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“February 2017, our whole world and outlook on life was changed forever. What started as a normal family dinner, became a night I will never forget. I saw fear in my mom’s eyes as my dad said, ‘Come in the living room. We need to tell you all something.’ I couldn’t believe it when the word ‘cancer‘ came out of his mouth. We were oblivious. My dad had been sick on and off with what he thought was allergies that wouldn’t go away. Dad worked at a hospital, so he went to an ENT there. The doctor found a lump in his throat and decided they needed to do a biopsy. He did this without telling anyone, as he did not want us to be worried about him. The news came back that it was cancerous, and he needed to see an oncologist for scans and a treatment plan immediately.
After my dad told us the news, everything happened so quickly. He was diagnosed with Stage 3 Squamous Cell Carcinoma cancer of the throat and neck. A few days later, he went in for surgery. The surgeon successfully removed as much as of the cancer as possible, but chemo and radiation was necessary to help with what was left. The doctors were positive that he would beat it. Treatment started on March 6th, my 23rd birthday. He endured two months of chemo and radiation. The chemo made him weak and tired. The radiation burned his throat. This made it hard for him to eat or swallow. Soon into treatment, a feeding tube was placed so that he was able to get in the nutrition he needed. It was hard to see him in pain, but he remained positive and pushed through with laughter and a cheerful attitude, despite the circumstances.
That was my dad. The definition of joy. His heart was soft and full of love. He was constantly doing things for people. His family, friends, and neighbors. Especially the nuns who lived in the convent at the hospital he worked at. He became like a son figure to them. If he wasn’t checking on them or helping them with tasks, he was playing pranks on them and making them laugh. He LOVED to laugh and make others laugh. He was constantly spitting off witty one liners and sarcasm. Sometimes his jokes didn’t even make sense, which made us laugh too.
His heart was full when he made other people smile. He was a hard worker. He didn’t complain and he never took the easy way out of anything. He started working at the hospital as a plumber on a contract with the Union. One of the nuns noticed him and how dedicated he was to his job, so she offered him a position there. For 30 years he worked his way up and eventually became the head of safety management. He oversaw many other hospitals in his region as well. He even developed an emergency command center in his hospital to be the main source of response in case of disaster. He was special in the way that he did what no one else was doing. He always went above and beyond and put his heart into everything he did. My family consisted of the five of us.
This story originally appeared on Love What Matters.
My mom and dad met in high school. They ran in different crowds and didn’t officially meet until their graduation night at a party where my mom’s best friend introduced them. They were inseparable after that and got married a few years later. They began marriage with little money and a lot of love. They were raised from different backgrounds and were two opposite personalities. My dad lived a hard life growing up, whereas my mom was raised in a solid, Christian home. Their marriage was never easy or perfect, but they pushed through and never gave up on each other. Together they raised three kids, my two older brothers and me. For a while, I was a full-on Daddy’s girl. I wanted to be tough and play sports and be like my brothers were. My dad was coach of every game they played and the biggest fan in every crowd. He would spend hours helping my brothers with wrestling, baseball, or golf. I had to choose between sports and cheerleading and Dad didn’t know much about that. Mom took me to every cheer practice, and Dad attended competitions or dance recitals, with mostly no complaint.
He wasn’t always a verbal expressionist of love. It usually came through by helping us in whatever way he could. Perfecting our school projects, playing outside, sewing buttons on our uniforms or anything we asked, no matter how ridiculous the task. If he didn’t know how to do it, he would learn. This led into our young adult lives. He loved spending time helping us in our flower beds, doing projects in our homes, and even coming over and fixing the toilets when our plumbing backed up. He was always one phone call away. And I called, a LOT. I felt safe and life felt secure when he picked up on the other end. He never failed to make me laugh before hanging up, in only the way that he could.
Throughout my teenage years, when I didn’t always get along with my parents, he never got upset with me. Even through all my attitude, which was brutal at times, sneaking out, and the usual things teenagers get in trouble for, he rarely ever raised his voice. He took everything with a calm approach, or maybe he just didn’t have time to speak between the banter of my mom and I. I knew whether we were close or if I was moody and didn’t want to talk to him that day, he had my back no matter what and loved me regardless of my choices. Not saying he was a perfect man. He had his own struggles and fought his own battles, as we all do. We didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of things and I wasn’t afraid to tell him how I felt.
It wasn’t until the beginning of my adulthood that I realized even parents aren’t perfect and I had always put a lot of expectation on that. I had to give grace just as I had received over all my years. Our relationship really started growing when I moved out for the first time. I would come home weekly just to grill chicken with him and usually end up in the living room for a couple hours as he would show me music video after music video on YouTube. My family spent a lot of time together and Dad lived for the summers when the whole family would come over for the weekend. We would swim, listen to music, and throw frisbees for hours. My dad loved his family. He treated my sisters-in-law like his own children and his whole world changed when they started having babies. My dad was crazy about his grandkids. They were the highlight of his every conversation and proud was an understatement.
I think this made it hard to get the fearing news of ‘cancer’ when life seemed so great. The world just kind of stopped as we realized what all he would have to go through. We wanted to fight it for him and take away his pain. However, after a few months of brutal treatment, he was declared to be in remission. He beat it and we celebrated. Life went back to normal. Mom and Dad went to concerts again, traveled some and enjoyed themselves as much as they could as Dad was finally feeling strong and healthy. There was nothing to worry about anymore and we were thankful for that. We all grew to appreciate each other more and realized how quickly life can change in an instant.
And it did. Again.
My mom unexpectedly walked through my front door on March 23, 2018 and I could see it in her face. Something was wrong. ‘Dad’s cancer is back. And it’s in his colon.’ I don’t think I even processed what she said. I remember crying because I knew something was wrong, but I don’t think I understood what the words were that had just come out of her mouth. After a few minutes, when the shock wore off, she explained it again. ‘His cancer is back and it’s not good.’ I knew this time was about to be different.
My Dad had a routine colonoscopy a few days before. There was no concern, as he was still in remission and stronger than ever. The doctor had called and told my dad the results and scheduled for scans immediately. My dad hung up the phone, devastated. How did it come back so fast? He felt so strong and healthy. Was it spreading throughout his body? He had been seeing an ENT for monthly appointments and the doctors were excited about how well he had recovered. How was this happening all over again?
He went for a full body PET Scan, and we waited, impatiently, for a few days to hear the results. We met with the oncologist and were shocked, to say the least, with what the doctor had to say. What started in his throat had spread throughout his body. Cancer was taking over his liver, lungs, bones, and colon. It had come back aggressively, and we were overwhelmed by the news. She diagnosed him, this time as Stage 4 and gave him about 8-12 months to live, with treatment. It’s been 3 years since we sat in that oncology room and I’m still not sure how to process that. We went from him being happy and healthy a few days ago to someone telling us our dad might not be on this earth the next year. Getting news like that feels like trying to wake up from a bad dream.
One time in elementary school, I blindly walked in front of a kid who was swinging on the swing set. Next thing I knew, I had been knocked on the ground and couldn’t catch my breath. And that’s how it feels to know your sweet, happy, fun-loving daddy is dying and there is nothing you can do about it. The oncologist gave him the option of doing chemo, but he quickly rejected that, as he knew he did not want to spend what time he had left by being weak and tired. The only other option was to be sent to MD Anderson, a clinical trial and treatment center in Houston, Texas, to see if they had any other propositions.
A couple weeks later, they contacted my dad and asked if he would come in so they could do tests and scans to find the best option for treatment. It was our only hope at this point, and it gave us all some excitement that this might give him some more time. After weeks of back and forth to Houston, doctor visits, more tests, insurance phone calls, and a lot of waiting, we finally got the call that they were ready to start treatment after one last PET scan was completed. The doctor asked him to come in the next morning. What we thought was going to be a green light to begin treatment, turned into the news that it was too late. The cancer had already spread to his brain and there was now nothing they could do to help. Devastated, the boys came back home. We knew our time was ending. Our hearts were broken into two. Dad came back, spent a few sad days at home and then hopped to it. He had life to live and he wasn’t going to waste any time. We spent days golfing, shopping for flowers and bird baths (upon his request), listening to music and planning events such as concerts, family pictures, and basketball games. We were thinking about the present and went along day by day.
And then out of nowhere, it hit me. The future. The things he wouldn’t be here for. I hadn’t graduated college yet. I was getting ready to buy my first house. I was going to need help with things such as my painting and fixing up my garden and how to weedeat my grass. Was he not going to be here for that? And what about when I have kids and he wouldn’t be working at the hospital that I would deliver at? And God, the wedding! I wasn’t even dating at the time. There’s no way he would make it to walk me down the aisle. I sat on my bathroom floor for hours and cried about the future and how I would manage these things, big or small without him.
My dad had the same concerns, for all of us. He wanted to be here to see his grandchildren grow, spend time with his kids, go to more concerts with my mom and experience life with us. He talked to my aunt one morning and told her the same. He was sad for the things he would miss, and told her, ‘I regret not being able to be here for Megan’s wedding.’ Hearing that made my heart heavy, as I couldn’t imagine such a special day without him. I knew I had to do something.
Obviously, there wasn’t time to find a real husband and make it happen, but I wanted to have the opportunity to dance with my daddy and have him walk me down an aisle so we could experience it, wedding or not. My mom, sisters-in-law and I started brainstorming. What started as a small plan of Dad and I dancing to James Taylor in my parent’s back yard, turned into something more beautiful than I could have ever pictured. People kept hearing about what we were going to do, and they wanted to help. Before we knew it, the owner of a wedding venue, a videographer, a photographer, a florist, a bridal dress store owner, and more had reached out and wanted to offer their services. We were amazed at the way God was planning this out before our eyes and we were humbled by the people, even strangers who wanted to make our idea come true.
So, we did it. I bought a dress, trimmed Dad’s hair, helped him pick out a purple shirt and with our family and those who helped, we had what we now call our ‘fake wedding.’ We met at the venue, had a first look in my dress, walked down the aisle together, danced to the song that I had always dreamt of dancing to with him, shared lots of tears, and even a few laughs. It of course wasn’t what we ever pictured or preferred, but we dedicated the day to us. Our relationship. Our special, imperfect but fun and loving bond. We stood in a circle with our family and held hands as we prayed for a miracle and more time together. I told him, ‘This is just a practice run for the real thing.’ Although we both knew that probably wasn’t true. And as we danced, I thanked God for him. For the gray headed, goofy, kindhearted father that I got to love for 23 years. I wanted to stay in that moment forever. Nothing else mattered during that time. No cancer, regret, sadness or fear got in the way of how much we loved each other. How blessed we were for everything to come together so perfectly.
A few weeks later, sitting by his hospital bed, I pulled my laptop out and showed him this video. I had voiced over a letter I had written to him, and we cried in sadness and in thankfulness, that we had the opportunity to do this. Our time was coming to an end and we knew it. We were not ready to let him go, but he informed us that even though he was sad, he was happy for all that he got to do. He lived his life how he wanted to. And even though we begged for more time, we had peace knowing he would no longer be sick and soon be in his eternal home.
A couple days later, I was getting ready to head to the hospital when my oldest brother texted me, ‘You need to get here soon.’ I sped there and ran up to his room. My knees went weak when I walked in and I sunk to the floor, as I knew it was almost time. Everyone left the room while I sat next to him and held his hand. I thanked him for the years of love, and I apologized for the times of hardship. I made promises to him of how I would live in a way to honor him, even though I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it without him. Through tears I told him, ‘You’re the best dad I ever had,’ and laughed as I realized he was the only dad I ever had. I’m not sure if he could hear me, but I know he was laughing too. A few minutes later, everyone came back into the room, and we stood around him while he took his last breath. As our hearts broke, it felt as if we were walking him into Heaven and peace overcame my body.
It’s been three years since he left us, and I miss him more every single day. Not a day goes by that I’m not wishing he was here. I still pick up the phone wanting to call him. A year after losing him, I met my soul mate and best friend. I am now 50 days away from marrying the sweetest guy on earth, who loves music, strives to have the best-looking yard, and laughs at his own jokes, all like Dad did. I swear my dad helped Jesus pick him out for me.
Some days are harder than others. I find myself getting teary-eyed walking into Lowe’s without him, watching a football game on TV and listening to his favorite songs, even the ones I’ve heard a million times. And I can’t imagine walking down the aisle and not being able to dance with him next month. But I look back and smile on the time we had, and I know he will somehow still be close to me on that day. I watch this video often. When I need to see his smile or miss his hug and I am grateful for opportunities taken. I try to live life with no regrets, and love everyone along the way, just as he taught me.
Don’t take life for granted. Dance with your daddy. Call your mom. Have fun and don’t take things too seriously. Life is full of ups and downs, we might as well laugh and enjoy the ride for as long as we can.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Megan Roy of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
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