My dad died from glioblastoma in June 2016.

I wrote about him on this blog a few times, and then I wrote even more about him after his brain cancer diagnosis in November 2015 (like here, and here).

Anyone who read those posts knows my deadbeat dad was abusive to my mom and siblings (though I escaped unscathed). However, after he landed in the hospital and received a diagnosis, I jumped in to help with healthcare decisions and coordinate his care. Long story short: His tumor was so large he opted against treatment and immediately enrolled in hospice.

My dad lived for seven months after diagnosis. The literature says people live with glioblastoma for about six months when it goes untreated. I’d say my dad nailed it.

Why has it taken me over a year to finally post about his death? It probably has to do with a combination of things, but I want to blame my friend Hugo Campos. (Sorry, Hugo!)

Hugo was my speaking mentor for the Stanford Medicine X conference. I applied to be a presenter at the conference just a few days after my dad’s diagnosis. The pitch for my talk had something to do with patient participation in genetic research and brain cancer.

Stanford partnered me with Hugo and I began writing drafts for my 5-minute talk. None of the talks were resonating with Hugo, so he decided to read my blog to learn more about me.

It was here Hugo discovered my true relationship with my dad, and the next time we talked he told me the relationship is the story. The whole thing about “participation in research” was just extra.

I was afraid people at a medical conference would feel uncomfortable listening to this story, and Hugo said, “Fuck ’em.” (Or something similar in spirit.) So, for five months straight I worked on distilling a lifetime’s worth of daddy-daughter drama (plus brain cancer and research) into a five-minute talk.

My dad died about two months in to me working on the talk.

I told Hugo how awkward it was to have my dad die because I didn’t want to talk about it. Not because I minded if people knew that he died, but because I didn’t want to deal with people saying they were “sorry for my loss.”

Hugo said, “That’s it. That’s where this story begins.”

From that conversation forward, all I did was craft and refine and practice (practice, practice) on a talk about a relationship with my dad.

Other than my husband, I talked with no one about my dad’s death. I never posted about his death on Facebook, and I texted just a few people. Not even my in-laws knew about my father’s death.

Me with my dad

One day before I was to deliver the talk at Stanford, I called my mom. I realized I had never told anyone in my family that I was about to talk about my family’s business in front of a whole bunch of strangers. I did the talk for my mom over the phone as practice. She said it was a good talk, but did not understand why it would be interesting to a medical audience.

“Health care is messy,” I said. “Doctors and other clinicians jump into our lives during a moment of vulnerability. They have no idea of our history and drama, but that history and drama is what plays into how we make decisions about our care.”

“Alright, if you say so,” she said.

From the day he died, and for the following three months, I talked about my dad every day… mainly to an audience of myself. I practiced. I edited. I practiced again. I tested the talk on a good friend (who is a genius storyteller) who helped me make the talk even more compelling. And then I practiced again.

Hugo suggested I record myself doing the talk and listen to it everywhere I went until it was burned into my memory. I listened to my recording five times a day. I listened when I was getting dressed in the morning, and when I was commuting. I talked along with the recording. I filmed myself delivering the talk, and made it so I was perfectly timed with my slides. Two weeks out from delivering the talk, I was nailing it every time.

When I presented at Stanford, the story I told was as familiar to me as the words to my favorite song.

So no, I did not blog about my dad when he died. I wrote a song.

Watch my talk from Stanford Medicine X below: