The First Time I Saw My Dad Cry
Topic: Announcement, Hide on Homepage, Real Talk: Survivor, Patient & Family Stories, Your Source for Breaking News & Inspirational Stories
There was truly no one like my dad. He was everyone’s “go-to guy;” he was the best problem-solver and counselor, and he never let my two older sisters, my mom, and me down. He and my mom were childhood sweethearts who had been together since they were 15 and were each other’s one and only. He was equally selfless and devoted to his three daughters; when we all got married and moved to a different part of Long Island from where we grew up, my parents decided to move right near us so they could spend more time with their nine grandchildren, who affectionately referred to my dad as PopPop.
My dad was diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2016 and was successfully treated for it. We thought his cancer was completely behind us. Then, two years later, he was having a lot of stomach pain and doctors insisted it was a hernia. During his hernia surgery, the doctors realized it wasn’t a hernia at all; he had pancreatic cancer that had metastasized, and his abdomen was filled with fluid due to the advanced disease.
My dad was just 69 when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and he had no family history of the disease. Our close-knit family was absolutely distraught and didn’t even know how to process this life-changing news. I will never forget the pain of seeing my dad cry for the first time in my life, understanding how he might not survive.
My dad’s quality of life was very impacted by this horrible disease, and he had to reluctantly take pain medication for the first time. He underwent chemotherapy treatment, but it unfortunately didn’t help. On January 10, 2019, within 100 days of his diagnosis—and just 10 days after he reluctantly stopped working at his law practice—I lost my dad, my kids lost their PopPop, and my entire family lost a piece of themselves. As much as I miss him every day, I felt peace after he passed, grateful he wouldn’t be in pain anymore and ready for our family to start the healing process.
I miss bantering back and forth with my dad, and I miss his sound judgment and how well he knew me. He even found the perfect house for my husband and me after a discouraging house search, and it’s become our forever home with our three children. And, when I really miss his voice, I play a voicemail message he left years ago telling me how wonderful my oldest daughter is!
My family knew nothing would make my dad happier than if we kept living our lives and being the tight family unit he always nurtured. My mom, my children, and my sisters’ children spend so much time together, and as long as the kids are having fun with each other, it’s hard to be sad. We have so much “good chaos” in our life!
One of the most important lessons I learned from my dad was to not only believe in the power of research but also to advance it. In 1994, my dad’s brother passed away from AIDS, and we spent so much time during our childhood donating to this cause and being involved in any way we could, in memory of my uncle. It’s incredible to look at all of the progress that’s been made against AIDS and how research advancements have changed the lives of so many people faced with it.
I want to have this same kind of impact specifically on pancreatic cancer and help support the science that will extend patients’ lives and give them a better quality of life. That’s why when a friend’s mom passed away from pancreatic cancer, I was eager to honor her memory by joining my friend and other friends of ours at Lustgarten’s Long Island Walk for Pancreatic Cancer Research. It was such a heartfelt, cathartic experience, and knowing 100% of all donations support research makes me even more motivated to do whatever I can to make research progress as quickly as possible.
When the COVID lockdown struck, I discovered running was the best outlet for me to clear my head, laugh, and even cry. I challenged myself to run 10 miles, which I know would have made my dad laugh because I never enjoyed or excelled at the sport! All of the money I raised from the run would support Lustgarten’s research on early detection and new treatments. On the day of my run, I felt like my dad was right there running beside me. I had mapped out a 10-mile route, and I was so excited my family was there to encourage me and cheer me on. I ended up receiving the ultimate sign of love and gratitude from him; I ran 10.12 miles, and his birthday was October 12th! I was thrilled that I raised $11,000 through my run.
Then, in 2023, I decided to run again. This time, my husband and I participated in a 13.1-mile half-marathon—my longest run ever—again to raise money for Lustgarten’s pancreatic cancer research initiatives. To date, we’ve raised nearly $26,000! For anyone who is hesitant to start an event, I recommend finding what you’re passionate about and using social media to share your story and your need for donations. People inherently like to support meaningful causes and need to feel connected, and through social media, my childhood friends have supported me because they knew my dad, my friends from adulthood who have a connection to me have donated, and I’ve used LinkedIn to share my message with former colleagues, who have generously donated as well.
I would do anything to find a cure for pancreatic cancer or at a minimum a way to treat patients and extend their quality of life. I urge everyone impacted by pancreatic cancer to please continue to donate in support of the Lustgarten Foundation because the research they are funding is producing real results in the pursuit of a cure. I believe one day in the not-too-distant future we will see impactful changes for everyone fighting this disease, and until then, I will continue to advocate for this disease and honor my dad’s memory.