Rowing for My Dad
How my dad’s promise to see me compete in rowing gave me hope during his cancer journey.
My dad promised me he was going to come and see me row.
And after all he had been through with facing cancer, I knew I needed to fulfill my end of the bargain.
If he was making it through, then I needed to as well.
A chance to row
At the time, I was attending college in my hometown of Orlando, Florida.
I competed in cross country as a freshman at Young Harris College in Georgia but when I transferred to the University of Central Florida as a junior, I was invited to try out for crew—something I had never done before.
Amazingly, I made the team. Every day, I would get up at 5 a.m. for practices, go to class and then attend afternoon practices, too. I loved the challenge of competing in a new sport at the Division 1 level.
Yet when my dad was diagnosed with cancer, it threatened to upend everything in my life—and also that of my family.
A new journey
After a series of tests and an eventual hospital stay, doctors discovered my dad had acute myeloid leukemia. Left untreated, this cancer would prove fatal. Even with treatment, survival rates were only a few years.
I knew there was a chance my dad could die, and it was scary, but I was trying not to let my whole world fall apart.
I told my coaches about my dad’s cancer, and how my capacity to compete may be affected. Juggling class and practicing twice a day, I also visited my dad in the evenings.
I was enjoying this new sport, but I felt like I was being pulled in several directions.
Tension mounted in early November, when my dad was released from the hospital and I had to compete in a regatta in Alabama, rather than be home with him.
I worried something would happen to him while I was away. Though nothing did, uncertainty still loomed ahead.
How I found hope strength and peace
Throughout my dad’s cancer journey, I found hope through my relationship with God. While there was plenty to fear, I had this peace that helped me function and not let my life completely fall apart.
Through the experience, I began to rely on God more and more. It was one of the first times in my life where I felt like God showed up for me in a significant way.
My dad’s promise to see me row also gave me hope. While in the hospital, he told me: “I’m going to get out of (here) and come and see you compete.”
His promise fueled my determination to keep competing, keep up with school and to hang in there with all the unknowns of his journey.
A delayed promise
That December, my dad had a stem cell transplant. By the spring, he kept his word and came to one of my regattas.
But because of an injury, I had to sit out the meet.
He didn’t see me row.
I had some weakness in my back and the repetitive motions of rowing started causing pain and numbness in my legs. Part of me wonders if the stress of my dad’s health may have played a role with me getting injured.
Meanwhile, my dad’s cancer battle continued. After his transplant, there was a high chance that his cancer would return or that his body would reject the transplant.
Watching his resilience inspired me. That spring and summer, I worked on physical therapy to help heal my back to help give my dad another chance to keep his promise.
Ready to compete
By the fall, I recovered enough to be able to compete again.
An October regatta took place on Lake Pickett, in Orlando, and my parents were able to come. But the problem is that spectators on shore have a difficult time seeing the rowing.
They don’t usually do this, but my coach offered to let my parents ride in the boat so they could see the action up close.
I didn’t know this until later. The race began and my teammates and I, four rowers and a coxswain—the person who steers the boat—strained against the competition.
Facing backwards, it was easy to spot my dad approaching in the nearby boat, because he looked like a beekeeper, wearing long white shirt sleeves and a head covering over his pale skin to protect him from the sun.
He was looking at me and just beaming. I knew he was proud.
I’m not an emotional person, but I nearly lost it right in the middle of the race.
Sharing with others
My team ended up winning the regatta, but my dad seeing me row was the true victory—and especially all that meant for the hope of his survival and health.
My dad was my motivation to heal from injury and keep persevering in life.
Seeing his kindness and joy and care for my family and the health care workers, even when he was feeling miserable, made me want to be like him.
I want to live with the joy and faith my dad has.
The blessing of survival
What’s encouraging is that my dad’s health has continued to improve over time. Against the odds, he recently reached five years post transplant. It’s been a long road for him and my family, but doctors are now starting to use the word “cure” for him.
Though I finished college and no longer compete in rowing, I’m looking forward to sharing more milestones with my dad.
Advice for others
Whether you are facing cancer, or your family member is, I recommend finding a group of people who can support you. You need to find that community of people who are going to help pick you up in the midst of it.
I’m a private person, but I had some good friends who did this for me. They were very intentional to care for me and be there, through having coffee or hanging out.
Beyond the support of people, my biggest recommendation would be to pray to God and cast your burdens and fears on him. He is big and strong and he’s a miracle worker and he was so helpful to me during my dad’s journey, and afterward, too.
God has a plan for every person, and you can find comfort in him when your entire world seems unsteady.
If you would like to open your heart to God, read Knowing God Personally.
For help with fear, check out Fighting the Fear of Cancer.
To discover how prayer can help you on your journey, read Asking God for Help.