On Sunday, Nov. 6, I carried a pineapple around Marymoor Park. I was at the Winter Pineapple Classic, a 5K obstacle course that raises money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. There were tire walls and slip n’ slides, ramps and giant boxes. Through them all, you toted a pineapple.
The Pineapple Classic started 11 years ago, about a year before my dad was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Prior to Sunday, my family had never “done” anything public in recognition of my dad’s cancer. The year he was diagnosed remains a blur in my mind and, I suspect, in that of my younger sister’s. I was 16 going on 17, my sister newly 13. What we knew: Dad was sick. He went bald. He had chemo. He got sicker and then, he got better. His chemo stopped. His hair grew back. We moved on.
Today, looking at my dad, 60 now, you’d never know he had been so ill. I don’t see his cancer when I see him, and so, standing at the finish line on Sunday, I found myself staring at the hundred or so signs that lined the homestretch. Each showed a face and listed a blood cancer. A few of the people pictured had what my dad had. Many had died.
I don’t remember ever thinking my dad would really, truly die when he had cancer. This, I think, was for two reasons: one, I was a high school senior with all the attendant chaos of that phase of life and two, I have really good parents.
Those parents protected their teenage daughters to a degree that I’ve only begin to comprehend and appreciate as an adult. Dad and Mom, together, took on the burden of cancer. They told my sister and I what we needed to know as my dad progressed through treatment but spared us the soul-draining, life-derailing details that come with severe illness.
Sunday felt like a celebration of that kind of love, the love that gets you through.
There was music and laughter and many team costumes. Among them: two Waldos, including one who had lost his brother to cancer; a T-rex whose mother had recently been diagnosed; and a little superhero who, for the first time in his life, celebrated his birthday outside of a hospital room.
All of them know what my family knows: Cancer sucks. Laughter makes it easier. A lot has to go right for someone to get better.
My family is lucky. Incredibly so. My dad is healthy. So healthy, in fact, that on Sunday he scrambled up the very last obstacle — a tire wall — like a man half his age. Upon reaching the top, he raised his hands and turned to the crowd below and yelled three magic words: “10 years clear!” We roared our approval.