Your hug squeezed the breath out of me as tears slipped down your cheeks and onto my head, soaking my hair with your fears for my future.

The surgeon had just told me, your 26-year-old daughter, that I had colorectal cancer.

We’d caught it early, he said. I should feel lucky, he rattled off unapologetically. Treatment was necessary but my life probably wasn’t at stake. The quality of my life, however? Another subject entirely.

December 1999, nearly 2 years after my diagnosis

Dr. Asshole (a man whose job was to evaluate the health of mine and who, with zero bedside manner or tact, wasΒ an actual asshole himself) told us he would slice out my rectum and half of my colon, leaving me with a colostomy bag for the rest of my life.

My solid waste would, forevermore, spill into a plastic bag held onto my side by thick, itchy glue that often causes skin ulcers. Oh – and makes for great first date conversation when you’re 26. Dr. Asshole mentioned this as my only option as simply, and limply, as if he was ordering fries to go with his cheeseburger.

But you refused to accept his matter-of-fact prognosis and his dearth of humanity.Β You rallied friends; you tirelessly investigated options; you humbly asked for favors. Your worked your magic until you got me in to see one of the best oncologists in the country at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. That gentle, kind, and incredibly smart doctor helped us determine my destiny by evaluating my case; becoming my medical champion; and by putting us in touch with a top-in-his-field gastrointestinal surgeon whose academic vocabulary also included simpler words like, “hope” and “options.”

January 2012, 14 years after my cancer diagnosis

You took weeks off from work; drove me back and forth to a hundred doctors’ appointments; paid for hotel rooms, and colon cleansers, and medical deductibles.

You voiced your educated opinion and helped me choose the right, if most difficult, option that offered my best chance for survival and the preservation of discreet bodily functions.

You sat for hours in stark, sterile waiting rooms, holding my mother’s hand; calling to update my sister; and cheering them both up while you waited for news from my hours-long surgeries. You stayed calm and full of hope during my scary, unexpected trips to the ER.

If you were ever worried you never showed it after that first day in Dr. Asshole’s office. And, while I ended up with a temporary ileostomy for eight weeks, the surgeon from M.D. Anderson and his cutting-edge procedure preserved my rectum and it’s function, leaving me with no long-term side affects. Fourteen years later I am still cancer free. I owe all of this (and so, so much more) to you and your love for me, Dad.

“Thank you,” isn’t enough. And it would take a million, “Happy Father’s Days” to even come close to expressing what your love means to me and how it changed the trajectory of my life (more than once).

The best way I can thank you, Dad, is to love my own children with the fierceness, the dedication, and the unconditional love you’ve always given to me. I love you, Dad. Happy Father’s Day.