Life After Cancer.

In an alternate universe this morning my future husband would be cooking a huge breakfast in a large house in Blue River Colorado. All of my bridesmaids would be chattering excitedly about hair styles and lip colors, clutching Yeti tumblers I got them for being in the wedding party. The men would be flipping bacon, turning eggs, and pouring mimosas while my dad read a book in the study. We would be getting married that evening in the back of the mansion we rented over looking the mountains. In my alternate universe I would be hopping in a beautiful dress and holding back tears as my dad conducted a ceremony for us. Trevor and I would run off to a lake to take photos with some of my best friends in the industry, while our beautiful dinner was laid out on the porch. 

We should be getting married today. 

But in reality I am sitting on my couch clutching a coffee with too much creamer in Liberty Missouri. Trevor is watching a home renovation show and June is defuzzing a tennis ball under my recliner. Today we are still wearing our beautiful wedding bands, but we are no where near where we thought we would be. A lot of people say “life is funny like that” in reference to situations they could not control or outcomes that are radically different than their expectations. 

Well I’m not laughing quite yet. But I want to be. 

My last blog post was meant to be informative. I wanted to clear up the thousands of questions that people were having surrounding my fathers passing and give it a familiar voice. And I think a lot of people were happy to read it. I received tons of thank you messages and comments appreciating the explanation and adding background to a situation that did not make sense to a lot of people. There did seem to be some thoughts that I wanted to say but couldn’t find a place for them in the first post, so that is what this blog post is for.

First a life lesson. 

This feels like I am conducting a meeting at work where no one wants to hear the first part and are just waiting for the second part, but I have to start with the rough stuff first and then finish up with the happy. We have debated on whether or not we wanted to say ANYTHING about this, but dad was an educator and if we can educate someone on how this situation made us feel, then we felt like we needed to do it. It came to our attention that there were some people who came to Dad’s celebration of life when they didn’t really know him and then proceeded to post about him on social media. As a life lesson coming from someone who is actually walking this path, if you didn’t personally love the person who passed or their family members, please don’t post on social media about your loss when others have truly lost everything. We organized EVERYTHING we did during this time to avoid dad becoming a spectacle, because he was so much more than that and when we hear that there are facebook posts about him, claiming it was someone else’s loss, it makes it feel like a media circus that we have no control over. To those people, we genuinely feel bad for you that you weren’t close with dad because it was an absolute privilege, and we are even more sorry that you won’t get the chance to be closer with him. 

On life after cancer. 

Right after we found out that dad was sick we started organizing Trevor and I’s wedding. The doctor wanted to know when was the earliest that we could get married, to which I told him that I was booked until the end of December. He encouraged us to find another date, a decision we would ultimately thank him for. We remembered that we had our annual family vacation planned for Colorado in July, which at the time was 8 weeks away. When we made that decision we sat on our front porch eating ice cream talking about what houses we wanted to rent, what dad would wear and say, and how we would ask our bridal party to join us. 

This moment is one that I reach back to quite often after his passing. It was a beautiful night and the mosquitos had not emerged for the season yet. We volleyed ideas back and forth among our family members, scraping the bottom of our ice cream bowls. It truly was perfect. That night while Trevor was playing fetch with June outside I ran up to my room and dug out my Mole Skin Notebook that I take with me on vacations, and began journalling about my relationship with Trevor, hoping that I would flush out some good portions that could be used for my vows. I finished up a few pages and laid it back on my night stand next to the passport cover my dad had made me for Trevor and I’s trip to Europe. Inside the leather cover he had written, “No matter where you go kiddo, your heart is home with us.” I sat back in bed for a while, but felt pulled to open up the book back up. I flipped to a random page, a decision I am sure will come back to bite me in the ass one day, and wrote at the top, “Life Lessons My dad Taught Me.” 

Our first night back in our house after dad’s passing I stared at the notebook in fear. It had come to represent a lot of dreams that no longer carried light. I finally got the courage to open the book back up, and the more I read the list, the more I thought dad would love for everyone else to read it. Dad loved imparting wisdom, and although some of them aren’t factually helpful (see “God only made a few perfect heads the rest he covered with hair”) some of them really are. I can hear him saying right now, “Even a blind squirrel finds a nut every once and a while” 

Here are the things that my dad taught me. 

1.) Strawberries are sweeter when grown at your own home. 

2.) Real whipped cream never comes from the store in a can. 

3.) Graves don’t quit. 

4.) Girls should learn to do real pushups. 

5.) Just like in baseball, don’t take your eye off the block of wood you are chopping. 

6.) Blue raspberry stalks aren’t defective they are maturing for the next year. 

7.) Hard work beats talent when talent refuses to work hard. (He may have stolen this one but I’ll give it to him.) 

8.) You are never too old to receive a toy on Christmas. (He favored nerf guns and remote controlled toys.) 

9.) Some cats just don’t like one hand pets, go for two hand scratches on the neck.  

10.) Religion and faith are different. 

11.) Never throw away leather Birkenstock’s, just have them resoled. 

12.) Build your fire with twigs and balled up news paper at the bottom and large logs on top. (News paper articles that cover the Jayhawks burn quicker and hotter so burn them first.) 

13.) When you get to a hotel on vacation make sure to walk around your block. 

14.) You always need an up to date print Atlas map. 

15.) Stack hay bales on their sides. 

16.) God only made a few perfect heads the rest he covered with hair. 

17.) There is time for a museum trip on every vacation. 

18.) You always need one good Hawaiian Shirt. 

When we first learned dad was sick I sought out counsel from other women I knew had gone through this, and one of the most common answers I got from people who had lived this was that there is a life after cancer no matter what. While I wanted to believe that life would include dad I knew there was a possibility that it wouldn’t. That possibility balled in up in the back of my throat, it caught in my chest, and it sat hard in my stomach like a rock. 

But here we are. 

The house is quiet, the dying flowers are all in the compost, and we have taken all of the photos of dad upstairs. We ran out of freezer meals a while ago and all of our friends have moved back to their homes. We still get messages and calls from them frequently, but for the most part it has been us enjoying our time together and trying to navigate new waters. One of the things we have talked a lot about is what life after cancer is going to look like for us and what dad would want it to look like for us. And it might be different than what it looks like for other people. 

So for us, you will see us travel a lot. At the celebration of life ceremony people remarked to us that we had been so many places reflected in the pictures on the slide show. I would look up in-between guests and see dad smiling down in front the mountains, in front of the grand canyon, on the beach, and grinning maniacally at the pawn shop from Pawn Stars. It may not be typical of a family in mourning but we feel most like ourselves when we are traveling. One of the best things my dad ever said to me is “How can you think you know anything if you spend your whole life in one spot?” So expect to see us in many spots. We are going to try and live life as fully as possible because the reality that time is short is all to real for us now. We are going to be protective of one another because we feel bruised and beat up by this whole process. We are just going to live a life we think dad would be proud of. We are going to try and encourage everyone around us to love their people a bit harder and a bit longer for us. The thought that we could be encouraging love in other families in dad’s honor delights us to no end. Love them for us, and for dad. 

When he was in the hospital, after receiving the bad news, a flood of fraternity brothers was descending on the hospital and we left it up to him whether or not he wanted guests. He was always groggy but perked up at the sound of seeing his brothers and said, “Sure we played hard and partied hard. Send them in.” 

Not only will that be on his tombstone, but it will be joined by “Live Large and Love a lot” and that is what we intend to do. 

I don’t think this post is as poetic or organized as my last one, but it does contain a lot of things that I wanted to say. I hope you are done reading and feel like dad is still imparting good and not so good wisdom.  I hope you go and give hugs that last a little longer to your people. I hope you get out and see the world and think of dad just a little bit, as cliché as it sounds. I hope you learned a little something about how to be kind to a family during their time of mourning. 

That’s all I have for now. Until next time,