[Reposted with the permission of the very talented business/marketing writer Marianne Worley, consultant at The Essay Expert. This poignant story was originally posted on her blog, Marketing Matters and Other Stories. I didn’t even have to think before asking her if I could post it to The Essay Expert’s blog on Memorial Day.]

The day was Monday, April 21, 2008. My phone rang just after 9pm. I checked the caller ID–it was my brother Nolan. Instinctively, I knew something was wrong, very wrong.

My Dad had been in an accident and was being taken to a hospital about 20 miles north of my house. We didn’t know anything more. I quickly got dressed, jumped in my car, and hit the gas pedal. About 5 minutes later, my brother called again. Now Dad was being transported by helicopter to the much larger hospital just a few miles from my house. I got off the freeway and drove back the other way.

My brother, sister-in-law, and I arrived at the hospital around the same time. The helicopter was still in flight, so we staked out seats in the busy emergency room to wait, still perplexed about what had happened to our Dad.

After my stepmom and sister rushed in, we learned the whole story. My Dad usually came home from work around 5 or 6, so when it started to get dark and he still wasn’t home, my stepmom picked up the phone to make some increasingly frantic calls.

My Dad was notorious for sporadically answering cell calls. As a contractor, he was constantly breaking and losing mobile phones. She wasn’t surprised when he didn’t answer, so she dialed his friends and clients. He had left the job site hours earlier, but no one knew where he was.

My stepmom and sister decided to drive to the job site to look for him. They found his empty work truck on the side of the road with the driver’s side door open. They called 911 and nearby friends who could help with the search. There was a small creek parallel to the road with a steep bank covered in thick, muddy vegetation. My athletic sister charged down the hill and found him lying unconscious in the creek, pale and covered with dirt.

The paramedics pulled him up on a rescue stretcher and loaded him into the helicopter. This process doesn’t take a few minutes, like it does on TV and in the movies. The rescue actually took more than an hour.

The helicopter finally arrived, but still we knew nothing about his condition. We assumed it was a stroke, or something similar. When they finally let us in to see him, we discovered that he had suffered some sort of episode, possibly a seizure, and was experiencing pronounced weakness on one side of his body. It looked like a stroke, but he was stable. So they admitted him and scheduled an MRI for the next morning.

The following day, the doctors confirmed that the MRI results showed that it looked like a stroke. We felt relieved. We knew a brain tumor would be a much more deadly diagnosis. But they still wanted to get a new MRI, with contrast, the next day to be sure.

On Wednesday, April 23, 2008, our lives changed forever. The new MRI showed that it wasn’t a stroke–it was a brain tumor. They called in a neurosurgeon for a consultation. My education in neurology commenced that day. I carried a notebook at all times. I scribbled down details from the doctors during the day and did online research at night.

Over the next 7 months, my Dad had a biopsy and was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme, the most aggressive form of brain cancer. Our doctor decided to treat with radiation and chemotherapy, not surgery. I knew that without surgery, the 6-month survival rate was almost zero. When I pressed him, he said he could do the surgery if we got a second opinion from one of the neurosurgeons he recommended.

After many phone calls, I got an appointment with one of the top experts in the country at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles. The neurosurgeon just needed to see my Dad’s (now enormous) medical file, along with all of his MRI results. We got his opinion, and my Dad had surgery to remove the tumor. Although the surgery was successful, he still needed radiation and chemo to stave off regrowth, which is incredibly common.

I researched clinical trials and spoke to doctors at UCLA and UC San Francisco. My Dad didn’t qualify for any trials and his prognosis was grave. By September, the tumor was back, bigger than before. We tried some experimental chemo drugs, but nothing helped. My Dad wasted away before our eyes, until we finally called in hospice care in November.

On December 3rd, the hospice nurse told us that the end was near, so we gathered together to say goodbye. We stayed up pretty late, but finally succumbed to our own fatigue and reluctantly went to bed.

Just before 4:30am, I awoke suddenly and sat bolt upright. I went downstairs and the nurse told me she had just checked on my Dad–he was still hanging in there. When I went to his bedside, I touched his hands and face. I didn’t think he was breathing, so I woke up my stepmom, who had decided to take a quick nap just minutes before.

He was gone. We all gathered around his bed and cried again.

A week or so later, my sister Whitney and I, always the Daddy’s-Little-Girl types, decided to get tattoos to celebrate our Dad’s life. She got an elegant “W” and I got an infinity sign with a “W” in the middle. Worley forever.

My Dad was never called to battle in Vietnam, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t fight a war. So on this Memorial Day, I remember all who have fallen in war, including the continuing war on cancer.

I haven’t met anyone who hasn’t been touched in some way by cancer. The next time you’re thinking about making a cash donation to a charity, please consider one of the organizations in the fight against cancer, including the American Brain Tumor Association.

Thanks for reading this very personal story. I’m sharing it because it shaped who I am today. Many thanks to my fellow blogger The JackB–his post from yesterday inspired me to write this.

I haven’t met anyone who hasn’t been touched in some way by cancer. The next time you’re thinking about making a cash donation to a charity, please consider one of the organizations in the fight against cancer, including the American Brain Tumor Association.


  1. What a beautiful story. I too lost my dad to cancer and as I read your words, I could feel myself going through the same feelings, thoughts and anguish. God bless your father and your family. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

        • Hi Alejandra! If you are standing on top of the snow, in snow shoes or skis for instance, you would be standing on the snow. If you are waist-deep in snow you would be standing in the snow. Or if you are in a snowstorm you would be in the snow. I hope that helps!

          • Awesome that helps a lot! Could you help me with another question?
            Which of these is correct? Or what do they mean?
            count with me
            count on me

          • Count on me means you can rely on me. Count with me would mean something like count to 10 with me!

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