Rachel Mitchell wrote -
In October of last year, I lost my father to Esophageal Cancer. He was by far one of the most amazing, supportive, smart and loving father figures. Even as I sit and write this, I am failing for the right words to describe dad, his battle with a terrible cancer and how angry it makes me that he is no longer a phone call or short drive away. I guess I am not quite healed enough to come to terms with it, or maybe I will never quite totally come to terms with it. I asked a close friend, who also lost her father to cancer, how she dealt with the sadness and loss. She told me, “I don’t think you ever get over the loss of the first man who loved you. But, in time, it will get easier and you will start remembering the positive memories, the fun times.”
Slowly, I think that is happening. I recently bought a new car and could literally hear his voice in my head telling me I needed to run through a 150 point inspection, or him telling me I need to update my computer anti-virus, asking when it would be a good time to plan that family camping trip over the summer….the list goes on and on. My brother called him “The Human Google,” since he knew the answer to everything and at times his kids would almost fall asleep at the lengthy explanations. I miss his voice and still find myself calling his phone, just to hear his voicemail. Just to hear his voice, one more time.
I knew when dad passed I wanted to raise money for awareness and early detection of esophageal cancer. Raising money will not bring my dad back but it will hopefully keep someone else’s parent, son, daughter, or friend from the same fate. My dad’s battle with GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease) started with the most common symptom, acid reflux. He was then diagnosed with Barrett’s Esophagus. What is Barrett’s Esophagus you might be wondering? Basically, it is a complication of GERD and some the symptoms are heartburn, regurgitation and an acid taste in the mouth. I don’t know exactly when that was but it was early enough for doctors to keep an eye on things because we knew that it had the potential to develop into cancer. We were VERY lucky to have early detection on our side and allowed the doctors to catch it in the very early stages when it turned cancerous. Often when esophageal cancer shows symptoms, it has progressed to the point that there are not many treatment options.
In 2009, Dad had surgery to remove part of his esophagus containing the cancer cells and that surgery offered what turned out to be just shy of 5 precious years of time with him. I really had no idea how precious it was because we thought his battle with cancer was over, having no idea that it would return. Some pretty amazing things in those 5 years! The summer after his surgery, we hiked Mount LeConte in the Great Smoky Mountains. Pop was so proud that he had a major surgery 7 months before he climbed up a mountain (even sending pictures to his surgeon to share the excitement.) I attached that picture on this page – it is the one of him standing in front of the Mount LeConte sign in 2010.
In that 5ish year timeframe there were lots of visits, holidays, laughter and memories. As a personal highlight, in September of 2014, I married my best friend and I am so fortunate and blessed to have Pop there with me that day. He told me (and all his kids) at my wedding reception in Memphis that he was so very proud of us and all that we had become. Again, precious time. Precious words.
Just five months later, dad visited my sister and I in Nashville and complained of water retention in his wrists and ankles. He was stopping by Nashville, on his way to Ohio, to care for his mother who was in the end stages of her life. While in Ohio, he visited a holistic doctor who ran some tests and gave us the news that we all dreaded to hear. Dads cancer had spread to his liver, two large aggressive tumors. I had no idea what this meant, but quickly learned that the survival rate for this type of cancer that spreads to the liver is very grim. From there on it was a whir-wind of confusing information from oncologists, chemo treatments, a few good days, lots of bad days, but through it all he never lost his fighting spirit. He fought every step of the way, even to the last day of his life. It is my hope to continue that fight and do my part to kick cancer’s ass! I hope you will join me and consider donating to my race, in memory of David Shepard AKA Pop, The Human Google, Dave, Father, Brother, Friend. Best dad ever. I will miss him always. Every day.
Thank you to my friends and family who have support me through such a hard time. I appreciate all my friends who cheered me on last year at the Country Music Half when I ran in honor of my father who was recently diagnosed! I love you all! Rachel