• Jill Watson

World Cancer Day

Updated: May 18

I lost my dad to cancer almost nine months ago. To this day, the thought of what he went through and what my family went through still haunts me.

Dad was a relatively healthy guy for the majority of his life. The last ten years are a different story, and those seem to be the only years I can remember. It's crazy to me that ruminating images of his helpless body have quickly replaced all the memories of a man I've grown up with for 27 years at the end of his life. How can 27 years of love and laughter vanish so quickly?

When dad was first diagnosed with this aggressive cancer, the shock hit us as expected. However, at the same time, I was not surprised. In the months leading up to his terminal diagnosis, I noticed he was not himself. His anger was almost uncontrollable as if he had no filter on what he was saying. There were multiple times that his memory was faulty. Lastly, the biggest clue-in for me was his doodling. Yep, you read it right; his doodling.

Phil; The Artist

Dad was an incredible artist. One of the best portraits/realistic sketching artists in my biased, daughterly opinion. He attended The Art Institute of Philadelphia, where he met my mom. How lucky am I to have been able to grow up in such an artistic household? Backtrack to the beginning of December 2019, we had family game night right before dad's diagnosis. The game we played was similar to Pictionary, which relied on your drawing skills. Throughout the game, I noticed dad's drawings were almost illegible. None of us could tell what he was drawing. Some of the pictures were so off-center, like he couldn't see the page, or his depth perception was off. I remember at that moment, knowing something was truly off with him. Thinking back to that game night sends chills down my spine. If my dad, one of the most talented artists I knew, was drawing this horribly and nearly missing the paper he was attempting to draw on, what was going on with him?

Phil; The Beach Boy

Before his short fight with cancer, dad also battled progressive Multiple Sclerosis. He was diagnosed with MS back in 2011. Thankfully, it was a long progression, but it had its downsides. In addition to the artist that dad was, he was also an avid surfer and beach bum. I spent a considerable part of my childhood at the beach watching him surf, along with him teaching my siblings and me how to surf. We learned all about the do's and don'ts of beach etiquette, how to not look like a "shoobie" (a delightful NJ slang term for beach daytrippers). Again, how lucky am I for this upbringing?!

With the progression of his MS symptoms came the slow immobilization of one of his legs, causing him to be unable to surf, among other hobbies he enjoyed, like golfing. Eventually, he got to the point where he could not walk without a cane. I remember the sadness I felt during this time of change for him. First, Multiple Sclerosis was/is a medical mystery. In 2011, there was very minimal information about the disease other than being thankful it wasn't ALS/Lou Gehrig's Disease. I was sad that there weren't a lot of answers for my dad. More than anything, I was heartbroken that dad couldn't surf. That was his joy and passion. Even just being able to walk on the beach brought him joy, but that joy was taken from him. I distinctly remember and know that my siblings can attest that he never once complained about his circumstances. We never heard him express frustration that he would never walk normally again or that he couldn't go surfing again. He just went on, day to day, doing his due diligence to continue as if nothing was wrong.

Cancer Sucks

The cancer chapter of dad's life was very short, which is both good and bad. While, in hindsight, I am thankful that his battle was not insufferably long, I am angry that it was only so long. After the family game night scare, things plummeted pretty quickly. We learned just two weeks before Christmas last year that he had stage 4 cancer spread all over his body. Brain tumors created swelling, and cognitive brain function suffocated, impacting his mood, speech, and memory. When I got this news, I went straight into offensive mode. I needed to keep moving and keep busy so that I didn't have time to stop and overthink what was happening right in front of me. That is how I survived this nightmare. You see, I struggle with very high functioning anxiety and depression. I've dealt with it all of my adult life and had some trouble with my anxiety growing up. Part of my struggle with anxiety is my superpower to overthink everything.

I've been this way for as long as I can remember. Through the years, I've learned little tips and tricks to help keep me grounded, so my thoughts don't spiral into a hole. Just. Keep. Busy. And so I did. When I was at my parents, visiting with dad, or just helping around the house, I didn't show emotion. I had tunnel vision on keeping busy, so I would not be able to overthink. It was hard, and I regret that I closed myself off emotionally then. If I could go back in time, I would force myself to try and have more deep and meaningful conversations with my dad at the end of his life. But I just kept busy. I didn't want my dad to see me worried, and I most certainly did not want my family to worry.

It's incredibly hard, witnessing the man that provided everything for my family struck down with not only MS but to end with painful cancer. No one deserves that reality. He was only 53 when he passed. That's too damn young, too damn soon. To try and explain the feeling of his daughter witnessing all these life obstacles, it's like watching your dad enjoy life from the sidelines. He's sitting there, observing and vicariously playing this game called life with us because he wants it so bad. It's heartbreaking. When I think about the things he will miss, my heart honestly shatters. He won't be there to watch his youngest son graduate. He won't witness his other son working hard to build his own business or see my sister continue to stand up for what she believes in or debate politics with her anymore. For me, his opinion mattered more to me than anyone. He'll never be there for advice or be a part of when my husband and I buy our first home or meet his future grandkids (no, this is not a pregnancy announcement). There is so much that I am harping on about what dad will miss. Though it has been nine months since his passing, it feels like a new form of grief every single day. And that's what I meant at the beginning of this blog. How 27 years of good memories suddenly disappear only to be replaced with the worst memories of my life. When will it end? When will I remember the good?

My heart is so heavy for all those affected by cancer, in all ways, shapes, and forms. Your strength is immeasurable.


Please consider donating to beloved breast cancer surgeon Dr. Beth Dupree's non-profit charity, Healing Consciousness Foundation. Their mission is to improve the quality of life for those at high risk for or diagnosed with breast cancer through a wide variety of holistic healing modalities, education, and lifestyle changes that are often not covered by traditional insurance plans: https://hcf.salsalabs.org/Donations

If you would like to donate to the MS Society for continued funding and research:


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