Beating Cancer with Panache

A couple years ago my dad celebrated his 70th birthday in a basement Irish pub with pints of Guinness, a shot of Jameson, and a band that played well into the early morning. My brother and I flew home from opposite coasts to celebrate with him.

Dad had just returned from Ragbrai, riding his bike across the state of Iowa—an event in which you dip your rear wheel in the Missouri and your front wheel in the Mississippi when you finish. And for those 468 miles in between, you ride through Iowa’s hilly, corn-filled landscape and stop for beers, to camp, and to listen to live music. (If you are sensing a theme here, you are right.)

My dad has a heart with no limits, and a sense of humor so key that he wins Cards Against Humanity every time he plays it. He is a good man, in every sense of the word, and I know this in my being—like I know that the sky is blue and the ocean is approximately one mile from my front door.

He’s the guy who gets up when someone needs a seat. He’s the guy who walks all the way across the airport to thank someone in uniform. He’s a legend who played rugby well into his early forties, hauling my family to matches in Colorado. I grew up with a lot of “uncles,” sweaty, mustached rugby-playing men who smelled of canned beer and had the best laughs ever. He’s forgiving. He’s curious about life. He has a twinkle in his eye and a sense of joie de vivre.

My dad is my Achilles heel.

I remember the night my parents called with the news. I know “news” and I immediately knew that what was coming was nothing I wanted to hear. I was 23 years old and thought I knew it all. I didn’t.

He had prostate cancer.

I remember that next day I promptly took a day off work while he kept up with his life as is, saying the Rosary, hitting the gym, and having happy hour on the back patio with my mom. His spirits were high, his positivity almost more stressful than if he was mad.

It was a serious roller coaster of a year. My dad was diagnosed, my best friend’s mother passed away suddenly, and then my grandma.

Rather than deal with it I bought a Vespa, an English bulldog, and took a trip to Dubai with the money my grandma left me. Impulsive? Oh, certainly. Did my dad approve of me living life by the seat of my pants? Mostly yes.

I am so grateful to tell you my father celebrated his 72nd birthday this past August. And he’s in Ireland right now with my mom, having switched to an international phone plan so he could call my brother and I from the pub. He’s been in remission for eight years and his thirst for life has never been so great.

Dad, you inspire me more than you will ever, ever know. Cheers.