sentenced for life

I looked at my dad. Then down on my phone. 22:32 July 21, 2023.

My dad was gone.

On Friday night, I saw my father, my Superman, take his last breath. It was a moment of peace for a man at war for three years.

My dad was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer (glioblastoma) in 2020. Some doctors told him he had six months to live, tops. They gave him all the grim statistics, told him how his body would shut down, and planned a future hell on earth.

At 65, my dad was sentenced to death. But a funny thing happened.

My dad heard all the negativity and decided not to listen. Instead of waiting for death, my dad leaned into optimism and got busy living.

He had brain surgery and did chemotherapy and radiation. After the treatments, she would lift weights or walk for miles. She adjusted her diet and my mom became her personal chef, making everything from scratch. My dad was a man on a mission. And the prize he was after was not just time. It was quality of life and making the most of each day.

Instead of preparing for the end, he traveled the world, climbed mountains and skied, swam in the oceans, and even did acro-yoga (if you knew my dad, you would know THAT man doesn’t do acro-yoga). Neither of these options was discussed in the cancer brochures.

For three years, death touched my dad on the shoulder. But my dad gave the grim reaper the middle finger, trained harder, walked farther, and ate healthier.

He did the impossible believing it was possible.

When cancer took away the ability to use his left arm, he trained his right arm to do more. Watching a 68-year-old man teach his non-dominant arm to use chopsticks is an art of sheer determination.

When the cancer took away his vision in one eye and limited his field of vision in the other eye, he relearned how to read.

And when the cancer left him unable to walk or bathe, even though he hated his limitations, he asked for help because it was the bravest and strongest thing he could do.

I saw my dad suffer and never heard him complain. Not even once.

When my grandfather, his father, died a few months ago at 95, I thought I might break it. And when his four brothers had to watch him struggle to walk and talk and they told him that he was unfair, my dad stood his ground:

He insisted that cancer was not unfair. To say that would mean that his whole life was unfair and that he loved his life. He just hated the disease and thought it was terrible. And her job was not to curse her life but to make the most of it.

And for him, that meant a simple choice: either feel bad for yourself, or do something to make your life the best it can be.

My dad was lucky. Sometimes people do everything right, and the disease still takes their lives too quickly. But with the time he had and the time he created, my dad didn’t think cancer would take him.

Even when he only had a week left, he would lie in his hospital bed and wonder how we would get him to football games in the fall. We both had season tickets to our beloved Colorado Buffaloes. They’ve been terrible for the last 15 years, but we still showed up to every game and stayed until the end. My dad was excited about the fall. Deion Sanders was bringing Prime Time to Boulder. He wanted to be there on Sept. 9 to see the first win on the road to the biggest turnaround in college football history.

Some people thought he was crazy for talking about going to football games while he was in the hospice. To me, it was just part of his vision.

Arnold always talks about vision and my dad believed in that too. And his vision did not include death. He imagined himself in that stadium. And while he won’t make it, that vision helped him go further than any doctor said he would.

None of you knew my dad. But he loved life so much that he wasn’t willing to see his illness as anything more than another obstacle he would overcome.

In my last conversation, my dad told me something that I will never forget.

He talked about finishing what I started: as a husband, as a father, as a friend and in my work. We started Arnold’s Pump Club when his health began to fail rapidly. We didn’t discuss my work much, but he told me that he read all the emails and that he was doing something important.

Facing death, my dad believed that the world needed more positivity. If he learned anything, it is that optimism is the way.

He then asked me how many people we reached each day. I told him 500,000.

Then he asked me how many I wanted to reach. I told him 5 million.

And then he dropped the microphone.

He said, “Adam, why put a limit on what you can do? Where would I be if I did that when I was diagnosed?

Man. My dad didn’t always have many words, but the ones he did have were very good.

In the end, my dad made his vision come true. He remained optimistic, bet on himself and valued each day as if his life depended on it.

After watching my dad take his last breath, I told him that I was proud of him. I kissed him on the forehead and said, for the last time, that I’m glad to see you.

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