For My Dad

October 20, 2018

Searching through the foil covered casseroles that infested my fridge, a yearning for a freshly cooked meal overcame me. Unfortunately, the extent of my culinary skills is demonstrated by the occasional quesadilla made on the stovetop.
“Hello.” A baritone voice emerged from within the easy chair beyond the kitchen, rising through the sounds of sizzling cheese and my grumbling stomach. “What are you cooking?”
“I’m making myself a quesadilla. Do you want one?” I inquired out of politeness, knowing his faltering taste buds would deny him the pleasure of my savory concoction.
He inhaled deeply before coughing out, “I would love to have an Elsa-made quesadilla.” I removed the cheesy tortilla goodness, slid it on a plate, quartered it, and placed it in his hands. “It’s like you knew I wanted one,” he chuckled with closed eyes using all of his strength to maneuver his hands to hold the plate steady.
I smiled wanly at him and wandered back to the stove. I stood there for a moment exhausted, wishing that my pain could be alleviated as easily as my hunger, wishing that I could understand why my father was susceptible to gallbladder cancer, but knowing that I, his sixteen-year-old daughter, could not change anything with my wishing. The only way I could help was by refilling his water glass, adding another blanket or taking one away, and serving him quesadillas that his stomach would reject.
Sometimes I felt like I could do more and pleaded to know how, but my father’s response was always the same, “Don’t let me deter you from what you need to do.” I forced his idea of normalcy for his four months of treatment and two weeks of hospice care.
It wasn’t until he passed away that my fabricated facade of moving through my life “normally” shattered, revealing both my grief and suppressed curiosity about the disease that took my father away. Each day I came home and collapsed into the easy chair beyond the kitchen. I sat overwhelmed with thoughts, desiring to share them with my father, but constructing the awareness that he would not be there to help me with calculus problems, simplify the use of interfaces in my code, or to share his perception of historical events from my history class. I became aware of the concrete knowledge that left with my father, but developed consciousness of the passion he had instilled in me for helping others. I had to blockade any similar loss of knowledge, first by indulging my own hunger for information, but then fighting the cause itself: cancer.
I applied to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s Summer High School Internship Program, with an intuitive hope of fulfilling my goal. While waiting for a response, I often questioned my chances of acceptance to a program that hosted academically successful, resumeperfect high schoolers who shared my desire for concrete knowledge. I knew I had something more: I wanted to combat disease so that no sixteen-year-old girl has to lose her father like I did. I knew sheer knowledge wouldn’t suffice. Sitting in classrooms gave me an opportunity to learn, but I lacked the ability to reach my goal of helping others. Each day I sat at my high school dreaming of standing in a lab dressed in gloves, goggles, and a lab coat.
One day my phone buzzed waking me from my daydream. I snatched it and checked the notification. It read: “Welcome to SHIP!”
I stood up. I ran out of the classroom with phone in hand, smashing into the wall, then hitting the green call button. With each ring I could feel my eyes losing the ability to hold back tears. The first drop hit the ground when she picked up.
“Mom, I’m going to work at Fred Hutchinson. I am going to fight cancer. I am going to fight for Dad.”
Elsa Bean