Look, before I start marathon training and inundating you with posts about buttcheek chafing and runner’s trots and other savory topics, I figured I should spill the whole, gory, raw story about why I am running for Team in Training.  I hope you will humor me whenever I talk about it once you read this, because this is a very, very important cause to me.  This will be the only time I will pour out the full story.

(Note: some of this is filled in with things I’ve heard about the situation from my mom, sister, and other friends and relatives.  The seven-year-old mind is not the most sophisticated.  Also, excuse the lack of photos.)

It’s 1991.  I have just turned seven years old.  We are at Cedar Point, an amusement park in Ohio, on a summer vacation.  My dad, who is known as Mr. Fitness in my family because of his love of running and vegetables, wakes up with a large lump in his mouth.  Thinking it’s a tooth or gum abscess, he goes to the dentist when we get home.  The dentist refers him to an oral surgeon, since he doesn’t know what it is.  The oral surgeon sends him for a biopsy.

We are in the basement.  We go to the basement when we have serious family discussions, because there is a couch my sister and I can sit on while our parents can sit in the armchairs and tell us things.  (Normally, we watch television in our jammies on the floor of our parents’ bedroom, or are playing outside.  Okay, I’m usually  reading in my bedroom.)

My mom is crying.  She says, “Your dad has leukemia.”

I don’t get why she is upset.  The extent of my knowledge of leukemia is that people on TV get it, but they beat the odds and get better, even if they have to be bald for awhile.  I say, “okay,” and go back out to play.

I start the second grade.  My teacher is really, really nice to me and gives me extra attention.

My dad is admitted to the hospital for treatment.  My mom starts disappearing, too.  Before my dad was sick, she worked part-time and was usually home after school.  Now, after school, I have to go to my friend Laura’s house while my sister goes to basketball practice.  Sometimes I will come home and find my mom crying.  I learn to ask things like, “What are his platelet counts?” and “How are his white blood cells today?”  even though I don’t really know what that means.  (I can usually tell if it’s good from my mom’s reaction.)

After awhile, my mom and dad both come home and I am excited.  But my dad lays in bed all day.  His thick, curly black hair starts falling out in clumps, so my mom shaves his head.  He has a tube in his chest that has to be cleaned and dressed every day.  I watch my mom do it.  She has to use red, white, and blue swabs on it and give him medicine through it.

Pretty soon, we start hearing the term “bone marrow transplant” floating around.  Transplant!  I think.  That’s when they get better on TV!  I’m happy this will be over soon.  We wait and wait.  Everyone—my mom, my aunts and uncles and grandparents and all their friends—are tested to see if they are a match for him.  They’re not.

Finally, one day, we get the call.  They have found a donor!  We can’t know who it is, but my dad is going to get his bone marrow.

School is out for the summer, and my mom moves to Minnesota with my dad.  The University of Minnesota hospitals have one of the best bone marrow donations in the country.   Before they leave, my dad writes me this letter.

0408 006

My sister and I become constant babysitting charges.  My grandparents move in for a week, and they are always looking at me with pursed lips.  We stay with my dad’s best friend Uncle Bob and his wife Aunt Sally, and Aunt Sally buys me my first outfits at Gap Kids.  I don’t hear much about my dad.

It’s my eighth birthday.  My Aunt Pat throws me a birthday party and my mom isn’t there.  We paint pottery and eat cake.  I find out that as I painted my ceramic kitten, my dad’s bone marrow transplant was underway.

My Uncle Bob drives us up to see our parents afterwards.  My mom is living in a sad looking apartment.  She gives me a pink unicorn sleeping bag for my birthday.  My sister and I sit in the waiting room a lot and only get to see my dad a little bit.  I remember being shocked at how thin he had gotten.

My sister and I go home to Chicago and watch the fireworks with the neighbors on the Fourth of July.  I participate in a bubble gum blowing contest and can’t wait for my dad to come home once the transplant fixes him.

On July sixth, my mom comes home.  I know immediately something is wrong.  My aunts and uncles are lurking but not answering my questions.

Again, the basement.  I stick my head in the couch cushions because I don’t want to hear what she is going to say.  I don’t know how she said it, but I remember thinking, “Who will walk me down the aisle when I get married?” right away.

We all cried, and cried, and cried.  There was lots of food brought over.

A family friend took us shopping for dresses for the funeral.  Mine was a white turtleneck with a black and red plaid jumper over the top.

At his wake, my mom gives us pictures we drew to tuck in the casket with his body.  My sister puts hers under my dad’s hands but I am scared so I just put it on the side.  He is so pale and cold and doesn’t have the gorgeous curly black hair my dad had.

He was buried in a suit and his running shoes. This is the song they play–his favorite, while he was sick.

I’ve been out walking for hours.
I’ve got something on my mind.
How did we get here? where are we going?
And why is life so hard?

I read the stories, see the photographs.
World’s in a crazy space.
I’ve got to hold on to my dreams;
There’s just no other place.
There’s just no other place.

I believe
we can change anything.
I believe
we can rise above this.
I believe
there’s a reason for everything.
I believe
in my dream.

We all dealt with the loss of my father in different ways.  My mom tried her best to keep it together, but she was devastated.  My sister retreated into her bedroom and shut the door.  I tried to hold everyone together.  Our family was broken.

As time passed, obviously, the pain becomes less acute.  Our family motto was “one day at a time, one foot in front of the other.”  My mom had to start working full-time and figure out the finances, which my father had always done.  My sister and I became latchkey kids.  The teachers at school looked at me sadly when I went back to school in September.  They had all known my dad; he read to the kindergarten classes because he liked giving back to the community, and he’d worked the night shift so he picked me up from school ever day.

And they’d all seen him running around our small town every morning, waving, every morning on their way to work.

Today I go through life and not having a father is just a fact.  I don’t cry about it every day like we once did, and I can tell people, “Oh, he died when I was eight of leukemia” without a second thought.   But you bet your ass I’m sitting here, writing this, sobbing like a baby thinking about getting married in a month without him there.

So, this is why I’m running for Team in Training in October.  I realize that you might be annoyed when I mention this and ask you to donate or participate in fundraisers.  And I’m sorry if that bothers you, but really?  No little girl should have to know what a platelet is and stand at her father’s coffin.

If my dad was here, he would be running this marathon by my side.  But he’s not, and I need you to help me get through this.  I need to run for something.

Please, donate.  Nobody should have to go through what my family has been through.


69 Responses

  1. Thanks for sharing your story. Team in Training is an amazing cause. When I was in high school, I lost a friend to leukemia at the age of 14. It’s a horrible disease. Because of this, as soon as I turned 18, I registered to become a blood marrow donor. Hopefully one of these days, I’ll be a match for someone and be able to give them another chance. Congratulations…this will definitely be a journey for you, and your father will be at your wedding despite the fact that he may not be able to walk you down the aisle.

  2. Reading the letter made me cry. It sounds like the world really lost a great man in your father on that day. I can’t imagine losing my father at 8 years old. I know he would be so proud of you in so many ways and so honored that you are doing this marathon for him, your friend & all the people in the world that have to go through what he endured.

    Maybe you could do a separate post one of these days on what’s involved in becoming a bone marrow donor?

  3. Thanks for sharing the story girl. No little girl should have to go through that.

  4. Thanks for sharing your story. Loosing a loved one is hard enough, but your dad who obviously adored you, I can’t even imagine. Your dad will be there with you at your wedding and during the marathon, even if not in person.

  5. Thank you for sharing, I know it must have been hard for you to write this. My friend from high school lost her dad to leukemia when she was in college; he didn’t get to walk her down the aisle when she got married and it was really painful for her. I’m running late this morning, but I will gladly donate to your team in training later today, both for you and your dad and in memory of my friend’s father, as well.

  6. Wow. A heartfelt story, beautifully told. Thank you for finding the words and drawing us into your heart.

  7. I’ve never posted before, but thank you so much for posting your story. It brought tears to my eyes and I am giving you a huge virtual hug right now.

  8. Thank you for sharing this. My hubs is doing a 200km ride to Conquer Cancer this summer in memory of his dad.
    It affects us all.
    Have a great half marathon..

  9. I have a very similar story – I lost my dad to cancer 7 years ago. I’ve run for the American Cancer Society’s DetermiNation program once, and need to do it again.

    Good luck with your run and fundraising!

  10. Thank you for sharing this… Good luck with your training – I can’t wait to read about every step!!!!

    Also… I am commenting to let you know that I have an award for you on my blog!! I love your blog and I wanted you to know that you are an inspiration to me!

    Hope you have a great day! ❤

  11. Thank you so much for sharing this story. I’m completely serious when I say that I would be glad to stand on the side of the road with a sign to help you raise money for this cause.

  12. What a beautiful post! I made a donation in your fathers memory and in honor of my dad, who died of a heart issue in 2004. Although different diseases took them from us, I understand your pain and applaud your effort in running for a cure! Best of Luck!

  13. You are so strong to share your story! I lost my Dad when I was 15 and I know walking down the isle was one of the first thoughts to cross my mind. I think it is wonderful you are doing something in his memory. Good luck on your road to the race!

  14. What a great post, so beautifully written. You know that your dad will be running that marathon by your side!!!
    Good luck this weekend on your half and with your training.

  15. I’ve never commented on your blog before but I just HAD to donate to help you and wish you the best of luck! Like a few other people leaving comments, I lost my father last October to cancer and my wedding day was one of my first thoughts too. You’re running for a great cause. Thank you for sharing this piece of your life.

  16. just donated under my maiden name (Caitlin Noris). Thank you so much for doing TNT and sharing the story of your Dad. It brought me to tears! RIP.

  17. I found this post through Caitlin and I just wanted to thank you for sharing. I had a very similar experience when I was the same age but I was blessed enough that my daddy lived. Reading your post opened my heart and made me remember every moment of joy is special.

    All the very best of luck with your marathon.


  18. Wow. Thanks for sharing this. I can’t help but cry as I read this. I think it is wonderful that you are running and raising money in his honor. I am certain that he would be proud of you.

    Like your dad, my dad was a runner. He died two years ago, a month to the day before my wedding so I can empathize with your hurt that your dad isn’t there to walk you. I pray that despite that fact it is a wonderful day for you!

  19. I’m so sorry for your loss Brie, but what an incredibly touching tribute post. I’m sure your father would be so proud of you. I’ll be sending you warm thoughts and strength tomorrow as you run.

  20. Amazing, very well written. I read it at work and probably shouldn’t have because it moved me to tears. Now my co-workers think I’m crazy. But I donated!!!!

    -Raya @

  21. I wish I could write about my father’s death from cancer as eloquently as you do. What a beautiful post–it got me all teary and lump-throated at work.

    I never wanted a wedding but would have done it if pressured to. Not having my dad there, though, made me conclusively decide not to have one (I had a civil ceremony, just mom, sisters, and boyfriend). I don’t know if I could ever have anything close to a wedding without him (the only one in the family who wanted big daughter weddings!) there. So I cannot tell you how much I admire you for doing Team in Training–and having a huge celebration for those who are still with you and love you.

    Best of luck on the race and on the training–he’d be proud of you, race or not!

  22. Thank you for writing this! I know it must have been difficult to do, but this is a very important cause for so many people. I wish you the best of luck on your training and the marathon!

  23. What a beautifully written post. I am crying, and I am not a crier.

    Big hugs, and tons of good wishes for your fundraising and training.

  24. Thank you for sharing your story with us. TNT is a great way to raise money. I wish you the best with your race.

  25. I literally started crying when I read this. (Not the best thing since I am at my office!)

    I will donate as soon as I get home. And if I forget, don’t hesitate to email me about it!

  26. What a powerful story. I started crying less than half way through it. My father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s about five years ago. Having to deal with that at 22 was so hard for me, I cannot imagine losing him when I was 8. You seem like such a strong person and it’s so brave to put yourself out there like that. Good luck with the training! Knowing your dad is with you every step of the way should help.

  27. Thank you for sharing this. Our stories are similar. My father had a brain tumor and died when I was eight and a half. I’ve lived most of my life without a father and say this fact freely as if everyone already knows. I don’t really remember him, which makes me sadder than saying, “My dad died when I was a kid.” Although that’s pretty sad by itself. I’ve never written a post like that, though I did post a poem I had written about him in college. Anyway, this post is really amazing and touched me deeply. Thank you again.

  28. Aw dear, thank you for sharing your story! That is so touching. I can imagine how hard it must have been to write that. But I think it’s so awesome that you are doing something in your dad’s memory! I think he would be very proud of you.

  29. I also meant to write that the letter your father wrote you made me cry. It’s so beautiful and so special; it must mean so much to you to have that.

  30. Very touching. I’m so sorry for your family’s loss. I have run with TNT and it is a great cause and wonderful experience. Looking forward to future TNT posts.

  31. Brie, this is so beautifully written. I don’t know what else to say besides you are such an inspiration and you are going to rock this marathon for yourself and for your dad.

    If you decide to do a blogger bake sale or anything to raise more money for your TNT goals, let me know. I’d love to donate my vegan chocolate chip cookies (or whatever!).

  32. Thank you so much for sharing your story. Found your blog through Caitlin on Twitter. Your writing really hit home- I’m sitting at my desk sobbing. My dad is fighting lymphoma right now. I’ve run with TNT three times- the first two when he went into remission in 2003, the third to celebrate five cancer free years in 2008. Six years to the day of being pronounced cancer free, it came back. Every day is a struggle for us but I can’t even imagine what I would have done if I was seven rather than 37. Your dad IS with you- every single day. He will walk you down that aisle and he’ll boost your spirits in those late race miles. Go Purple! Go Team! Thank you for sharing your story.

  33. He will most definitely be beside you when you run your marathon, his spirit will at least be with you (and apparently his running genes!). You told your story exceedingly well, and the butt chafing will be worth it if another 8-year-old girl gets to keep her daddy because of the money raised ❤

  34. What a beautifully written post. As I am going through my mom having cancer right now, I am in tears.

    You are such a strong person and I i wish you the best in life and you will look beautiful at your wedding.

  35. Thanks for sharing this story.

  36. Just discovered your blog through Twitter…everyone is talking about this amazing post. Thank you for sharing your story…this is an amazing thing you are doing.

  37. thank you for sharing your story. your strength is truly an inspiration.

  38. Thanks for sharing your story and thanks for participating with TNT. I have run with them 4 times and it’s a great organization. I hope your training is successful and you find peace during your journey to 26.2 and beyond.

  39. I’m here on my school’s quad reading your post on my phone with tears streaming. Quite a sight, but I had to comment because it was beautiful! You are incredibly strong and I know he’s so proud of you and watching over you with everything you’re doing 🙂
    Good luch in the marathon. I’ll donate when I get home!

  40. This post is beautifully written. Your dad will be walking with you down the aisle, even though not physically, and he will be with you the whole 26.2 miles.

  41. Brie, I’m totally heart broken. I can’t imagine having to walk down the aisle without my daddy. I’m so glad that you are running a marathon and doing TNT in memory of him. xoxo

  42. Thank you for sharing such a personal story. I’m truly moved, as I’m sure everyone who reads it will be.

  43. What a heartbreaking story and what an awesome thing your doing running the race for your dad.

  44. Very touching…thanks for sharing! I stopped by from Tina’s blog to send you some marathon luck! Good luck with your run…can’t wait to read about it!

  45. Thank you for sharing this story 🙂 you are inspiring!

  46. I’m sitting here crying just amazed by how strong you are and how much courage it must have taken to write this. Thank you for sharing…you have no idea how many people you will touch with this story. I am a registered bone marrow donor and I pray that I have the chance to help someone in need someday.

  47. I hope this doesn’t sound too trite but your father will be there beside you on your wedding day and the day you run your race. I lost my father when I was 14 so I, too, know what it’s like to go through life without a father. On my wedding day my favorite Uncle gave me away but I believe my dad was there watching it all.

  48. I lost my dad when I was 16. My sister was 9. I can so relate to everything you wrote about in this post. Thank you for sharing and I will be donating.
    Much love,

  49. This is the most moving story I have read in a long time. I don’t have a lot to give, but I want to give something.

    And like Johanna said, your dad will be right by your side as you go down that aisle.

  50. I am so sorry for your loss.

    I don’t even know what else to say.

    We are all here for you, and thank you for sharing your story. As someone who has lost a parent at a young age, it touches me.


  51. Thanks so much for sharing this, your post brought me to tears. You are amazing!

  52. You are so brave to write this – thank you for sharing.

  53. It’s a powerful thing you are doing with TNT and even more powerful that you are sharing your story about your dad and doing something with it.

    Beautifully, written.

  54. Thank you for this, and lots of virtual hugs.

  55. I just came across this post from someone’s twitter, and I just wanted to comment because you are clearly a beautiful writer and person, and because I lost my dad to Lymphoma when I was 27 (7 years ago) and just finished my first marathon (Nike Women’s in SF) last october with TNT. It was an amazing experience to run that far with my dad’s photo and name on my back. I loved raising money and seeing all the TNT does for leukemia and lymphoma research. I wish you the best of luck with your training and your marathon. How proud is your daddy!?

  56. i’ve been reading the blog for a while, but have never commented. after reading this story, i couldn’t NOT comment. what a heart breaking story! i can’t imagine not having my dad walk me down the aisle when i get married in november. best of luck to you in your race and know that your dad is looking down on you very proudly!

  57. I’m sitting here crying as I type this and I don’t even know you in real life…wow, very well written. you should be proud of what you are doing for team in training.

  58. Brie you are an inspiration to all of us. Run hard and know that every mile you run helps someone. And hey, blisters get better.

  59. I came across your blog through Well I gotta tell you I was absolutely in tears reading this and as soon as I submit this comment I am going to donate. Your dad sounds like he was a GREAT man!

  60. […] Brie made everyone cry with a post about her father […]

  61. This was an incredible post … I have no words.

  62. I’ve been reading your blog for maybe a month now & one reason I kept reading was because you also lost your dad. I’m sorry Brie. I’m sorry he won’t be there to walk you down the aisle.
    I’m sorry for you & for me & for every other girl who hasn’t had their dad there for that because of cancer.
    I lost my dad 5 years ago April 8th, I was not as young as you but in some ways I’m sure the pain is the same.
    Funny how I can’t cry & can spit oh I lost my dad to cancer just like you can but then I talk about it, try to the story & I can’t stop the tears.
    I’m glad I read this today, I need to cry too.
    Big hugs & prayers for your strength. Good luck tomorrow, I know he’ll be running with you, just as he’ll be walking you down the aisle. I knew my dad was with my on my wedding day too 🙂

  63. Even though we never met this story has changed my life.
    I love you and your dad and i wish no one ever had to go through that pain and sadness ever.
    I hope you meet your goal and feel your dad with you while your runnning. You know he’ll be with you at your wedding don’t worry

  64. Thank you so much for sharing your family’s story. I lost my father in law a few months ago to cancer suddenly and sometimes I still can’t believe it. Big hugs and prayers for you tomorrow.

  65. This was such a touching post. I seriously have tears in my eyes as I type this comment to you. I can’t imagine losing my father that young, and I admire your strength not only to get through it…but to take your experience and use it to give back to such an incredible cause. Best of luck today! I’m sending positive vibes your way!

  66. Can’t stop the tears. Thank you for sharing your story.
    My dad died in 2007, from a heart attack. I know how it feels to lose your father, no one should have to go through that. I truly understand how you feel. I’m so beyond proud of you for doing TNT. You’re an inspiration! Thank you again for sharing. 🙂 *hugs*

  67. You are amazing, and your dad sounds amazing too. I wish you all the luck in the world. Xxx

  68. Hi I just came across this post and wanted to thank you so much for sharing. This was beautifully written and it takes a lot of courage to be so open. I am extremely sorry for the loss of your dad – though I’ve never met you (or haven’t {yet} read any of your other posts), you brought tears to my eyes! I think you’re doing a wonderful thing. Good luck with your training!!

  69. Hey there, I just read this for the first time (a little late!) and I’m in tears. I don’t know how it feels to lose a father but I can say that Team in Training is incredible. I just did a marathon with TnT June 6th and it was a humbling, fun, difficult, amazing learning experience. I’d love to do another event with them soon. I’m excited to go read your training posts… I think I bored some readers when I was training but I know a lot of people loved it! Good luck!

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