Why I Fight
My memories of my dad are like snapshots from a polaroid laid out on the table. Some of the images are crisp and clear; so tangible that I can almost feel the moment they capture, and some are slightly blurry, making them feel just a bit out of reach.
My dad throwing me over his shoulder to carry me to bed. Him laying on the couch watching ESPN with his socks hanging half off his feet. His odd habit of sucking on his shirt collar when he was thinking. Our shared love of turkey steaks; a Utah delicacy. Sneaking in his hospital bed to snuggle him and feel his warmth. Him coaching me in soccer and cheering me on…when, in truth, I. Was. Terrible. Him wearing a, very tacky, ‘best friend’ necklace I won at an arcade for weeks on end. Daddy daughter dates, Justin Bieber dance alongs, and Disneyland trips. The green flecks in his eyes.
These little snapshots, these little pockets of memories, they are what I hold most dear. When someone shares one with me and another picture becomes clear, I add it to my heart and hold on as tight as I can, praying that I’ll never forget.
My dad was my hero. He IS my hero. And I hope that by reading this, he becomes a bit of a hero for you, too.
My dad radiated sarcasm. Other people use it occasionally, but he made it his own language and you just had to love it. (It’s one of the traits he gave to me and I wear that as a badge of honor)! He was warm and caring, he loved to learn, and he wore his ‘computer nerd’ title with pride. He spent his days running the networking of a large company and his nights as the most involved dad that ever lived. He was always happy to read us a bedtime story, play outside with us, and even play dress-up and wear the funniest clothes. He loved playing intricate card games, and studying up on the rules. Was he a nerd? Oh yes! But in the coolest of ways. He knew how to always be himself, and he always wanted that for my sister and I. He was one of a kind.
I was just 4 when my father was diagnosed with Kidney Cancer, A disease that usually waits until you are 65 and overweight, somehow got to my healthy, young (37 year old) dad. I don’t remember him being diagnosed. I don’t remember any big changes from my childhood, because honestly, there weren’t any. My dad made sure of it.
He kept his job, working 40+ hours a week while getting immunotherapy injections every single Thursday. I now know that they made him extremely tired, and sore….but back then I had no idea. He would come home and be the same amazing father he’d always been, no matter how tired and miserable he must have felt. And he kept that up for almost 4 years. The immunotherapy was working and his cancer was stable and somehow he carried on; sometimes with 12 cankers in his mouth and fatigue that must have felt unbearable. He constantly showed us that he was grateful for his time, grateful for his life- and he didn’t intend to take it for granted.
During this time a lot happened behind the scenes. My parents strove constantly to marry the balance of us being completely oblivious to cancer, and being ready for the changes that could come…and come they did.
About 4 years into his drug treatments, they began to fail. And the cancer began to grow. I was young, just 8 years old, but I was very in tune with what was happening around me. Anxiety and fear became my constants and I noticed the strength quickly leaving my dad. He could no longer pick me up and throw me onto my bed. He had multiple hospital stays and jumped from chemo treatment to chemo treatment trying to find a way to keep the cancer at bay.
One treatment left him in the ICU for two weeks at a time, one involved him giving himself shots every Friday night, shots that would basically ‘inject flu symptoms’ into his body. He lost his ability to control his body temperature and my sister and I would take turns snuggling him close and layering him with blankets. He lost the energy for most of the things he used to love, like golfing and fishing, but he somehow always found it for us. My parents did all they could to shield us from the ugly side of his illness, while preparing us for what may come. Most importantly, my dad did all he could to make sure we never had to question his love for us, or whether he was willing to fight hard to stay with us. That is a certainty I’ve come to treasure. That knowledge has shaped me, made me realize that what I want most for myself is something that I feel that passionate about, that willing to fight for.
My dad passed away October 11, 2013 after fighting for 9 years. The entire week before he passed, my home was filled with family and friends. The crisp fall air filled the house, along with a lot of laughter, and a lot of tears. And then one day, he slipped away from us.
He was done fighting. It now became my turn.
I watched my dad suffer through some unimaginable things, and have heard stories I was too young to hear back then about all he did for us to stay alive. I can’t really imagine how hard it must have been for him, to fight, to get poked and prodded at constantly, and to do it all knowing that he would likely have to leave all he was fighting for. That kind of love is special, and to know I was, and am, loved that hard? It’s humbling.
I fight because he never gave up. I fight to be a good older sister to my siblings. I fight to set an example to others of perseverance. I fight to go on road trips with my friends, to camp, to go to concerts, to eat all my favorite foods, to make all the memories. I fight to learn, to grow, to see the needs in others because I have empathy that I may not have had without this trial. I fight to remember him, to do what he would have done. I fight to live the life he would want for me.
He’s my hero. He earned that title with every hug, with every memory and with all the snapshots memories that I hold dear. I miss him. I intend to keep fighting to make him proud, to make his fight worth the fight that he fought for me.