[NCSD Guest Blog Post by Josh Henniger]
Growing up with a cancer survivor for a dad never seemed unique to me until I really thought about it. My father is one of the kindest, strongest, most competent, hardworking, and good people I have ever known. I never think about how hard things have been for him living with the side effects of his cancer treatments. This is because my father has never conducted himself as if he was at any sort of disadvantage but has lived his life to the fullest and worked hard every day to provide a warm and happy home for us.
Looking back on my life, I think one thing that is unique to people who grow up with a cancer survivor for a parent is the realism of mortality. I never really wondered why I was hardly ever uncomfortable with the idea of death, either in my experiences in war or as a firefighter. I, myself, was close to death once and was not afraid of it. I think growing up with someone who celebrates milestones of being alive alongside birthdays and holidays gives us a unique perspective that goes so deep that I only recognized it when I stopped to think about it. I don’t mean that I feel I have a morbid outlook on life, rather a sense that life is beautiful, and death is a big part of it.
Every day I find something to celebrate about life, even on dark days and even if it’s something mundane. I saw my dad doing that every day. It’s a good idea. If you find something beautiful, funny, breathtaking, ridiculous, or simply interesting, it puts the rest of the day in perspective. Those moments can turn your whole day around if you recognize them and give them more power than the moments of pain, worry, stress, and whatever else tempts you to say your life is terrible.
I also believe that I have a high standard for myself. I don’t know if that is common to family members of all cancer survivors, or those who have dads like I do. I do know that my example was a man who never seemed like he had ever spent any time in hospitals. My dad is so full of life. Even now, when his health vacillates, he never plays the victim. Never seeks pity. My dad taught me, by example, that you’re only beaten if you let yourself be beat. The moment he’s not doubled over in pain and has some modicum of relief, he’s looking ahead to his day again.
What amazes me is that I didn’t know I knew these things until I really looked at where these values came from. I never got lengthy speeches or lectures about these things. I simply saw from my dad’s example that they make you a happier person. It isn’t hard to follow a good example when it makes so much sense that you don’t even have to think about it. I inherited my dad’s strength of character, but it doesn’t take strength to absorb the lessons of someone who has it figured out. You don’t sweat the small stuff, and, usually, you don’t have to sweat the big stuff either. You just do what makes you and those you love happy, and don’t take yourself too seriously.
Lastly, what I believe I learned growing up with a cancer survivor for a dad was the strength of my mom. Talk about a high standard. Thick and thin, those two. A more loving and sometimes hilarious example of two people in an equal partnership you couldn’t find. It is my mom and dad against the world, and the world doesn’t have a prayer. If you have someone in your life like my parents have in each other, you can take on anything. And they have.
Josh Henniger writes here about his father, Randolph Henniger, a 30-year colon cancer survivor, ostomate, and patient support advocate with the Colon Cancer Alliance. Randolph has written several books about his family’s journey with cancer, including Thirty Years: Cancer Free, which he cowrote with Josh, along with his wife, Patricia, and oldest son, Jeff.