.

 

That’s why this memoir is painstakingly, heartbreaking to write.

 

We were originally in the emergency room for Wayne’s acute pain on the right side of his torso. It had gotten progressively worse over a two-week stretch. The final straw was when he and a family friend moved furniture the day before, which compounded the ailment. There was no idea what it was. The original doctor we saw questioned if it was a cracked rib – Wayne had the flu early in the year and couldn’t shake the cough – or a kidney stone. They took him for some scans and we waited. I had been up since 7 and played in a hockey tournament, so falling asleep in the hospital chair at 2:30 a.m. was the alarm I needed to realize it was time to go home, with mom’s blessing.

 

I woke up around 9 a.m. the next morning. I had a couple of missed calls from mom that came in at 3. As soon as I was lucid, I called her back.

 

“Hey, sorry I missed your calls, I knocked out as soon as I got back.”

 

“No worries, honey. We’re at Tampa General on Davis Island.”

 

She paused. I waited.

 

“The scan came back around 3. They found a mass and there’s a ton of spots on his liver. They think it’s cancer. Potentially Stage IV.”

 

There isn’t anything that can prepare you for those words.

 

The only thing I can compare it to is getting hit by a train and there’s nothing you can do to get off the tracks.


 

My relationship with my biological father has been nothing short of rocky. We shared the occasional letter and the even rarer phone call before he fully came into my life in 2008 after he built his life on the other coast. We’ve had our fair share of disagreements, several of which have turned to estrangements. He’s been to Florida, I’ve been to his home in coastal Washington and all the while, Wayne hasn’t blinked.

 

That’s been a part of all this that I’ve grown a new appreciation for during the last two months. No matter what happened with my biological father, Wayne’s always been there. He’s never shown jealousy about that relationship, understands its purpose and has never let it bother him. If anything, if he has been upset by the relationship, he’s been upset at how it tends to negatively affect me. Wayne took his opinion out of it from the day we met and supported me through everything as if I was his flesh and blood.

 

Maybe that was the hardest thing to realize. It’s a question that continues to plague me: have I put too much time and energy into chasing a father when there was a tremendous one sitting in front of me the entire time?


 

Needle biopsies confirmed it was advanced colon and liver cancer. We got the confirmation that it was Stage IV a few days after that. The first couple of days at Tampa General in a small observation room were tough. The drive from Valrico was tough. Everything about it was tough. Doctors turned their attention to the colon, which they did through an ostomy loop, to keep his body from creating unnecessary stress with that large mass (which was creating the original pain) sitting directly on it. They created a stoma in his lower abdomen, and now, all his waste goes to a bag.

 

And because nothing in this entire situation has been easy, the waste flow reduced drastically in the immediate days after, because he developed a rare case of scar tissue around the stoma. Doctors put him on a multi-day NPO order (Nothing By Mouth) for the third time since he entered the hospital. With it came invasive tubes that went up his nose and into his esophagus so they could drain excess stomach acid.

 

He filled multiple canisters a day. It was gut-wrenching to look at him.

 

I think the toughest part of it was on a Wednesday afternoon when I relieved my mom from bedside duty. I flipped on the Rangers – Rays series finale and we couldn’t even have an extended conversation about the game, because he was forced to use a dentist-esque sucking device that was responsible for relieving him of excess phlegm that was a byproduct of the tubes up his nose. Baseball was something he and I have enjoyed over the years, and we couldn’t even have that because of this disease that has consumed our lives in every way.


 

We were ready to fight. Wayne was ready to start chemotherapy. I was ready to go back to the softball diamond. After all, it was the Monday that district tournaments were ready to begin.

 

The rain wasn’t ready to quit. Instead, it poured harder.

 

A final CT Scan result came back on Apr. 29, four days before Wayne’s first chemotherapy appointment at Moffitt Cancer Center in Westshore.

 

It read, “lesions on the posterior side of the liver are too numerous to count.”

 

The largest was about 2 ½ inches in length and width.

 

Chemo can’t touch it.

 

The prognosis numbers are too uncomfortable to share. For the memoir’s sake, it’s less than 12 months.

 

This is a 51-year-old man who was healthy, only needing a daily low-dose, over-the-counter aspirin.

 

Wayne had a decision to make. Would he still pursue chemo with the minuscule, minuscule chance of remission? Or would he focus on quality of life until his liver ultimately gives out? We got a second opinion from a doctor in Chicago who was referred to us by a family member before consulting with the doctors at Moffitt one additional time. He’s ultimately decided to undergo chemotherapy with some important lifestyle changes that will promote health throughout the process. Fatigued easily coming into the week, his first chemo session has taken its toll on his energy, but he keeps on.

 

A lover of all kinds of music, his coworkers delivered a record player to the house over the weekend. The picture I saw showed that ear-to-ear grin that my mom fell in love with, and I found comfort in. It was the first time in months that I’ve seen it.

 

But the magnitude of the situation still reigns supreme.

 

Mom called me on Sunday to ask if I had a preference between burial or cremation because she wanted to know if I desired to have any of his ashes.

 

Fuck, man, I don’t know. Are you kidding me?

 

Two months ago, I was trying to figure out what softballs went on what field at the Elite Invitational.

 

Now, I’m having to decide about final wishes.

 

How in the world did I get here?


 

I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank everyone who sent their thoughts and prayers to the Bay Made and USF communities, and I apologize if I haven't gotten back to you. I'm typically a private person when it comes to family affairs, but I will be texting and calling back folks throughout the next few weeks (including those I've got some outstanding tournament balances with). While I’ve gotten back to work out of necessity (I recently moved to a new apartment and must pay my rent somehow) with the Fowler Avenue Collective, it has killed me to not be on the softball diamond.

 

I will miss the state tournament for the first time in the site’s history. It’s not wise for me to go to Clermont with the fragility of his health being what it is. God forbid, something happens when I’m away. Furthermore, Night of Champions will not go on as planned. As a one-man operation, when life happens, you have to go tend to it.

 

I hate not being able to see my seniors play one final time. I hate not being able to see Calvary Christian’s run at a three-peat, or Parrish Community and Bartow’s quest for back-to-back state titles and missing out on Bloomingdale and Academy at the Lakes’ incredible runs has been painstaking.

 

Frankly, I feel like I’ve let a lot of people down by stepping away, although I know deep down that this is the necessary and right decision. It’s a difficult balance.

 

If you’d like to help – which is not necessary at all, but greatly appreciated – below is the GoFundMe link as we continue to push forward with chemotherapy and other rising medical costs. Thank you, in advance.

 

 

I’ve spent the last couple of days with my business partners planning on how Bay Made can fill some gaps in the summertime and fall and once things begin to stabilize, some offseason content should be on its way. Hopefully, more details soon.

 

Thanks for reading this and I truly, truly appreciate everyone’s support through this time. It has truly been life-changing, in the worst way possible.

 

I’m hoping the rain stops soon.

 

-       Will Turner, “The Bay Made Guy”

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