When I was in 5th grade, I remember being in the kitchen after dinner and my parents asking my brother and me to come sit on the couch with them. That’s when they told us. My dad had colon cancer. At the time I was young, but I knew what cancer was. I knew how serious it was, but they told me that everything was going to be okay, so I believed them. He soon started chemo. Every week my mom and dad would make trips up to John’s Hopkins to receive the treatment. For a while, everything was going well, but the cancer kept spreading. A few months later, he was admitted into the hospital, and then another month later passed away. Whenever someone asks me to think of a hard time in my life, or a really sad time, this is the only time that ever pops up into my head. As the oldest, I had not only known my dad the longest, but I now felt as if I had a bigger responsibility to help my mom, brother and sister.
Growing up, it was always fun to see the reactions on people’s faces when they found out that my dad was an astronaut. Everyone’s next question was always if he had been to space. Yes, three times actually. My Dad was an explorer, an engineer, a pilot and a true contributor to world progress and innovation. But most of all, he was my dad. It has been six years now since he passed away. Perceptions of moments with my father have not been changed by the years. There are things that I have forgotten, that I wish I did not, but certain things will always remain.
Whenever I feel like I’m facing a hard situation - getting up for my 8 am class, studying for a midterm, or dealing with everyday things, I think back to my dad. Think back to memories of him and of his dedication even throughout his chemo treatments. This memory always helps me get through whatever that tough problem may be, because life could be so much worse. A man with so much determination and modesty could still run 4 miles every morning and then get treatment in the afternoon, so little things should not bother me.
Since I’ve been at UVA, I find myself thinking of my dad more than ever. In a different place, on my own, away from everything familiar, deciding what I want to do for the rest of my life. All I want to do is sit down and have him tell me exactly what to do, giving me his thoughtful words of wisdom and sharing his wonderful stories.
This is one of the reasons why I love Relay For Life at UVA and Exec board. We all have come together for a cause that is so important to each and every one of us. Every single person has a story, has been affected, and knows the pains cancer brings in some way. Together, we can fight back.
We can question all we want - why things happen, how cancer could take someone so incredible, but cancer has no preference. That’s where we come in - to raise awareness about early detection, find new treatments, find a cure and BEAT cancer.
My dad once said in a speech: "Having a dream and working hard to achieve it, and then doing so, is very rewarding. It is even more rewarding if the realization of your dreams benefits not just you, but other individuals, or your community or country. So make a contribution along the way -- to your fellow citizens, your country, or the world. Make the fact that you exist meaningful to the world. Make a difference."
Relay for Life is one of those many contributions I hope to make along the way. I relay to make a difference. I relay to fight for something so important to me. I relay for all of the dads, moms, and families. I relay in memory and in honor. I relay to celebrate, to remember, and to fight back.
With Relay Love,