Today is a special day in my family’s world, for today we celebrate my dad’s birthday. And reflect on many life lessons from Dad. Despite cancer taking him many years ago, his love and advice still influence me in my daily life.
It’s been 15 years since his death and I miss him every day. So many family moments he’s missed, so many questions I want to ask. His absence was especially gaping this year as I faced my third cancer. There were so many moments during this recent diagnosis and treatment that I wanted my dad’s arms enveloping me in a hug or his steady presence telling me that life would be ok.
My dad was diagnosed with advanced multiple myeloma less than a year after my bone cancer diagnosis. Our treatments overlapped for a few months. Over the next six years, he went into remission, relapsed, remission, a repeating pattern (thanks to research finding new treatment options) until new treatment options ran out and his body grew too tired. I admittedly struggled with survivor’s guilt for years, and still get waves of it at times (read this post). But life has a way of moving on.
Much of what I do in the cancer advocacy world is in honor of my dad. Research provided new treatment options to keep him alive for six years past a heart-wrenching diagnosis. He wanted me to continue to fight, sharing his story when necessary, to help others. I’m so proud to be his daughter and share stories of his resilience, love and strength.
He was a wonderful dad. Yes, he was at times too strict, overbearing and embarrassing. Yet my sisters and I also never doubted his love, support, protectiveness and pride. My dad died much too young at 56. Yet in that life he positively impacted many, especially his daughters.
While he shared much advice and direction with my sisters and me, these four life lessons from Dad often stand out:
Live without regrets. This was a lesson my dad stressed to me. I used to be shy and not very open with my emotions. Being diagnosed at 21 with my first cancer and then watching my dad open up during his cancer journey pushed me to change. And I’m glad that I did. No one knows where life will take us, or quite frankly when it will end. I’m a three-time cancer survivor. I can’t begin to explain how much gratitude I feel to be alive. My struggle now is balancing appreciating every day with not feeling the “don’t waste a moment” pressure. I don’t want to look back and think I wish I would have said or done this. So take a risk – open your heart to an unexpected love, try a new activity, tell someone how you feel, choose a new career, say yes to that adventure. Maybe things won’t work out the way you hope. But you won’t wonder ‘what if’ and you’ll have the experience and lesson to lead you to something new. And maybe things will work in your favor and this unplanned path will lead you to all sorts of great outcomes full of love, happiness and more!
Help others as often as you can. I was thankfully raised by two parents who often helped others, believing even small acts of kindness add up. It offered a guiding principle that certainly led to much of the direction of my professional and personal paths. I recall driving in downtown Detroit with my dad when I was young and seeing a small group of homeless men huddled outside of a building. It was a cold, fall morning. We were suddenly in the drive thru of a nearby McDonald’s, loading up on bags of hot food and coffee, which he proceeded to distribute to the group. It was more telling that a few of them recognized my dad as they thanked him. When I questioned this, he blew it off saying that everyone can do something. This could be buying food or coats, writing emails to legislators for causes, cooking meals for a neighbor, collecting items for a classroom or anything that can provide a little ease and comfort to others (turns out that he distributed food multiple times).
Don’t shy away from love in unexpected people or expect perfect timing. Talking about love with my dad was at first was a funny lesson coming from a man who didn’t easily share his feelings. I remember saying I might need to rethink my Prince Charming criteria after breaking up with a college boyfriend. My dad said absolutely, you never know who will tap your heart. He asked my mom out several times before she said yes. He was getting out of a relationship and various other factors provided roadblocks. And yet, he couldn’t imagine letting her walk out of his life and never seeing her again. They were right for each other. So they trusted and set aside doubts and others’ opinions. And obviously I’m glad he did pursue my mom. 🙂 Love may not fit the person or situation you expected in your mind, it may not come at the ‘best time,’ so open your heart without fear. It may end up the greatest decision because if nothing else, you felt love.
Get out of your comfort zone, believe in yourself and go after what you want. This was an area that my dad admitted he wished he would have done more of. And an area I’m pushing myself to better, and more frequently, embrace. My dad always believed in my sisters and me, no matter what goal we set. Much appreciated considering how much self doubt I had as a kid. I still struggle at times as an adult. It can be unnerving to step into the unknown. You have to sometimes ignore the doubters, even when that includes yourself, and focus on what you want, no matter how big or small. It may not be easy. But do it. Whether it’s the dream of opening your own business, writing a book, going on a big trip, sharing your feelings with someone, switching careers, leaving a relationship, whatever it may be – do it. For yourself. Because go back to #1 – live without regrets.
Today, and every day, I hope these lessons from dad help guide you. I hope you trust in yourself, seek joy and love, and feel gratitude at being alive.