Sometime around the age of eight, my family had moved for what seemed like the 78th time in my short life. I found myself living in a little farming town in Washington, 20 minutes south of the Canadian boarder. It was winter and my bright red coat was in sharp contrast to the drizzly gray landscape. I channeled its cheer as a badge of courage as I set off on my bike down a country lane to explore my new surroundings.
It wasn’t long until my bike ride had inadvertently attracted the interest of a neighbor’s big dog. As I rode past his home, he broke into a full run, barreling down his driveway, heading straight for me. Terrified of his barking and growling, I did what any eight-year-old-city-raised-girl would do: I screamed at the top of my lungs as if the dog was already pulling me limb from limb. I pedaled as fast as my feet would go, careening dangerously through the unfamiliar twists and turns of a muddy country lane.
There was only one thought in my mind: If I could just find my way back home, my dad would be in the driveway waiting for me. He would protect me from the snarling teeth and menacing growls of the monstrous dog that was nipping at my heels.
I was right. My dad had heard my screams, as had most of the neighbors on that long country lane, and was already running down the road to meet me. In what seemed like an instant, he had pulled me off of my bike, into his arms, high above the dog’s head where I felt safe. Where I could breathe again. Where I knew I was protected.
Then my dad did something unexpected. Unwelcomed. Instead of chasing off the dog to make me feel better, he began interacting calmly and invitingly with the beast, encouraging the dog to come nearer to him. And me.
In a matter of minutes, my once growling, ferocious enemy had turned into a tail-wagging, wiggling, slobbery friend; wanting nothing more than to roll over onto his back so I could scratch his belly. At my dad’s insistence, I reluctantly obliged.
With my dad’s help, I quickly warmed to the dog and established a physical connection with him. My dad taught me how to read the dog’s signals, adjust my responses, and to trust.
As I think about Father’s Day this year, this memory of my dad has taken on new meaning. The beast snarling and nipping at my heels at this moment in life is breast cancer. Its teeth are real. Painful. Dangerous. Disfiguring. At times, demoralizing.
Unlike the dog of my youth, my dad can’t lift me up and out of this current harm’s way. There are some things that even the best dads can’t do.
Instead, I am choosing to remember the lessons my dad taught the eight-year-old-me on that long-ago day. I can’t always outrun danger. Sometimes, I have to stop in my tracks, turn around, and look that beast squarely in the eye. I have to channel faith and inner strength to push back my own fear so I can see the situation for what it truly is, not what I imagine it is – or could – be.
I didn’t go in search of cancer; it found me; came chasing after me. But day-by-day and treatment-by-treatment, I am stopping it in its tracks. I am remembering to see beyond fear, accurately read the signals, adjust my responses, and to trust. My dad taught me that.
Thanks, dad, for teaching me how to face down the dog of my youth. It’s prepared me to win not only my battle with cancer, but also the war with my own inner demons. Important lessons that I continue to learn in new and more profound ways. Just one of the many gifts you’ve given me.
Oh, and Happy Father’s Day. I love you.