It’s April 30, 2022, and I’m walking along my normal route while listening to a playlist of my Dad’s favorite rock music to help me feel closer to him. As I walked by Freedom Plaza, I was met with a large National Brain Tumor Society banner for an event the next day, and it stopped me in my tracks because it had been only eight months since my Dad passed from glioblastoma. I signed up on the spot and walked Race for Hope DC by myself the next morning in honor of my father, Mark.
Favorite Memories with My Dad
My Dad was smart, clever, loving, generous, and funny without trying. Everything could be fun with him because he would make it fun. I respected him immensely — both as my father and as a businessman. He owned his own business, which my family always joked was his fourth child. He took his work seriously, but I knew he would always make time for me.
As the youngest sibling, I spent four years of high school as the only kid still living at home. I played softball year-round, and he was always at my games. My favorite pastime is when we would go on father-daughter dates to nice restaurants in Providence, Rhode Island, because we loved good food and eating out. I always joked that he gave me my expensive restaurant habit because I was spoiled with good food.
I graduated from Boston University. It’s the same school my dad attended, so I followed in his footsteps very closely. Even when I was at BU and had questions about my finance and accounting classes, he would always get on the phone with me to help answer them. He was always there for me whether I needed to talk business or just joke around. I always knew that I could count on him.
Well before his diagnosis, my Dad’s motto was to live life well and without regrets. Throughout his life, he was always big on at least trying anything once. On his 60th birthday, he went skydiving with my older sister. Especially now, after his passing, I’ve been trying to say “yes” more in honor of his memory.
My Father’s Diagnosis
In April 2021, my Dad started having memory problems and coughing a lot — it seemed pretty minor, to be honest. He happened to go to his doctor in May to get it checked out. Due to his symptoms and minor facial drooping, they did an MRI that day and saw something was there.
That night, my Dad called me. He said, “Josie, I got a problem. I don’t know if it’s a small problem or a big problem, but I got a problem.”
With every family, getting a cancer diagnosis is shocking. There’s a grieving process within itself. For us, it all happened so suddenly over a few days. On Thursday, we got the initial MRI. On Friday, it was confirmed he had brain cancer. On Saturday, the hospital discharged him. On Sunday night, he had a seizure, and everything changed from there. It was a very chaotic time of just being in survival mode.
After his first seizure that Sunday, it was like he had a stroke. His walking and balance were off, and his memory was shot. His talking and eating were affected. I flew home from D.C. We didn’t know if he would live or die because everything was happening so quickly. I was there for about a month.
My Dad went from answering my health insurance questions to one month later suddenly needing my help to go to the bathroom and walk around. He was someone I looked to for safety and security, and then all of a sudden, that was ripped away. It was extremely traumatic.
While I was home, my father seemed to be improving after his first seizure. Unfortunately, he suffered a second devastating seizure, which caused physical and cognitive disabilities. The second seizure really changed everything.
I later returned to D.C. and was planning to go back home again in a few weeks. I had a flight booked to return to Boston in early July for an already-scheduled trip. My father’s health started to rapidly decline the week of the trip. When I arrived in Boston, he was admitted to the hospital. My father was completely unresponsive in the hospital for 4-5 days before he passed. I believe in my bones my father was waiting for my arrival so we could be together one last time.
My Dad’s Love for Rock Music
On weekend mornings as a kid, my Dad would play the same ’70s rock records while we made homemade orange juice or ate breakfast. This man was a creature of habit, so we’re talking about two or three records total that he played for my entire life.
After my Dad’s second seizure, I put all his favorite songs on a Spotify playlist. Cataloging all the music he loved also felt cathartic for me — these are the things I always wanted to remember. At first, he didn’t recognize them, which was terrifying, but he started to remember them slowly. We had the music on one of his better nights. We even had a karaoke night singing “Werewolves of London.” While in the hospital, we played his music in case he could hear it. It was definitely something we leaned on heavily.
I always equate the songs with a Sunday morning and feel-good music. When I listen to it now, it brings back happy memories.
Walking in Race for Hope DC
I like to visit Constitution Gardens, which is right by the Lincoln Memorial. Among the weeping willow trees, it’s a tranquil place where I can reflect — sometimes with a view of the Washington Monument — and just think. It was a place I went to right after my Dad was diagnosed for me to process what was going on and just think about life.
During my leisurely walk on April 30, 2022, I was sitting at Constitution Gardens, listening to my Dad’s rock music playlist and thinking about him. At one point, I heard the song “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” which is hard to listen to because it was one of the last songs we played for him in the hospital. I remember thinking at that moment that I wanted to listen to the whole song. Shortly after hearing it, I saw the NBTS banner in Freedom Plaza promoting the Race for Hope DC event the following day. I had never heard of NBTS before that day, but I signed up on the spot. While walking in the event, I promised to do it again in 2023 with an organized team.
The challenge was to come up with a team name that was something punchy. I wanted it to be funny, at least to me. My Dad always said I had a big ego — I got it from him — so he always called me a pisher in an endearing way. Pisher is a Yiddish word that typically means a young, inexperienced, and presumptuous person. It was one of the many pet names my father gave me throughout my life. My father loved to use Yiddish words wherever he could. It seemed fitting, therefore, to use a name I so sorely missed being called by my Dad when forming my Race for Hope DC team, The Pishers, this year.
I wish we had known about the National Brain Tumor Society when my father was first diagnosed. It would have been life-changing to have access to people in the same position or to get the resources that NBTS offers. Race for Hope DC is the best way for me to feel connected to my Dad and support a great cause.