Are you sitting down? I have some bad news for you…your loved one has cancer.

When most of us hear those words it is one of the most devastating things you can hear. Your entire world comes to a screeching halt. Your mind begins to race with endless thoughts of what ifs, you think about your father, mother, sister, husband and children. You thank God you have them because together you will get through this. You wonder if your loved one will survive their treatments, will he lose his hair; will he look different after treatments? Is my loved one going to die?  Then you become numb and you just can’t think. Eventually, you become paralyzed with fear.

Slowly, as the treatments begin the days turn into months and you develop your own ritual to get by with a little help from your friends and family.

Watching someone you love walk the long brutal road of cancer is like having front row seats to a UFC Fight.  You never know who is going to win, you know it’s going to be a gruesome fight and at some point you end up on your knees begging God for mercy.

My father was diagnosed with Stage IV base of the tongue cancer January 2009. His treatments were long and gruesome. He endured radiation treatments so intense Memorial Sloan Kettering and all of their modern technology eventually stole his ability to eat. For years he survived on a Peg Tube inserted in his stomach. Not a morsel of food or an ounce of liquid orally. It was a devastating loss to our entire family.

I am, and always will be a Daddy’s girl. I adored my father.

He was the funniest, most outrageous, most loving soul you ever met. He was also extremely kind, highly intuitive and unbelievably wise.

I asked — and valued — his opinion on everything. 

I spent the majority of my free time with my family and praying as my dad endured his cancer treatments. It was during this time on a cold March night I discovered my husband was cheating on me. I won’t go into the details because that’s not the point of today’s post, but to put it nicely it sucked what little happiness I had left out of me. I had no more room left for tears; I only felt anger and disappointment. This was a time when I needed love and support, not a kick in my gut. My soon to be ex husband’s infidelity was an annihilating blow to my ego among many other things.

When I confided to father of my recent discoveries he told me, “I won’t tell you to get divorced, but I will tell you why settle for a half of loaf of bread? You have your entire life ahead of you and you deserve to be happy.”

As my father faced the possibility of death, he forced me to face life.

My father saw something in me that I incapable of seeing at that time. He was my father, my best friend, my number one fan. I was a young woman in her early 30’s in a dead end marriage watching her larger than life father battle Stage IV cancer. During each visit, each phone call my father demanded I tell him something happy about my day. In the beginning I struggled with this task. Happy?  My father was being tortured with cancer treatments and my “marriage” had the makings for a bad Lifetime movie.

It was a daunting task, searching for happiness in the midst of darkness. I struggled, but slowly began to find my happiness, my purpose. At the time I thought this was for my dad’s benefit, but looking back this was for me as well.

Slowly, I began to realize each happy moment was either with my family or alone. As my father’s treatments came to an end, I began to realize how precious life was. I watched in awe and admiration the unconditional love and dedication my parents displayed for one another. It was truly a spectacular sight. I realized I had my own blueprint for a successful marriage my entire life, I just never paid attention.

In June 2009 after a long, difficult winter topped with more marriage drama, I filed for divorce. I can tell you I never once looked back. My father’s cancer showed me how precious life is and brought me closer to God. My failed marriage and ex husband’s infidelity during my father’s cancer forced me to demand respect and love in a relationship. I’m eternally grateful for the lessons learned and my ability to find God and happiness in life.

“Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations.” author unknown

Lisa Ingrassia

Lisa is the Director of Events at Zenith Marketing Group, an insurance brokerage firm located in Freehold, NJ. She is passionate about sharing her father’s journey with cancer and bringing attention the difficult path a caregiver must walk. She has written guest articles for the National Foundation of Swallowing Disorders, The Mighty & Her View From Home. She is also a guest blogger for The Huffington Post. Fun fact: She’s obsessed with her Boston terrier Diesel and loves the color blue.