04/24/2015 04:17 pm ET Updated Jun 24, 2015

On 10 Years of Surviving Cancer As a Family

Jim Higley

Dear Kids,

I'm a 10-year cancer survivor today.

Correction. "We're" a 10-year cancer survivor. Today. This journey would have never been the same without you.

The details of that day 10 years ago are etched forever into my head, protected and cataloged unlike any other day in my life. It was the day the circumstances of your father's bad luck stripped you of part of your childhood.

You -- the three of you -- were the first thing in my mind when I hung up the phone after talking to my doctor. A simple biopsy changed everything. And having been the child of a parent with cancer myself many years earlier when Grandma Betty died, I knew there was little I could do to protect you from life's painful realities.

Parents are are diagnosed with cancer every day.

But that day -- 10 years ago now -- it was your parent receiving the diagnosis.

I'm not sure how much you remember from that day. It was a Sunday. Wallis, you were a 13-year-old away at a volleyball tournament in Minnesota with several of your girlfriends. I had been waiting all weekend for you to come home and hear the details of your adventure because, well, sharing details was one of the many things you were good at. A storyteller. An observer. You absorbed every part of every day.

And you two boys -- Kevin and Drew -- you were 15 and 9. Best of friends and worst of enemies all at the same time. Like brothers are. Your passion for sports always pulled you together. And on that particular day, it was your weekly baseball batting practice -- for the two of you -- that rescued me from my doctor's call and kept me from curling up in a ball on the bathroom floor.

Clear as yesterday. The memories are still in my head.

Those memories include sitting down with each one of you. Individually. To share the news. Your reactions were as different as your personalities. Processing what it meant for you.

I had cancer.

And your life had a new malignancy.

Privately, I asked God for a year. Two. Five. OK, truthfully, I begged for 10. Because I wanted to be your father for as long as possible, until each of you became adults. It was a selfish begging. A begging rooted in my personal desire to see each of you grow up. Mature. And step into life.

That's why today is rather special.

10 years.

3,652 days I've treasured:

  • I've watched you graduate high school -- with an understanding that, while grades matter, it's your character that's the real measurement of success;
  • We've done many a prom. Mastering budgets, fashions and rules. And embracing a trust that each of you earned during that right of passage;
  • We've loved a dog. Or two;
  • We've become Facebook friends;
  • With a couple "unfriends" for good measure;
  • You've let me tag along as you discovered your "right" college. I treasured that. Seeing the fire and excitement in your eyes when the stars and moon aligned;
  • We've group texted;
  • And selfied;
  • And suffered deeply at times;
  • Together;
  • We've done Disney;
  • And braces;
  • And driver's ed;
  • Wisdom teeth;
  • And contacts;
  • And words that should have been left unsaid;
  • We've mastered school shopping;
  • And bow ties;
  • And cheered on national champs;
  • We've kept traditions;
  • Found traditions;
  • And discovered new ones along the way;
  • We've seen and traveled the world.
  • But always come back to my favorite place. The place where we are just -- together.

10 years.

3,652 days during which you morphed into young adults.

3,652 mornings for me of waking up with gratitude. And a love unmatched by any love I have. For you.


If you know of a child touched by a parent's cancer, I hope that you'll learn more about Camp Kesem, a national nonprofit supporting children through and beyond their parent's cancer. They provide free summer camps for children -- and a lifelong community of support.

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