Dads are expected to instinctively be strong like a bull, right? That means stepping up to the plate and handling any situation that arises with ease. However, it is much more difficult to keep up this facade in times of tremendous stress, like learning your daughter has a life-threatening disease. The problem for me was that it was impossible to live up to the kind of “strong” I was telling myself I needed to be.
Up until my daughter’s stage four high-risk neuroblastoma diagnosis in 2017, I believed in the stereotypical definition of strong. Yet at the end of that first day, I realized my definition of strong was off a bit.
In today’s fast-paced world, I understood a strong man to be hard working, outgoing, wealthy and popular, almost possessing a celebrity-like persona, who doesn’t cry, worry or complain, and always demands respect.
My wife can probably count on one hand the amount of times she had ever seen me cry before Hunter Rose’s diagnosis. My definition of strong was about to have a head-on collision with reality.
I had experienced difficult times before — losing loved ones and friends to cancer, and unemployment and homelessness while pursuing my dreams of working in the entertainment business in L.A. — and definitely felt I had been strong throughout all of those trials. None of them compared to this. Not even close.
The only way I was ever going to make it through this was to completely reprogram my heart. You were probably thinking I was going to say reprogram my thoughts or brain, but no, it was my heart that needed shifting.
I have a great life: married 11 years to my best friend, have two amazing kids, live in a nice home, part of an amazing church community, and have great friends and family.
If I was ever going to be strong in my life, now was the time. But I couldn’t. To be honest, in that moment of hearing Dr. Navin Pinto of Seattle Children’s tell us our daughter had cancer, all of my fears flashed before my eyes. I cried, was scared, worried about our financial future, became even more introverted, and even complained to God. None of these fit my description of what I thought being strong was all about. They were in fact, the opposite. In those brief moments of learning my daughter may die, I had a breakdown. It didn’t last long, but I was a broken man. And that is when everything changed.
It was a very interesting few moments; the second I realized I needed help and allowed myself to be weak, is when I began to grow strong. My complaints to God suddenly turned into cries for help. My angst turned into gratefulness. There was nothing I felt I could do in my own power to make it okay. I realized within a few minutes in that hospital room, the only way I was ever going get through this was if I put my trust in my strong spiritual beliefs.
Light is always found on the other side of darkness, and once I admitted I was in a dark place, both emotionally and spiritually, the light began to break through. It was okay that I was scared and didn’t have all the answers. It was okay that I was worried. Being vulnerable didn’t make me weak, it reprogrammed my heart, which empowered me more than I could have ever imagined.
It wasn’t easy by any means; my daughter was still lying in a hospital bed fighting for her life. But it is true what they say: “what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.” Though we are now finished with Hunter Rose’s main treatment, there are still challenges ahead. However, I now have a newfound understanding of what it means to be strong.
It is when we rely alone on the examples we see in media that perpetuate a stereotypical version of strong, that we begin to create false definitions of what it means. My daughter’s cancer redefined what it means to be strong. This will be my first Father’s Day since Hunter Rose finished treatment, and I have a feeling it will be my best one yet.
Hunter Rose was treated at Seattle Children’s Hospital for stage four high-risk neuroblastoma from October 2017 through January 2019. She had two tumor removal surgeries, five rounds of chemo, twelve radiation treatments, two stem cell transplants, countless blood and platelet transfusions, and six rounds of immunotherapy. She has shown no evidence of disease since January 2018 and is thriving. Hunter Rose graduated from Prince of Peace’s pre-school in Everett, Washington this June and is currently playing t-ball for the Dragons; and she is the only girl on her team.