Money can’t buy what John Domenicucci wants for Father’s Day.
He knows only God can give him the gift of time, and he has no idea of how much he has left.
When I called him about doing this column, he wondered if people would want to read such a “downer” story. I hope you continue reading.
An appreciation and gratitude for what we have is a gift for all seasons.
It is especially appropriate at this time when we are dealing with the pandemic and people are faced with so many new obstacles — large and small — in their lives.
The 37-year-old father of two children has Stage 4 cancer — a disease he has had since he was 17.
“It is scary sometimes,” he said. “Every interaction is very, very precious. I try to enjoy every moment, but I cannot shake the lingering feeling that something might happen to me.
“It’s the day-to-day that becomes so important.”
When he is able, Domenicucci and his family attend St. James’ Episcopal Church in South Pasadena, which is under the direction of his longtime friend and mentor the Rev. Canon Anne Tumilty.
“Fatherhood is one of the greatest gifts. Every action becomes very, very precious,” he said. “It is a gift every second of every day, because you never know what is going to happen.
“It is a blessing born of tragedy.”
Domenicucci summons joy from sadness. The pandemic, which he regards as a test from God, has forced him to work from home as an IT person for the Los Angeles Unified School District. It has also enabled him to be around when his younger daughter learned to walk. The child, now 3, was born with physical complications and needs to have therapies every day. He will also remember this period as a time his daughter was able to get off oxygen.
Domenicucci is one of those people who keeps bobbing back to the surface when life pushes him underwater.
After that first cancer diagnosis when he was a teen, he decided he wanted to be a “ski bum.” So he went to Whistler, Canada, where he worked for nearly seven years and met his future wife, Yadira.
She is from Mexico, so he went there — and learned his wife’s language and culture.
His health forced him to come back to the United States, and he was able to get a job — with health insurance — as a careaker for the Episcopal Church in Los Angeles.
Surgery and radiation are the best courses of action for his cancer. They have resulted in the loss of his left lung, a liver resection and removal of the left ventricle of his heart. His underwent reconstructive plastic surgery on his face after a tumor was found in that area, and he has a titanium rod in his left femur from hip to knee. He has had about 80 sessions of radiation and gets scans every three months. A drug called Gleevec has kept his cancer stable for now.
Just after Domenicucci was assured by doctors it was OK to have children, more cancer was found. The couple’s first baby is now almost 5. They were assured it was OK to have a second baby, and that one was born with physical problems. At one point, the parents were advised to give up and let their baby die, but they refused. She’s the daughter who is now 3.
“I have never met parents with such determined love,” Tumilty said.
Domenicucci, who will soon be moving from Glendale to Santa Clarita, recalled there have been times in his life when cancer came back so often that doctors suggested he might want to get his affairs in order.
But from this struggle, Domenicucci summoned strength. He is planning to get a college degree and has made the move into the IT field.
“There is the reassurance that despite all these traumatic experiences, I’ve learned to adapt,” he said, adding that the pandemic is one of those traumatic experiences that others have shared. “Beyond trauma, there is the potential for growth. It makes you appreciate what you have now, because it can be taken away.”
Domenicucci isn’t advocating trauma in a person’s life. He just feels that sometimes having a comfort level shaken by trauma can cause a person to find strength rather than just ask “Why me?” or complain about being stuck inside in a shelter-in-place mode.
“When I was 30, the doctor who discovered that my cancer had gone into my right lung told me that I had at most two years left to live. I was, of course, in shock, not for me but for my family. ‘Did I just ruin my wife’s life?,’ I kept thinking,” he said.
“Afterwards, I was given the option of having my whole lung removed and was beyond grateful to live in a diminished capacity if it meant more time with my family.
“What this all showed me was that the walls of comfort we build are not real. They are crutches that make facing challenges in the future more difficult. Learning to make trauma a tool for personal growth makes you into a more resilient person.”
Viewing the traumas of others has also given him a different perspective.
Domenicucci recalled when he was in the midst of a treatment that left both his mouth and tongue blistered. He was in pain, and in despair.
He happened to walk by a room where a woman was sitting by the bed of a young girl. The woman, Domenicucci recalled, was “washed out.”
The young girl in the bed was without her hair and her head was drooping.
“God bless them. They were enduring. And I thought, ‘I’ve been a ski bum and married the love of my life. Why am I feeling sorry for myself?’” he said.
A personal greeting:
A happy Father’s Day to my own father, Mort, who will be 94 on July 8. He knows the feeling of putting in a lot of hours to support his wife and two sons. He ran a pharmacy in Alexandria, Virginia, but managed to find time to take me and my brother somewhere on his day off.
He’s a “Greatest Generation” guy who taught us the meaning of work and honoring family, and he’s still proud that he’s doing the best he can, every day.
I love you, Dad.