By Rachel Heimler
Today would have been the 14th anniversary since my dad, Richard, was diagnosed with lung cancer. Each year, for the past 14 years, we have woken up to a letter from my dad on this day. He used this letter to update us on his health, his life, and give us hope for the future. He used it to help teach us how grateful we should be for each day. Today unfortunately is different.
It has been said that my dad lived more life since he was diagnosed with cancer than people live in a lifetime. Even without knowing what the future held, he lived his last 6 months like he has the past 14 years, to its fullest.
This past year was the most I had seen my dad struggle in almost 10 years. Using oxygen to help him feel more comfortable was a reality check for everyone, as he hadn’t “looked sick” for what seemed to be a long time. However, he never let it get in the way of living his life. Last spring we spent time traveling and visiting family, celebrating Father’s Day and my grandmother’s 85th birthday. While more serious challenges started over the summer with two strokes, we were able to spend the 4th of July together as he made sure everyone at Sloan Kettering knew his room had the best view of the fireworks.
In the following months he used an extra-long oxygen cord so he could freely walk around the apartment, and a carrying case so he could do his daily errands, visit friends, attend concerts and Broadway shows, etc. When the carrying case wasn’t strong enough he wheeled around an oxygen tank just to maintain as much normalcy as possible. He packed up more than 20 tanks of oxygen in the back of his car just to have a father-daughter trip this past August.
I am grateful for the 27 and a half years I had with my dad. Although the past six months have not been the easiest, I am grateful for the people who have made it easier. My “plan” after my dad passed away was to live my life to the fullest, just as he would have wanted me to. I am grateful for the time I have spent with my dad’s friends, the memories we have shared, traditions we have established and new ones we are creating to honor my dad’s memory in the future.
I know my dad would appreciate these moments because thankfully, life has gone on, and will go on. Thankfully, we can all pass along his spirit and his message today and everyday by appreciating the little things and creating memories with the people we care about.
Rachel Heimler is the daughter of the late Richard Heimler, a member of Lung Cancer Alliance’s Board of Directors from 2014-2017 and dedicated member of the lung cancer community. Richard passed away in September 2017 after a 13- year battle with lung cancer.