San Antonio Mom Blogs - Life and Parenting in the Alamo City

Dear Dad

Your hug squeezed the breath out of me as tears slipped down your cheeks and onto my head, soaking my hair with your fears for my future.

The surgeon had just told me, your 26-year-old daughter, that I had colorectal cancer.

We’d caught it early, he said. I should feel lucky, he rattled off unapologetically. Treatment was necessary but my life probably wasn’t at stake. The quality of my life, however? Another subject entirely.

December 1999, nearly 2 years after my diagnosis

Dr. Asshole (a man whose job was to evaluate the health of mine and who, with zero bedside manner or tact, was an actual asshole himself) told us he would slice out my rectum and half of my colon, leaving me with a colostomy bag for the rest of my life.

My solid waste would, forevermore, spill into a plastic bag held onto my side by thick, itchy glue that often causes skin ulcers. Oh – and makes for great first date conversation when you’re 26. Dr. Asshole mentioned this as my only option as simply, and limply, as if he was ordering fries to go with his cheeseburger.

But you refused to accept his matter-of-fact prognosis and his dearth of humanity. You rallied friends; you tirelessly investigated options; you humbly asked for favors. Your worked your magic until you got me in to see one of the best oncologists in the country at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. That gentle, kind, and incredibly smart doctor helped us determine my destiny by evaluating my case; becoming my medical champion; and by putting us in touch with a top-in-his-field gastrointestinal surgeon whose academic vocabulary also included simpler words like, “hope” and “options.”

January 2012, 14 years after my cancer diagnosis

You took weeks off from work; drove me back and forth to a hundred doctors’ appointments; paid for hotel rooms, and colon cleansers, and medical deductibles.

You voiced your educated opinion and helped me choose the right, if most difficult, option that offered my best chance for survival and the preservation of discreet bodily functions.

You sat for hours in stark, sterile waiting rooms, holding my mother’s hand; calling to update my sister; and cheering them both up while you waited for news from my hours-long surgeries. You stayed calm and full of hope during my scary, unexpected trips to the ER.

If you were ever worried you never showed it after that first day in Dr. Asshole’s office. And, while I ended up with a temporary ileostomy for eight weeks, the surgeon from M.D. Anderson and his cutting-edge procedure preserved my rectum and it’s function, leaving me with no long-term side affects. Fourteen years later I am still cancer free. I owe all of this (and so, so much more) to you and your love for me, Dad.

“Thank you,” isn’t enough. And it would take a million, “Happy Father’s Days” to even come close to expressing what your love means to me and how it changed the trajectory of my life (more than once).

The best way I can thank you, Dad, is to love my own children with the fierceness, the dedication, and the unconditional love you’ve always given to me. I love you, Dad. Happy Father’s Day.


  1. Wow, Colleen. Amazing post and amazing dad.

    • colleenpence says:

      Thanks, Dawn. This post has been in me for a long time. Today, it came out the way I’ve always hoped it would.

  2. This post is a gift to the world, a reminder of the power we parents have to continue parenting our adult children. Thank you.

    • colleenpence says:

      Pamela, it’s funny but I had not yet thought about it that way. I guess I thought of myself as daddy’s little girl back then and I still do today. But, you’re right. Parenting adult children is a big part of our job too. Thanks for sharing that perspective!

  3. I am stunned and humbled by this post. What a beautiful tribute to your dad. Thanks for making me cry today, Colleen!

    • colleenpence says:

      Fran, thank you so much for your kind comments. I’m very lucky to have such an amazing dad. I’m glad the words came to me today to tell him how much I love him.

  4. Colleen, this is beautiful. Thank you for sharing an incredibly special piece of your life with us. I am moved and inspired. *hugs*

  5. What a beautiful gift to your father. Thank you for sharing.

  6. What a touching post Colleen. So glad you caught it early and are doing well now.

    • colleenpence says:

      Neven, thank you. I was/am very lucky. I had one doctor tell me early on that my symptoms were nothing and I was too young for it to be anything serious. Thankfully, my mom encouraged me to get a second opinion which led me to my diagnosis. And, I was blessed to get another second opinion about treatment that changed my life forever.

  7. Colleen,
    You are a very blessed woman!! And your father is blessed to have a wonderful daughter. It’s amazing to see the power in a woman’s life who has had the gift of a strong and supportive father. I’m so thankful for my daughter that she has my husband as an amazing dad! 🙂 Congratulations on surviving and thriving!!

    • colleenpence says:

      Denise, you are definitely right about that. I do feel very blessed to have a strong, loving father. Not all women are as lucky. He and my mom both have helped shape my life in wonderful, immeasurable ways.

      I’m also glad that, like your daughter, my daughter has a dad who supports her and loves her the way in which she deserves.

  8. I am humbled that you shared something so personal. Anyone who meets you would never guess that you are a cancer survivor. What a special tribute, yet thank you, to your father. You’re so blessed to have such a man in your life, and I love the fact that you still think of yourself as Daddy’s little girl.

    • colleenpence says:

      Ellen, I have many secrets. 🙂 Ha! Just kidding. This is something that is a big part of me but as time has gone by, the intensity has faded. Still, I revisit that part of my life often and have always wanted to write about it. Yesterday, with Father’s Day on my mind too, it seemed like the right time. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments.

  9. Wow. Just wow. All kinds of spectacular here. The persistence
    of a parent’s love, the resiliency of a young woman’s spirit.
    With a dad like that, no wonder you’re so amazing.
    A blog I won’t forget. – Donna

    • colleenpence says:

      Donna, your comments make me miss you so much. It’s been too long since I’ve seen you! Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment here. This is a piece of my story that’s helped shape me, for sure. There is so much more I could say about how my amazing family rallied around me and how my friends saw me through that tough time, about what I’ve learned and what I still need to learn from that experience. Maybe one day I’ll write more about it.

  10. Beautiful Colleen. What a wonderful testament to your strength and your Father’s love. Happy Father’s Day indeed.

    • colleenpence says:

      Thanks, Laura! I appreciate you stopping by to read my blog and taking the time to leave your comments. And I can’t wait to get together again for more blog talk. 😉

  11. Colleen, thank you for sharing this sweet story. Your Dad was your knight in shining armor, fighting to save you. What a wondrous example. You are blessed and he is as well – to have a beautiful daughter like you.

    • colleenpence says:

      Alicia, you are right. I am so very blessed to have my dad and my family who love and care so much about me. I don’t ever want to take them for granted. Writing about them here from time to time helps me remember what it truly important in life – our relationships with the people and the family we love. You’re one of the people I love for sure. I treasure your friendship. Thank you for taking the time to comment. 🙂

  12. I love the term ‘fierceness’for a parent’s love!

    • colleenpence says:

      I agree, Megan. It’s a great way to describe how intensely we love our kids (and how our parents love us).

  13. Oh Colleen… you made me cry. What a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing such a personal part of your life. Lucky girl to have a father who can be your rock. I too am very close to my dad so I complete understand that words are never enought to say how much we love and are greatful for them.

    • colleenpence says:

      Lilliana, I cried a little too as I wrote it and, again, when my dad told me he’d read it. I’m glad you have a great relationship with your father too. We are both very lucky girls. 🙂

  14. lets just say ditto on allcomments above.

    and, what I really love about this post is the transparency of being your own healthcare advocate. don’t settle! research! definitely get second opinions! contrary to popular belief, not all physicians have a passion for patients. you are in charge if your health, I love how you owned it!

    thanks for sharing.

    • colleenpence says:

      Bry, you are 100% right. Being our own health advocates (or being one for a friend or family member) makes all the difference in the care we receive. I read tons of books about colon cancer and joined an online forum for people who had the same surgery I had so I’d know what to expect. Advocacy, research, and education can make a huge difference in outcome.

  15. I’m a cancer survivor and relate to everything you’ve written. Stay strong!

    • colleenpence says:

      Laurie, congratulations on being a cancer survivor! Thank you so much for visiting my blog and taking time to comment.

  16. Tears. I have tears in my eyes. Beautiful story, and thank God you’re cancer free and healthy. Much love to you Colleen! xoxo.

    • colleenpence says:

      Thank you, sweet Monica. 🙂 Much love back to you. I look forward to getting to meet you in person one day very soon!

  17. Go Colleen’s Dad! What a touching story and a very happy ending!

  18. Tears rolling down my face, what an incredible story about an incredible man. So thankful how your story turned out so I could have the honor of calling you my friend! Love ~ Stacy

    • colleenpence says:

      Stacy, I am so thankful for my dad and how he loves me. And seeing him with my kids is a true gift. He’s an amazing Opa too. Thanks, sweet lady!

  19. Peg McGinley Skrod says:

    My dear Colleen. I strongly identify with you because I am a cancer survivor as well as your Father’s sister.
    The telephone call came Thursday night January 15th, 1998. My brother, choking back his fear and sadness told me that his beautiful daughter, Colleen, had rectal cancer. According to my journal, “I felt like I had been punched in the stomach when he gave me the horrific news.” As a nurse I knew what was to come but I also knew that my brother would handle it without a problem.
    Your Dad is a great brother as well as a wonderful Dad. I’m certain he is very touched by your comments
    and truly grateful to have a daughter like you.
    Lots of Love, Aunt Peg

    grateful to have a daughter like you!

    • colleenpence says:

      Thank you, Aunt Peg. I will never forget you supporting our family through my cancer diagnosis and giving up time with your family to be with me. Your support, love, and help during that time means the world to me. My Nana raised two incredible kids – you and my dad are loving, giving, and caring beyond what I could have ever asked for. I love you!

  20. wow! i know i am late to this post but it is so amazing in so many ways! i have tears in my eyes! what a blessing to have such a dad and a for a dad to have such an appreciative daughter.

  21. OH Colleen! Im sitting here with tears in my eyes and my heart in my throat! There is still so much I need to learn about you 🙂 I am so glad that you had him to fight for you! And that you are cancer free. Dr Asshole! LOL He can suck it! I hate Drs like that. Sending you big hugs.

    • Colleen Pence says:

      Kim, we have so much to learn about each other! I never get to see you in person, it seems. Thanks for your kind words. Dr. A. is probably still out there, practicing medicine that leaves people cold. Sad, but at least there are doctors out there who really do care about their patients. 🙂

  22. What a beautiful story, Colleen! It brought tears to my eyes. A special dad, indeed.


  1. […] Everything wasn’t fine. But I was lucky. Because my cancer was so low in the colon (it was actually in the rectum), I was able to spot the bright red blood and seek medical help. My cancer was caught early enough to be treated. Some colon cancers found higher up in the colon sometimes pass blood but by the time it exits the body, the color has changed and it’s tougher to spot as a symptom. That’s why paying attention to other signs and signals your bodies gives you is vitally important (read Ellie’s post with suggestions on what symptoms to look for). […]

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