Today is my dad’s birthday. My family and I will toast him and celebrate him. He should have been 63 years old.
My dad died from multiple myeloma in July 2004. Diagnosed in 1998, he was given three months to live. We said absolutely not. My mom became a defensive linebacker in the fight against my dad’s cancer, seeking out the best doctors who understood his cancer. We lucked out and found an oncologist at Henry Ford Hospital who fought alongside my family.
My family was experienced in fighting cancer – I was still finishing my own treatment for osteosarcoma (bone cancer) when Dad was diagnosed. An eery feeling will always accompany thoughts of that time. My cancer diagnosis stunned my family and me. While both my parents had lost their fathers years earlier, it was the first real crisis our very close family encountered.
Not long after my diagnosis, my dad held my hand and said he prayed that he could take my cancer away, protect me as dads protect their little girls. I admit his words made my blood run cold and freaked me out. I hated having cancer, felt scared and exhausted most days, but I would never put this disease on anyone I loved or remotely liked. Twice more, Dad told me those words, that he prayed and wished he had the power to take my cancer and protect me. By the third time, I got mad at him and made him promise to never say those words aloud again. A few months later, I sat on my best friend’s bed listening to my mom crying in the phone that the tests came back positive for multiple myeloma.
I know my dad didn’t possess magical powers, that his words didn’t pull the cancer from my body and go into his. The logical side of my brain knows all this. And even if it was possible, we had different cancers. Yet I admit there is a small part of me that will forever wish he never spoke those words. The daughter in me who misses her dad daily wants him to take back those words and believe that his cancer never would have come.
His cancer came and went for 6 years after his diagnosis. Misdiagnosed almost the entire time I was being treated (he was told it was exhaustion from having a daughter ill), doctors discovered my dad’s cancer very late stage. He battled this disease for more than 6 years, undergoing two bone marrow transplants, two heart surgeries to replace valves, dialysis and a host of other things. In July 2004, he decided he had enough. No more treatments, no more prescriptions, no more pain. His terms. Like the proud man he always was, so too was his death.
Today is my dad’s birthday. I remember and miss him daily. Many others do too.
He was a loving dad to his three daughters. It was admittedly easy to wrap him around our finger with a smile or hug. 🙂 You always felt protected and loved. He was a husband to my mom for almost 35 years – they loved and respected each other and I often pray for a marriage like theirs. He was a grandfather, son, friend and much more.
He was quiet, smart, sarcastic and funny. He loved practical jokes. Many a friend can share a funny story related to my dad. He had an amazing work ethic and never hesitated to put in extra hours to get a job done. He respected loyalty and trust. He always kept his word and never failed to follow through on a promise.
No, he was not perfect. He was stubborn. He made my sisters and me follow rules and mind our curfew. He was sometimes too conservative, at times didn’t care at all what people thought and other times too bossy. But people loved him. My sisters and I loved him. My mom loved him.
I remember one of my final conversations with my dad before his death. It will forever stay with me. He said how proud he was that I embraced being a survivor, that I didn’t let it stop me. He reminded me to stand tall and help others, but also never forget to live life and love with your whole heart. He also said that he didn’t feel like cancer had won – he had lived many more years than he was supposed to have, and he knew that my family and I would carry on. I think he would be proud of our accomplishments. My family members are great advocates for cancer survivors. They raise money for cancer research and education. They defend and support rights of cancer survivors. They never stop living. I am proud of them.
I have learned much in the past 12 years as a cancer survivor, from my dad and from many others who have passed through my life. Life is never to be taken for granted. Little things, like feeling the warm sun upon your face or picking up the phone to tell your mom some good news, mean much more.
I wake every morning and feel gratitude for being able to embrace a new day filled with potential for greatness and happiness. Too often we hold grudges or fret about circumstances in the past, or are eager for what tomorrow may bring. We forget to appreciate the people and life we have now. So spend time with your nieces and nephew. Remember to hug your mom. Laugh with your friends. Tell your boyfriend you love him. Read that book. Today.
Today I raise a glass to my dad to celebrate his life and the legacy that he left behind. He will forever be in our hearts.
Donald Leroy Hall Jr
Forever my dad, my hero.