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Cancer sucks.

IMG_2224Cancer sucks.

No, it’s not the most profound of openings for any kind of an essay but I’ll tell you what: it’s the most child-friendly way of putting it given what my family has seen and experienced the past two years.

During that time we watched as the disease whittled away at my father’s stout, 6’2 frame. It was an illness that took half his lung, his weight, his ability to work, focus on the books he loved reading, the music he loved playing and his overall interaction with the people he loved, including my mother. Ultimately cancer took his life.

Several months have passed since that February morning, when my older brother, Steven, rang me to let me know that our dad had passed away. The days leading up to the funeral were a blur. But after the initial grieving, one of the first and probably the most profound realizations that I came to was this: I wasn’t alone.

Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people have lost their battles with cancer or cancer-related illnesses. My father just happened to be one of the newest names on the list. I also realized that I wasn’t the only one to lose a parent, as so many people have experienced this before. My wife lost her father when she was just a teenager, a horrible experience for any girl during such a crucial time in her life.

So my morning mantra, as I drove into the office every day recalling memories, thinking about the good times with him as well as the bad: “What makes you so special?”

The second most profound realization: We are stronger than we give ourselves credit for.

“Dude, this is the way the world works: you grow up, have kids, watch them grow as you get older and then you die. Repeat the cycle,” said a good friend of mine, explaining the natural order of things. And he was right, the tragedy would be to bury your own child. And in that sense I considered myself lucky.

I am lucky because I had the opportunity to say goodbye. My dad wasn’t tragically taken from me as people very close to me have experienced. My cousin, Kiki, and I were walking back to our cars in a dark hospital parking lot last fall and tried to figure out which way would be the best way to meet our maker: a lightning-quick heart attack like the one his father suffered about five years ago or the grueling, pain-filled route my dad was taking. On the one hand death is quick and merciful. On the other hand there’s some advanced notice with the opportunity to say goodbye, get some closure.

The ultimate consensus was that both options sucked. It’s like choosing which son or daughter is your favorite; there’s just no winning. But there is support out there, glimpses of light like fireflies in the darkness. We get a little stronger every day, both physically and emotionally. We develop a scab to the pus-filled, emotional chaos that comes with putting the pieces back together again after someone so close to you dies. Scabs turn to scars and in time they fade. Kind people are the salve that helps this recovery process. This leads me to my last realization:

People are incredible.

At a time where there are 41 wars going on in the world, jetliners are being shot out of the sky and we’re all facing some kind of adversity in our lives, people still took the time to call or write and provide some kind of encouragement. We kept our father’s death within the confines of our family for the most part but those who did know showed an incredible willingness to be kind. And rather than wallow in a cesspool of sleep deprivation, depression and just an overall funk, it was the little flashes of brilliance in people that I never quite paid attention to before that have helped me. And for this I am more grateful than I can ever express.

At a time when I should have two more books coming out in the next twelve months, I haven’t been able to write a grocery list much less a story or essay. If anything, this piece is both cathartic as well as an opportunity to jump back in the proverbial saddle, if you will. It’s high time to stare at a blank screen again and not be afraid of what comes out of it. But that can’t happen unless I can get this off my chest first.

It’s time to string words and thoughts together and try and make sense of them, craft a story or essay and have the balls to accept any kind of criticism that may come my way.

It’s time to stay up late and not avoid the computer, to explore some new ideas and pretend that I can still bounce them off my old man the next morning and hear his honesty.

It’s time for a new morning mantra, like the one my wife shares with our girls on their way to school: Let’s do this!

She’s right. Let’s freaking do this.