My father was first diagnosed when I was in 5th grade. I was young and naïve, and it started in the bottom of his foot, so I really never thought that it was serious. It just looked like he broke his foot because he was in a weird cast and had crutches. He never lost his personality and still looked like the strong man that I knew and looked up to. After about two minor surgeries, they removed the cell in the bottom of his foot. It was gone and I thought that was end of it forever. My dad was always a strong, hardheaded man. When he was 16, his mother died in a head-on car accident and, literally, the next day his father left him and moved to Colorado. He was taken in by the assistant coach of his high school basketball team, who was the most important man in my dad’s life and still plays a huge role in mine and my sibling’s life. My father went on to sell cemetery land at age 20 and then started his own business. He worked hard for what we have, and he could have easily quit then, but he never did.
The cancer made a reappearance when I was a senior I high school. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was playing baseball and my dad would often wince and leave games early, which would never, ever happen. This time was a lot worse. He was in placed in the hospital for treatments and surgeries and had to have is lymph nodes removed. This was a lot more real to me because I was 18 years old and understood every bit of what was going on. The one thing that I remember most of all was how close my siblings and I were throughout this whole process. We obviously had never been through this, but we held each other up and never let our father know that we were struggling. Which we were. There were countless times when we would cry – cry to each other, cry to our friends or just cry in general. I never once doubted that he would beat it again, but this time it took a toll on me a lot more than it did when I was in 8th grade.
I had never really been to a hospital before my dad was diagnosed with cancer. If I ever got sick or injured I would go to the children’s hospital, but that was nothing like a real hospital where people are fighting for their life day-in and day-out. I absolutely hated it, and still do. I was in Emory Hospital visiting my dad two to three times a week for about six months, and every time I walked in that place, it just gave me the heebie-jeebies. It smelled of latex gloves and cheap, shitty air fresheners through the hallways; it was awful. The worst part was that I would walk past the hospital rooms, not the one my father was in, and take a glance inside the open doors and see literally anything that was going on. You don’t want to look, but you’re going to look.
Fortunately, my dad’s hospital room was nice and the nurses who took care of him were better than we could ever imagine. In fact, my siblings and father’s close friends opened a foundation in my father’s name donating to the nurses at Emory Hospital called Spirit of Spo Foundation. The foundation raises money for the nurses at Emory Hospital to pursue educational aspirations in the melanoma field. We have two events a year, one golf event and one casino night, both things my dad would have loved. Carrying on, I found myself in my dad’s hospital room more than I found myself in my own house. I remember nights when he wouldn’t want me to leave so I would sleep on the tiny couch right next to him. It is the small things that meant the most to him.
Not only did my dad have his children that were always there for him, but his group of friends are unlike any in this world. I always thought that I had great friends until I met my dad’s. They were in his hotel room causing mayhem all the time making him laugh and keeping his spirits high when it seemed like no one else could. There was one time when his best buddy, Red, brought in an empty bottle of Absolut and taped it up to the hangar next to my dad’s bed with a tube running to my dad’s arm to replace the real IV with vodka. It was a riot! The doctors, however, were not as amused as us.
The most difficult times of my life was second semester of sophomore year at USC. My dad visited me out of nowhere sometime in March and relayed the news to my sister and I that the cancer was back, but this time it was a lot worse. He promised us he would never give up but the doctors told him he had a mere four months to live. Imagine that. Your father tells you at 19 that he might not make it through the summer. I was crushed. I did not know what to do. I told him I would drop out for the time being and spend every waking moment with him at the hospital or wherever he was. He assured me he was OK and we settled on me driving back to Atlanta every weekend from Thursday to Sunday.
I had no problem with the three and half hour-drive. My grades at the time had a problem with it, but I could not have cared less. One thing I learned about cancer is that shit works fast. In March, my dad was walking around, talking, still working and doing everything normal. In April, he could not walk to the bathroom with my brother or me helping him there.
June 3, 2015 my father passed away from cancer. Obviously, it hurt, but something about him not being in pain anymore was relieving—not having to watch him suffer through easy things and watch him lose weight at a record pace. The proudest I have ever been was when I wrote a eulogy for my father at his funeral. I was shaking like a leaf and barely got through it, but I did it and I ended it with the quote that he lived by while going through cancer, “Dream as if you’ll live forever, live as if you’ll die today.”
I have things that constantly remind me of my dad on a day-to-day basis, like when I get a Chicago Cubs alert and want to talk to him about how good the baseball team is going to be. Or when I am bored heading to class in the morning, he was always my first call to wake me and me the spark I needed to take on the day. He was an incredible man, and the impact he left on this world will never be forgotten, especially with his kids and friends. The one thing that upsets me the most is that he will never have a chance to meet his beautiful grandchildren. And even more than that, walk his daughter down the aisle one day to give her away to another man. Good news is, he has two strapping young sons that will walk her down the aisle and make sure she’s going into great hands.