Cancer Dads – The Forgotten Half

Daddy Sally

Hi all – Today Sally turned 2 1/2, a major milestone in her battle against MLL ALL Leukemia. It’s also my 36th birthday and I’d like to think that gives me the carte blanche to write a post about something that has been irking me for some time now.

Yesterday on Facebook I saw several posts referencing actor Ashton Kutcher’s request for changing tables to be added to men’s restrooms. While watching the Super Bowl this year, I viewed commercials urging dads to be better fathers. I think these are both signs of a strong movement to encourage dads to be better parents and teammates with their spouses in raising their children. I couldn’t be more on board with these messages, and have seen an increase in dads playing a more active role in their children’s upbringing. That includes me, who took a couple years to really grasp the importance of my role as a father and become an active parent in my kids’ lives. That especially become true when my 10 month old daughter was diagnosed with cancer.

As a childhood cancer parent vet (we’ve been at this for 19 months, so I guess that makes us veterans) I have seen countless fathers rise to the challenge of being Cancer Dads. Whether that’s cleaning up vomit or stools, holding a vomit bucket while your child endlessly empties their insides, squeezing into a tiny bed with your child overnight in the hospital, or delivering countless meds through syringes and shots. I have been witness to ordinary dads becoming extraordinary, just as I have seen ordinary moms do the same.

However, judging by the articles and comments I see out there, you’d never know that many dads play an active role in their child’s cancer fight. From the numerous “Things Only Cancer Moms Know” articles (that have nothing mom specific listed) to the term “Momcologist”, the overwhelming majority of articles on cancer parents only focus on the mothers. Every time I see one, I always type a frustrated “…and dads…” or “…cancer parents…” in the comment section. We even see it on Sally’s and other childhood cancer patient Facebook pages, many comments are specifically directed at the mothers, not both parents. I can’t tell you how many private messages we receive directed only to Nicole, when I’m the one who reads most of them and handles the replies.

Mind you, in no way am I diminishing Cancer Moms, quite the contrary. The majority of the responsibility often falls to mothers. One of these past Cancer Mom articles actually brought up a valid point, moms create and carry our children for 10 months, so feel a sense of (unwarranted) responsibility for their children’s cancer that fathers cannot. Dads can’t breastfeed. Dads don’t give the same reassuring motherly snuggles. Moms have a special nurturing skill that has survived thousands of years of evolution. Frankly, most moms do it better.

However that does not, and should not, discount the roles that many Cancer Dads play. Every time I visit the hospital I see plenty of fathers and grandfathers, many of whom are my friends. Through social media I have become friendly with Cancer Dads all over the country, the only other guys who can relate to how I feel and vice versa. We are often relegated to supporting roles not by choice, but by need. Half the families who battle childhood cancer end up filing for bankruptcy. In most cases its the father who has no choice but to keep his full-time job to maintain the funds needed for living expenses and hospital bills, as well as the guerrilla in the room – healthcare insurance. I’ll tell you firsthand (and from the knowledge of speaking with other Cancer Dads) that coming to the office every day and not being there for your your child who is fighting a life-threatening disease is incredibly frustrating and leaves us feeling useless.

First off, none of us is at our best through this journey. Even at work, there is no magical ‘off switch’ to shut off the immense stress and worry that we feel about our family. It’s hard to focus, anybody that has worked through an 8-hour workday with a hangover can somewhat relate. Imagine working with a hangover every day (unless you’re a bartender where its expected of course) for months or years. Or try showing up at work for a busy day of meetings after a night where you rushed your child to the hospital with a seizure lasting 45 minutes that landed her in the PICU. You come to work with the added stress knowing that you’re unintentionally not performing to your potential, which comes with a lot of guilt. I know parents who have not been able to maintain their jobs as a result of the stress and exhaustion.

Secondly, we’re dads. We’re supposed to be the tough ones that rush to the rescue of our kids. Especially those of us with little girls, we idolize ourselves as their protectors. Instead, while mom is at the hospital working with the doctors and nurses on saving our child’s life, we’re often restricted to our desks, doing our best to keep our jobs, feeling helpless and listening to meaningless office gossip. I hear all updates second-hand from Nicole, and rarely get to ask questions directly to the doctors. I keep a log of all of Sally’s treatment and blood counts so I feel involved. Nicole grows frustrated when I don’t recall something she’s relayed to me, but it’s harder to grasp everything when you’re hearing it all in one conversation instead of living it day in and day out. Or understanding how a certain medicine works in the grand scheme of things and remembering specific doses. It creates a tension that likely wouldn’t be as strong if we were both at the hospital daily.

Finally, with Mom focusing more on our child in need, Dads often shoulder more of the responsibility at home, especially with siblings. While Nicole would rush off to the hospital with Sally in the middle of the night (which was often in our first year), the duty of informing our sons fell to me. There’s nothing quite like breaking the news to your 7 and 4 year olds that their little sister had to be rushed into the hospital again and somebody not named Mom or Dad would be picking them up from school the rest of the week. Or answering all of the questions they have, like is their sister going to die? Or explaining what a seizure is. There’s also the added day-to-day roles that dad often picks up so Mom can get some much needed sleep or is stuck at the hospital.

Childhood Cancer leads to an increased divorce rate among parents. Due to the incredible stress, mood swings and increased responsibilities, it’s vital that parents work together as a team both to save their child’s life and maintain their relationship. We know parents who have split up during and after treatment, and know moms who are going this alone. Our hearts go out to them, we admire their strength and can’t fathom the challenges they must overcome. I’ll never forget when our first PICU nurse told us in the early days, “We’ve seen marriages fail, and often the kids that don’t make it are from families who stopped living life and parents who didn’t remain strong.”

I echo fellow Cancer Dad Jeff Hendrix of ‘Praying for Carolyn‘ in calling on dads and men to play a more active role both in their families and in the Childhood Cancer community. It shouldn’t take cancer to inspire dads to become more active parents, anyone can and should do it.  I also want to call attention to the incredible Cancer Dads I’ve met through our journey, some of whom I have sadly witnessed eulogize their children in recent weeks. If there’s any validity to the term “Act like a man”, it’s these dads who have risen to the ultimate challenge and worked as a team with their spouses to fight this evil monster. If you know one, or are married to one, be sure to tell them they’re doing a good job, even if what they’re doing isn’t always seen.

Not Cancer Moms. Not Cancer Dads.

Cancer Parents.

Dad Sally Crib

Matt Kabel

Proud Cancer Dad to a beautiful 2 1/2 year old girl battling Infant Leukemia

54 Responses

  1. Scott
    Scott March 11, 2015 at 9:15 pm | | Reply

    Happy Birthday Matt, and Happy 2 1/2 Sally.
    Great essay, Matt, and considering what you and all of the Cancer Parents out there face every day, you don’t need any special carte blanche to share these thoughts.
    I remain impressed with you and your entire family. Be well and Happy Birthday.

  2. Ethnea Porter
    Ethnea Porter March 11, 2015 at 9:17 pm | | Reply

    Wow. Well said, Matt. All dads should read this. You have a gift for expressing yourself. Must be that Fordham education;-) But seriously, you’re living out what it really means to be “a man for others.” Proud to know you. And continued prayers for Sally and your family.

  3. Randy
    Randy March 11, 2015 at 9:17 pm | | Reply

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY to a really good guy who happens to be an awesome/incredible husband and dad too! Your ability to function and achieve in so many diverse aspects is more than commendable and admirable. You are the SUPER in super dad and not just when you are wearing a tutu-:)! You wear all your “hats” well too!

    Hope the birthday rant felt good…you sure made many valuable points, but most of all I hope your b’day wishes come true…cause that one is pretty loud and clear without you saying a word…your actions show that best!!!

  4. Marianne
    Marianne March 11, 2015 at 9:55 pm | | Reply

    Sally & her brothers are so blessed to have you both as parents. Strength & love are displayed every day. You & Nicole are a great cancer parents team!!

  5. Rachel Keesey
    Rachel Keesey March 11, 2015 at 10:56 pm | | Reply

    I am married to one of these unsung heroes and I can only thank you for putting this message out there. Every word resonates with me & I am sure with my husband as well. And now I’m going to go tell my hubby how much I appreciate everything he has done for us the last 28 months while my daughter has been in treatment for leukemia. Much love to you & yours.

  6. Mike
    Mike March 11, 2015 at 11:16 pm | | Reply

    Thank you.

    You covered everything that I have experienced and lived daily for the last 9 months. Our little Simone (much like Sally) was diagnosed at 10mos. with MLL ALL Leukemia. My wife Traci has been amazing and while I can’t keep up with her as she proactively manages treatments I am determined to support Simone, her 6 year old sister, my wife and our family financially – all while showing equal parts love, fear and strength.

    We really appreciate you writing this open letter as I can relate in so many ways.

    All the best to Sally and your family.

  7. Farrell
    Farrell March 11, 2015 at 11:18 pm | | Reply

    Matt, this is beautifully written and point well taken. I am a Cancer Mom, and I agree with you 100%. I often think, and have commented, the same on articles like the one you mention, about Cancer Dads, Cancer Parents are just as involved.

    Our son was diagnosed with B-ALL at 2.5. I am extremely fortunate that I have a husband who is as equally active in our sons care. We both have to work. He makes more money, but I am the insurance carrier with amazing insurance we can’t afford to lose. We would be bankrupt on his insurance. Neither one of us can lose our job, so when you talk about the stress of work and how hard it is, I have written those exact words. The looks of pity and people treating you like you might break don’t help.

    Yes, I definitely took the bigger hit in taking care of our son. I took two extended leaves of absence during my sons initial induction phase and again later when the frequency of back to back doctors appointments made work impossible. I was able to do that thanks to my job being so flexible and supportive. My husbands job is not as flexible. I also just started this job six months before he initially became sick. The stress of feeling like I am totally going to lose this job, my dream job, and we will be screwed drove me into a deep depression.

    Because of our jobs, we flip flop as much as possible to handle care duties and relay info. Easier to do now that he is maintenance. But in the beginning, the strain on our marriage was there.

    I’m typically the one that does all the updates to family through Caring Bridge, and I often speak for my husband, but I know that he feels the same as you do. We have a great network of Cancer Moms here where I get support, but a Cancer Dad group doesn’t exist. I assume it’s because men might not be as comfortable to share their feelings with each other due to the stereotype that men must remain strong at all times, which is completely unfair, men are humans too.

    We too were warned to protect our marriage, we took that seriously and made extra effort to do so. I would say we are even stronger partners now than before. We are fortunate. We seem to know when the other just can’t do it anymore, and needs a break, and step up to the plate. Our ability to switch hit has been key. Yes, our son still wants momma more. So I stay at the hospital, I take off more time, and I step in when its momma or nothing. But my husband then goes out of his way to support me so I can do that, even if it’s as simple as bringing me my Starbucks or a beer.

    It does upset me that there doesn’t seem to be the same level of support for Dads. As if you don’t need it. I also hate the media portrayal of men being bumbling idiots who can’t care for a child. I did marry a great man, he’s a great father, but I know he is more the norm than what the media would have us believe. Are there incompetent dads, sure! Plenty of incompetent moms too, but that isn’t always talked about.

    I thank you for writing this. I will absolutely share with my husband. I also feel a sense of responsibility to push for more dad support within our group, because I know it is very needed.

    Prayers for your daughter and your family. And happy birthday to you…


  8. Maria
    Maria March 11, 2015 at 11:49 pm | | Reply

    I applaud you for this article. I too have seen many cancer dads do outstanding things, but what I most appreciate are your last two paragraphs in which you detail the need for all parents to remain strong and also acknowledge the parents going it alone. I wish I had had the kind of partnership and support you describe. Perhaps in cancer as with other less harrowing aspects of life it is good to acknowledge difference, to applaud strength, but also to avoid blanket stereotypes. Not all dads are helping. Not all mums are primary carers. Not everyone copes. Some people do. I’m glad I did. I’m glad you are too.

  9. Daisy
    Daisy March 11, 2015 at 11:57 pm | | Reply

    Happy 36th B-day Matt and Happy 2 1/2 B-day Sally sunshine. You and Nicole are amazing parents and partner at caring for all of your children. Your article nailed a very valid point and one that is so valid in many ways. As a single parent I would definitely have to agree about the important roles dads play in the lives of their children. It’s a different role but one that is equally as important. Children love and value both of their parents. You and Nicole take the time to go on much needed dates and work hard at balancing life. As I pray the St. Joseph Novena this week I will add your prayer for all dads. St. Joseph too must have felt the same way all those years ago and yet he too played an important role in the life of Jesus. I wish you a blessed and Happy B-day.

  10. Beverly Godman
    Beverly Godman March 12, 2015 at 12:19 am | | Reply

    What a wonderful article you wrote. You are a wonderful father and I know how much your wife appreciates you. My husband was like you when our son had lymphoblastic lymphoma. We both did all we could for him. Now my husband has passed and I look back on a lot of it.
    I will be gone for a couple days as am flying to Atlanta at 6:00 in the morning to have surgery. I’m going to miss your posts but am taking my ipod with me so can hopefully catch up.
    Happy birthday to you and 21/2 for your daughter. Much love, Beverly

  11. Tessa Martin
    Tessa Martin March 12, 2015 at 1:01 am | | Reply

    Happy Birthday, and I totally agree with you, it should be Cancer parents. I know it’s not the same but when our youngest was born she had to go to scbu (the UK equivalent of your PICU) I was allowed to hold her whenever I wanted, but everytime my husband tried to hold her, she was always immediately taken off him and told baby was too tired etc. That hurt my husband so much, he was not just her daddy but her biological daddy too. I always picked her straight back up and put her in my husbands arms, but it was the fact that they didn’t see my husband, our daughters Father as important enough to hold his own child. It takes 2 to make a baby and Fathers are just as important as Mothers.

  12. Rob Smith
    Rob Smith March 12, 2015 at 3:32 am | | Reply

    Amen brother your words hit the nail on the head. .Too all the dads who have had to change a central line bandage or given shots or all the little things that go unnoticed your not alone

  13. Barb
    Barb March 12, 2015 at 7:57 am | | Reply

    Oh Matt, Well said!!!!!! The need and the power of the father is amazing. Just ask Carly.

    All my thoughts prayers and wishes!
    Love, Barb

  14. Sister Virginia
    Sister Virginia March 12, 2015 at 8:06 am | | Reply

    Happy birthday, Matt and congrats to Sally. What an inspiring young man you are! As I pray for you and your family every day, I always thank God for bringing you and Nicole together – and keeping you strong for each other. I hope that there is a way you can share the thoughts you posted with the MSK family, Fordham University and the world. You have a wonderful way of expressing yourself and I am sure your sentiments will help many others.

  15. Theresa Monforte-Caraballo
    Theresa Monforte-Caraballo March 12, 2015 at 8:35 am | | Reply

    Happy Birthday Matt! Sally is a very blessed little girl to have such a supporting family and community as she does. Both you and your wife are two of the strongest people I have met and I don’t think I could ever be as strong as you both. I have followed Sally since the first post I had seen on face book and enjoyed every moment of her celebrations and cried with every set back. But it has taught me to understand the importance of fighting for research for children and spreading the word to everyone to help fight that battle.
    I am currently in the process of starting “Grandma’s Love” a non-profit to combat childhood hunger in children of all ages and all schools, nut that is only one piece of our mission. Our second component is to create a space that will help the siblings of children such as Sally so they have a resource to come and just be kids and so mom and dad can just breathe a bit easier for just a little while. I am sure I will be reaching out to you for advice in the near future.
    God Bless Sally, her family and all the children at MSK, our love and prayers go out all.

  16. Neil
    Neil March 12, 2015 at 8:39 am | | Reply

    Well said mate. It ticks me off somewhat that many outsiders and lots of insiders see this battle as a mother’s battle not as a parents battle. It is hard to maintain a marriage and keep your act together as a dad of a cancer kid, and very few people recognise this. I often say my son didn’t just get cancer, the whole family got cancer, but he is the one getting treated. Best of luck to all 5 of you, and get well soon Sally Sunshine.

  17. Tammy
    Tammy March 12, 2015 at 8:54 am | | Reply

    great essay. We are a cancer family meaning not only did my child’s father and I take care of our girl all the sisters stepped up to the plate also. I know cancer affects the whole family and as a family we deal with it all. I being the mom am the one who goes to the hospital for emergencies and treatments and overnights but I do not disregard what dad does at home while I am gone. He works and keeps things going on here . We are all in this together and we will fight together as a family as it should be.

  18. Earl Jones
    Earl Jones March 12, 2015 at 9:11 am | | Reply

    Finally someone has spoken up! My wife and I have girl boy twins which didnt come easy to say the least! It took us 3 years and multiple ivf treatments to have our children! It was the happiest day of our lives to bring these two amazing kids into the world. We had struggles in the beginning as all new parents do but we stayed a team and rocked it! February 4th 2012 our son was diagnosed with type b all one month before his and his sisters 3rd bday! We were in the hospital for 10 days and home for 4 which is when he got a fever and this is what put us back in the hospital for 33 days 7 of which were spent in picu due to a fungle infection! This was by far the worst time I have ever had in my 30 yrs on this earth to date. My wife was only working part time and was carrying the insurance for the kids.I have my own insurance though my work which is much more expensive and not as good. So when this challenge was given to us she stopped working to stay with our son Jackson at the hospital thankfully her work was very supportive of our family! This being said I had to continue working to keep the bills paid and had assume the responsibility of fulltime mom and dad to Jackson’s sister Riley who had a million questions which I did my best to answer without scaring her! As all cancer parents know this is no easy task to ask of anybody and the people that do it on a daily basis our to be commended! I struggle everyday with consent what ifs of the future for our son! They have driven me to the point of alcohol abuse and even landed me in the drunk tank for a night because I was so drunk that I broke into a salon that I thought was my house and decided that I was going to destroy it because my life was destroyed! This was my breaking point which unfortunately cause more money problems but it also forced me to talk to a therapist which not only helped me but it also helped my marriage and our children’s overall life. I have always been very involved in my wife and I children’s lives but cancer has broke us down and built us back up to be the strongest we can be! So Cancer Moms, Dads or whoever be a part do the part and stay a team and you will be rewarded with the best feeling in the world of knowing that you can conquer anything given to you!!! Thanks again Matt for speaking out god bless Sally for being strong and god bless you and you’re wife for being awesome cancer parents!

  19. Mary
    Mary March 12, 2015 at 9:24 am | | Reply

    So much truth in your essay. My heart goes to you and your family. I am not a cancer parents, but a parent nonetheless and often think I would go crazy if I had to face cancer in one of my children.
    The only thing I can give you are virtual hugs and prayer that your little Sally will soon be cured.

  20. Sam
    Sam March 12, 2015 at 9:47 am | | Reply

    Matt, happy birthday and what an amazing post! I am so touched by your words. The Murphy / DiRaimondo clan continues to pray for you all. Little Sally is a lucky lady to have such a strong family behind her. Take care.

  21. Alice Troxel
    Alice Troxel March 12, 2015 at 9:57 am | | Reply

    happy Birthday. Well said. Matt. I am an oncology nurse, with adults, but sadly have some childhood cancer in friends. I am continually in awe of cancer families, the road you travel is so hard, and you get no breaks from worry. Be strong and good work reminding us to take note of the boys, too.

  22. joanna pallante
    joanna pallante March 12, 2015 at 11:33 am | | Reply

    God bless your beautiful little girl and family.

  23. Sharon R. Kabel
    Sharon R. Kabel March 12, 2015 at 11:39 am | | Reply

    Oh, Matt, you are blessed with a talent to communicate your growing knowledge and feelings when it comes to so many things! Childhood cancer, marriage and parenting seem to dominate your focus these days…yet, I know that you try also to focus on your job and your bosses have been quite a blessing to you as well. Your Dad had to shoulder a great deal when I was recovering from fractures and surgeries over the years and must have been a good role model to you over the years. Indeed, Uncle Tom’s long illness and that of my mother illness were also guides in how illness often plays a role in family life. We Kabels are so proud of you and Nicole and know the toll that illness plays in your lives. We love and pray for you always! Mom

  24. Michele Murray
    Michele Murray March 12, 2015 at 12:05 pm | | Reply

    This is so beautifully written, and you have hit the nail on the head! I can’t wait to share it with my husband! Thank you!

    Our daughter was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma when she was 16 and we had a 12 year old son. My husband and I both work full time, he is the bread winner and I carry all of our medical insurance. We were forced to divide and concur, which just added another level of difficulty to the journey we were facing ahead.

    With our daughter being 16, there were some things, her Dad just couldn’t help with, not because he wouldn’t or didn’t want to, but because she was embarrassed to have her Dad help her in the bathroom (because she was too weak to be in there by herself, or too many IV poles) or help her shower…she was a teenager! He would do ANYTHING for her, and would try to make light of the situation, if he was the one with her, when “nature” would call…but it was still emotionally hard on both of them.

    When my husband couldn’t make it to an appointment, or be with us in the hospital, we would bring him along via “facetime”. We were very lucky that our daughter’s doctor didn’t mind, and he actually would speak directly to him (the iPad), when explaining everything.

    We too, were told in those first few days in the hospital to be prepared to spend at least 40% of our income on medical expenses and other cost related to traveling 50 miles each way to the hospital every day for treatment, sometimes 3 meals out a day, hospital stays, dry cleaning (because no one is home to do the laundry) and then the dreaded steroid week, when our daughter would crave everything in sight, and then end up not wanting any of it. 🙁

    We were also told that many relationships end up in divorce during or after treatment of a child with cancer. We looked at each and other, and thought those people had no idea what they were talking about…we were fine, and would be fine! We were a team! Our “normal” life was no longer “normal” and the roller coaster of cancer has certainly taken its toll on us financially, mentally and physically.

    I am happy to say that our daughter is now 29 months cancer free and doing great. We on the other hand are still living with the daily struggles of playing catch up on bills, the constant worry of a re-occurrence and just trying to find our new normal. We spent countless nights, sleeping in chairs in the hospital, or snuggled up with one of our kids trying to comfort them and calm their fears. We “forgot” to comfort each other. Often when we had time alone, we were discussing which bills to pay, or who was going to take our daughter to an appointment or our son to hockey practice. Sadly we “lost” our relationship that we once had, we drifted apart as husband/wife and became “cancer parents” on a team that was determined to win.

    We are working so hard to get it back, but it is not easy. It is hard to explain, but it is scary. It is almost like we are just operating on autopilot. I have had a ton of support form other “cancer moms” that I have been blessed to meet at clinic or in the hospital. We have all become very close, and find comfort in knowing that what we are going through isn’t so abnormal. I feel as though I have been able to deal with my feelings and fears a lot easier than my husband.

    My husband unfortunately has not found that same support, and finds it difficult to express his fears, worries and anger. My husband works so hard, and I know that it kills him to see me running ragged and still not being able to catch up. But I don’t want the burden to be on him…this is not his fault.

    For some reason men are forced to remain strong…to have that stiff upper lip…you touched on it though…and I think you are right…Dads have a need to be able to make all things right, and to take care of their families. But when cancer enters a family…those rules all change. A Dad is no longer in control and that is extremely difficult to deal with.

    I hope and pray for my husband and all of the other Dad’s out there, that they too get the support and credit that they so deserve! Just because the Dad is not the one catching the puke or cleaning up other messes doesn’t mean that he isn’t working his tail off behind the scenes to try to protect his family and keep things running smoothly.

    I applaud you for having the courage to share your thoughts. I wish you and your family the best in your journey.

  25. Colleen
    Colleen March 12, 2015 at 1:06 pm | | Reply

    Well said. Keep fighting the good fight, my friend! You and Nicole make a great team! Hugs to Sally and the boys.

  26. Tom Miller
    Tom Miller March 12, 2015 at 1:10 pm | | Reply

    Happy Birthday Matt.
    You have an amazing ability to share your thoughts and feelings. Words that needed to be said and said so effectively. Thank you!

  27. Angie Synnott
    Angie Synnott March 12, 2015 at 1:15 pm | | Reply

    This is amazing!!!! Everything you have written is very true. I think of my husband and son and everything they have went through will our daughter/sister had AML and CNS. He stayed with her at the hospital because he wanted to, not just to give me a break. He ran errands all day long, did countless loads of laundry, got our son to school (even through all of this) he took care of our home. When he wasn’t staying over he was bringing dinner every night along with fresh clothes and linens…anything we needed. You are right, we are all cancer patients. Great article, thank you for writing this.

    Angie Synnott

  28. Steve
    Steve March 12, 2015 at 1:43 pm | | Reply

    Well done Matt. I can relate to every thought you put down here and as a cancer dad I appreciate your essay. I do, however, take offense to the PICU nurse that said that the parents whose marriage fails were not strong, or not strong enough or didn’t remain strong. That is total and complete BS and categorically not true. We fought long and hard just like our son did. We left nothing to chance. We were as strong as anyone has ever been but in the end, when our 4 year old died of cancer, the marriage died also. It took 20 more months to kill it. But kill it it did. The loss of a child (our only child) and the loss of a marriage places enormous stress on anyone. Yet here I am. I survived. Sort of. That type of survival doesn’t happen because of a lack of strength. That happens because you are the toughest SOB on this rock with immense strength.

  29. Ggina
    Ggina March 12, 2015 at 1:53 pm | | Reply

    Happy Birthday! Thanks for sharing your feelings. I hope the world hears more from YOU! Love to YOU and your precious Family!~♥~

  30. Ana
    Ana March 12, 2015 at 2:02 pm | | Reply

    Happy birthday. And thank you for writing this. I can’t make it through bc of the tears, but it also drives me crazy when dads are ignored. Especially when they are ignored by moms. Sadly, there are some fathers, who will never be dads — they’ll never develop or understand that incredible bond between a parent and a child. But there are so many amazing dads out there and they need to be acknowledged. I couldn’t be half the mom I am without my husband and vice versa. Dads are invaluable to a family. I’ve very sorry that you are required to be a cancer parent, but I applaud who you are and what you do. You are incredibly important. Thank you for all you do for your wife, your children, your family. You are a true dad and that makes you a hero in the eyes of so many. 🙂

  31. Jane
    Jane March 12, 2015 at 3:16 pm | | Reply

    My husband is one of the extraordinary Cancer dads you are talking about. He had always been responsible for my daughters meds. He has stayed many nights at the hospital so I could go home and sleep and then reported to work in the morning. I can’t imagine how our family would have made it through the last two years without him. 6 months of treatment left.

  32. emily
    emily March 12, 2015 at 4:06 pm | | Reply

    Congrats on both your birthdays. Let me tell you your post IS amazing. I feel it came at the right time. And its really as tough as accurate. Hold on dad. We got your back 🙂

  33. Jan
    Jan March 12, 2015 at 4:11 pm | | Reply

    Hats off to you
    Yes dad sometimes do get pushed aside
    Being a Mom of a son thru cancer x2 and a transplant many think mom are the rock yes to a point I feel dad are doing another role stay strong for all family and some are doing all that fun sick long night duties etc and you know when u go thru this it take both parents no matter the part of care it is both parents high % of the time fighting for the best out come for there baby fight cancer
    So again hats off to you for speaking up for dad that are apart
    Sending prayers for great out come for your child
    My son is a 2 x cancer survivor !!

  34. Cindy Gonzalez
    Cindy Gonzalez March 12, 2015 at 6:14 pm | | Reply

    Very well written, Matt. I completely agree with you. Cancer Dads are too often ignored. My husband and I have always been completely 50-50 with our kids. So when our son, Matthew, was diagnosed with ALL in January 2013, we both upped our game. We had to. Sure, I had more allotted sick time at work so I was able to stay with our son the 6 weeks he was inpatient; but he would show up at 5 o’clock, spend every other night at the hospital, then go to work the next morning. Now that our son is outpatient, I’m back to work, working from 2pm-10pm, so he takes care of homework, dinner, baths, bed time. I know that our family relies on both of us, doing our parts, and I could not be more grateful that I have an incredibly strong partner in this fight. My hats off to you and all other dads who do more than just stand by and watch. My hat off to all cancer parents.

  35. Andrew
    Andrew March 12, 2015 at 7:25 pm | | Reply

    Matt –

    I enjoyed reading this. I am a cancer dad myself – my now 3 year old daughter was diagnosed w/ ALL at 6 months. Your writing resonates with my memories of my daughter’s treatments. Best of luck to you and your family.

  36. Rachael
    Rachael March 12, 2015 at 7:29 pm | | Reply

    I think mothers are better talkers , better at opening up and saying what they need to say and women are better listeners.
    Another complete generalisation but we know dad’s do a fabulous job.
    It’s a terrible situation (I’ve been there, what am I saying, I’m still there).
    Much love

  37. Shirley Parks
    Shirley Parks March 12, 2015 at 8:06 pm | | Reply

    Happy Birthday and God Bless You. Having been through this nightmare and losing my son I know that it takes BOTH parents to handle all the day to day details and stressors. I’m sorry you have to go through this and I applaud you for a great article. Daddies count too!


  38. Bozena
    Bozena March 12, 2015 at 11:04 pm | | Reply

    Happy 36 Birthday Matt and 2/5 Sally! Hugs and kisses to the amazing family!!!!
    Bozena and Kasper

  39. Rose wilson
    Rose wilson March 13, 2015 at 7:09 am | | Reply

    Matt, beautiful! I will have to disagree with one statement. Dads can give the same reassuring snuggles. … i have witnessed it. I have watched Bella’s dad hold her during some of her hardest times. I witnessed you holding Sally at Sloan when she was diagnosed.
    You are correct. .. CANCER PARENTS!!! BOTH MOM AND DAD have amazing strength.

  40. Andrew
    Andrew March 13, 2015 at 10:11 am | | Reply

    Happy Birthday Matt!

    Very well said. I too am a father of pediatric cancer patient. My son has been out of treatment for two years now, but experienced much of the same. A week after our son was diagnosed, we found out we were expecting our fourth. With that, I sent every night in the hospital with my son, which was about 75% of treatment. My weekdays would be leaving the hospital, going to work, and returning to the hospital. Saturday and Sundays would be the only days I would see my other two children. Work alone was difficult as I would be in important meetings, and find myself questioning what’s really important, then realizing you don’t have a choice because your family needs the health insurance and we needed the salary to support everything else that cost more (child and home care, etc).

    Well said!

  41. John Grady
    John Grady March 13, 2015 at 11:21 am | | Reply

    Great article as a Cancer Parent I can relate to so many things you wrote. Thanks for the article.

  42. Cindy
    Cindy March 13, 2015 at 1:40 pm | | Reply

    From one Cancer Parent to another…thx! And Happy Belated Birthday.

  43. Chris D
    Chris D March 13, 2015 at 9:49 pm | | Reply

    Feels like I’m a part of this article as I’m laying in the hospital bed balled up next to 2yo Madelina. We (I) appreciate this and it’s spot on I’m a part time hospital dad full time house dad as we have a 5yo also and I work part time. Thanks for this words of encouragement! Happy belated Birthday and Stay Strong and Smile On Sally

  44. Tricia
    Tricia March 13, 2015 at 10:05 pm | | Reply

    As a Cancer Mom, I can say, I don’t know how I would have gotten through the ordeal without my hubby, the Cancer Dad. After nearly a 5 year battle, we unfortunately lost our sweet 8 year old son to rhabdomyosarcoma on January 4th, 2015. I think what the toll for Cancer Dads is so much tougher. My husband’s job was the health insurance source. I got to be there with my son at the hospital every time. I don’t know how I would have gotten through a day at work while our son was not well. I got to set my career aside and just be there for my son. My husband didn’t get to do that. He had to go to work. We decided to home school our other children so they could spend more time with their brother fighting cancer too. Myself and all our kids all spent the day at the hospital together supporting and loving one another through each day. More poor hubby was off to work by day and at the hospital with us by night. I am forever grateful for all my husband did to support us and really he had the far more heart-breaking role. We knew our son was unlikely to survive and all my husband wanted too was as much time with our little guy as possible. But he had to work. We needed the insurance and money to live on. Thank goodness for Cancer Dads!

  45. Marty
    Marty March 18, 2015 at 5:56 pm | | Reply

    My son is 3 years cancer free (YAY!) His treatment was 8 months. He is now 5. It absolutely took both parents to get through. My wife absorbed all the Doctors information, treatment plan, meds etc, while I was Griffins safety blanket.

  46. Stacey DeVita
    Stacey DeVita March 18, 2015 at 7:56 pm | | Reply

    This is a terrific post! I am sending over to my husband to read. As the dad of a T-Cell ALL I know that he will appreciate your words. Well done.

  47. | The Parents Perspective April 23, 2015 at 11:45 am |
  48. Renata
    Renata April 29, 2016 at 11:31 pm | | Reply

    Dear Mr Kabel,

    I volunteer in a cancer hospital, in the pediatric ward, and would like to congratulate you on this beautiful reflection on fatherhood. I see incredible dads who either stay in the hospital or, while at work, do many stressful tasks (putting under their arms all the financial and bureaucratic concerns, taking care of siblings, supporting their wives) and always rejoice when I see teams of moms and dads working together. I think moms and dads can perform different roles and while being distinct from each other, be important, present and caring.
    I wish you and your family all the very best,

  49. Simon
    Simon November 19, 2016 at 11:31 am | | Reply

    I have trawled the net looking for anything to with Dads of children with cancer. We’ve been at it for two years and the stress just gets worse. I wish there were more dads or forums or anything for us dads. You have put your story out there in a sensitive way and I commend you. My personal story is my daughter being diagnosed with a very aggressive bone cancer. She was 8 when diagnosed and responded very well to treatment. She is in remission by but still having a lot of treatment due to complications post surgery. As a dad it’s all been hard to cope with as I haven’t had much contact with the doctors dealing with it, my wife did that. The precious times I did have staying in hospital with her were calming as I felt I was doing something to help support understand and have some control. Work has been exactly as you say. I’m lucky to have an understanding company. As for my marriage it’s been pushed to the limit. Unfortunately for men we don’t normally have that shoulder to cry on as most wemon do. That’s a massive burden to carry and I know many cancer dads that turn to drink to dull the feelings you describe. It’s doubly hard if you don’t have a wife you can share it with as they for what ever reason don’t have the strength to help you too. The stress brings out the worse in you. The important thing is the children’s well being but if they survive one of the biggest problems they face is psychological and a broken home makes it worse. Thankfully my daughter is heading in the right direction. She still has years of treatment like fertility surgery but I wish there was more support for the dads. We could be in a better place to support rather than silently screaming for our own support.

  50. David
    David March 25, 2017 at 2:46 pm | | Reply

    Well said from one cancer dad to another.

  51. Tim Morris
    Tim Morris June 18, 2017 at 2:52 pm | | Reply

    I am a cancer Grandpa to 3 yr old Marshall, diagnosed with ‘ALL’ two weeks ago.
    I can see in my son-in-laws face he is the same strong cancer Dad that you are.
    Unappreciated by some, but certainly not the immediate families. You’re there when you’re needed most; true leaders. Thanks for posting this

  52. Juju
    Juju September 26, 2017 at 11:50 pm | | Reply

    You are one of my heroes! I cannot imagine what you are going through!A And you will continue! Hugs to you, your wife, and darling daughter!!!

  53. Monique
    Monique January 30, 2018 at 8:18 am | | Reply

    Thank you for sharing – I know my husband can totally relate to what you wrote. Thank you for putting ‘pen to paper’

  54. Stuart Moore
    Stuart Moore January 31, 2018 at 4:25 am | | Reply

    Hi Matt.
    Awesome words mate. I hope your daughter is going well. I also wish your family the best. I am a cancer dad to a beautiful 8year old boy with ALL. We are 15 mths in. He is now on maintenance for the next15mths and is now in remission. Thank you so much for your words and thank you from all the cancer dads. You said the things I always wanted to say but couldn’t. Men are bloody great parents too. God bless our families and prayers to your little one too . Thanks

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