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A Father's Day Request From a Man With Incurable Cancer

My father died from a brain tumor when he was 44. The death certificate says the immediate cause of death was a cerebral hemorrhage, but it was the brain tumor that did it. I’m guessing they did things differently back then, as my father’s death certificate has lots of details my mother’s does not. For example, I knew the date of death was May 26, 1975. I didn’t know the time of death was 8:31 a.m. I do now. I knew he died in Kansas City, but I didn’t know it was at St. Luke’s Hospital on Wornall Road. I do now. And I didn’t know the doctor who certified and signed my dad’s death certificate was H. R. McFarland, M.D. But I do now.

Little details like these really don’t matter. But they do fill in some of the blanks in my sketchy knowledge of my father’s life. It’s a bit like finding a few of the missing pieces to a jigsaw puzzle you’ve been working on for your entire life. It’s not complete yet, but it’s one step closer.

I didn’t know my father as well as I should have. In fact, I really didn’t know him at all. He went away to the hospital and I never saw him again. So gleaning little bits of information like this gives me a sense of loss I hadn’t felt before. Somehow reading a tattered legal document from 44 years ago makes my father feel real to me, not just some vague ghost of a memory. The contrast between the neat, mechanically typewritten pica font and the scribbled signature from the doctor’s hand is striking. It was just another day and another death with the normal routine of forms to be filled and arrangements to be made.

But there was a doctor, Dr. H. R. McFarland, a man completely unknown to me, who cared for my father as he clung to life. And there was a woman, my mother, who was there with her husband, grasping for hope while he was at the precipice of death. She was there when he took his last breath and her heart broke.

Today is Father’s Day, the first Father’s Day since I was diagnosed with incurable cancer. As a person living with cancer, it’s nearly impossible for me not to wonder if it’ll be my last. That’s how living with cancer rolls. However, life must go on. I’m not saying it’s easy, because it’s not. But I don’t consider it a battle, a struggle or a fight. I am not a hero. I’ve simply been dealt a hand that’s less than ideal. You accept it, do what you have to do to stay alive and move on. If there’s any one sentence that sums it up, it has to be this one:

Let me not die while I am still alive.

Cancer is not a gift. I wouldn’t wish cancer on my worst enemy. (Though I’m fairly certain I don’t have one.) But cancer does bring you gifts without itself being a gift. Remember the old adage about how nobody lies on their deathbed wishing they had worked more. Well lying in bed for three months while going through chemo (which feels like a deathbed) really gives you time to ponder those words. The old cliche becomes a reality. And it’s not just work. It’s everything. You can see the glass half full or the glass half empty. That choice is yours. But life truly is short. You just don’t fully realize it until mortality stares you in the face.

So all I want for Father’s Day is more time with my family. More time with my wife. More time with my kids. More time with my friends. More time to use what I’ve learned to help others who need it. But there’s no such thing as more time. Our time is limited. Maybe more limited for some of us than others, but still, time comes in a finite quantity for all of us. You have to use the time you have wisely.

If you only do one thing today, then do this:

If you love someone, then tell them that you do. Tell them right now. And then tell them again.

Okay, that’s two things. But who’s counting?

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Photo by Jeremy Yap on Unsplash