One early Sunday morning five years ago, my dad called me to ask me to meet him in the emergency room.

“Dad, why are you going to the ER?” I was scared, but never in a million years would I ever imagine him saying what he said next.

“I have a mass in my brain.” He said it calmly, but I sensed fear in his voice.

Everything I had ever known about life changed in that moment. Prior to that, I was just a carefree pediatric resident worrying about how to survive night shifts and what my plans would be on my days off. Suddenly I dove into one of the most stressful, scary periods of my life, uncertain how I was going to make it.

My father was one of those life-long learners. He completed his college studies at Berzeit University in Palestine, then was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to study at Missouri State University for his MBA. His idea of a great day was getting a cup of coffee and spending hours reading books about history and politics, then telling me and my brothers all about what he just read. When I was a child, he taught me the Palestinian national anthem and instilled pride for my homeland in me. He taught me Arabic and math and tried to show me the world. He gave me the best life he could. I was fourteen years old when he looked at me one day and said, “you know Fida, you could do anything you set your mind to. You could even become a doctor.” And that was the beginning of my path to becoming a pediatrician.

On our first morning in the hospital, my dad was admitted to the oncology floor. A tall Neurosurgeon took me into a quiet family room and told me my father likely has an incurable brain tumor, then asked me if I had any questions. I felt numb. I shook my head no, my face emotionless but my mind racing with a million thoughts. Four days later, my dad went through a six hour long surgery to remove the tumor from his brain. Although doctors promised his speech and motor function would not be affected by the surgery, we found shortly after surgery that he would never walk or talk again. My father, who was the most eloquent and well-read person I knew, who worked twenty hour days to make a life for his family, ended up in a wheelchair and unable to say a word.

My father’s days in the hospital were filled with chemotherapy infusions, discussions with attendings, meetings with his oncologist, and the endless guests that came to visit him, leaving bouquets of flowers and boxes of chocolates for him. I loved seeing my dad’s eyes light up when one of his friends peeked his head into the room and walked in. His friends would sit next to him and talk about their childhood memories in Palestine. My dad would look at them with a big smile on his face.

At night, when things got quiet again, it was just me and my dad again. I would pull a chair as close to his bed as possible and hold his hands in mine. I talked to him as if we were back to our normal lives. I would tell him about what I had read in the news. About my day. About anything other than his cancer. He listened intently, just as he always did, his head tilted to one side. I told him jokes just to watch his lips curl into a smile. All the medications he took made him sleepy, so while he took naps I sat with my IPad researching glioblastoma multiforme treatments and statistics of chemo and radiation cure rates. And then making prayers that my dad would be cured of what was deemed an incurable cancer.

Sometimes in the middle of the night when I was unable to fall asleep, I would wait until my dad’s eyes closed, then quietly tip toe out of his room and walk around the lobby of the hospital, my footsteps creating echoes in the empty hallways. I found myself heading to the chapel most of the time, journaling on the edges of prayer packets I found. Talking to God and asking Him to cure my dad. As the only person with a medical background in my family, my brothers and mother relied on me for updates and translating all the medical jargon. But they mostly looked to me for hope. I remained positive on the outside. Deep down, though, I was suffering a slow agony knowing there was not much time left.

After six weeks in the hospital, my dad was discharged home. He went through multiple rounds of outpatient chemo infusions and radiation therapy, none of which stopped the tumor from growing. As the months wore on, I watched my dad’s body become thin and fragile. His expressions went from those of understanding to confusion. He looked at me with lost eyes, as if he did not recognize me. I took him to his final oncology appointment, where the oncologist held my hand and said, “I’m so sorry, but your father does not have much time left.” After seven months of holding it together in front of everybody, I could not hold in the tears any longer. Behind his confused, tired eyes, I sensed that my dad was sad to see me cry. Even in his last moments, my dad’s heart consoled mine. That was all my dad ever did for me. He was my rock. No matter how bad things seemed, he always found a way to make everything better. I gave him a hug and we went home. He never saw his doctor again.

A few days after that appointment, my dad passed away at home. My brothers and I surrounded him, our hands holding on to his until he took his last breath. The wrinkles on his face that fifty three years of living had created were gone. He looked at peace. I knew that my dad was in God’s Hands now. He did not have to suffer anymore.

More than five years after his passing, I miss his presence every single day. He is my hero. He is my inspiration. He taught me to be a woman of honor and strength. He showed me that no matter how impossible or difficult things in life seemed, there is always light at the end of the tunnel. He taught me to chase my dreams with everything I had inside of me. With his love and support, I am capable of absolutely anything.

God bless you dad. Thank you for everything. Thank you for picking me up every time I fell. Thank you for believing in me when I did not believe in myself. Those lessons you taught me are ingrained in me and will push me through the darkest moments. I hope I‘ve made you proud, dad.

May we always protect our parents, love them and cherish them with all our hearts.