Reevaluating everything after a family friend’s struggle with cancer

Almost 19 years ago, the Alday family

Almost 19 years ago, the Alday family

By Darq-Amber Neimark |

It was at my best friend’s high school graduation last year that I noticed the man cheering the loudest as she walked across the stage. He looked a little bit weak, a little pale and more than a little thin.

It’s not something that you want to think about or talk about, aside from a remark or two to someone who wouldn’t dare repeat what you’d said. But there it was.

His movements at her after-party were quiet and slow. His appearance only a baby elephant in the room — after all, this day was a focus on my best friend of 10 years, not on her father’s diminishing waistline.

It wasn’t too long after the celebration that I got the text. I was at the veterinarian with my father getting a check-up for my dog.

“My dad has stage 4 pancreatic cancer that has spread to his liver,” the text read.

Simple and heartbreaking. It was about was Carly’s dad. A man that was part of a family that I had spent evening after evening with gathered around meals he made for all of us. A man so impeccably close to God, a man so kind and generous, a man who spent every moment working toward a better life for his family.

The emotional pain was for him, but it was also for her.


Always something that a friend of a friend of a friend was dealing with, whether themselves or a loved one. Always something I knew had to be statistically lurking in the shadows of my life.

Carly and her parents at her high school graduation

Carly and her parents at her high school graduation

There were a lot of instants after that text. Instant tears, instant feelings of helplessness and an instant urge to get in my car and go as fast as I could to get to Carly.

What do you say to something like that?

The fact is that there aren’t words to comfort someone in that situation. No string of reassuring sentences could ever ease the immense sorrow she was experiencing.

But I tried anyway.

When I walked through their doorway the next day, there wasn’t a moment separating me and my best friend. I gave her a hug that tried to say everything I didn’t quite know how to express. Then I pulled back to give the rest of my second family the same kind of comfort.

I guess it’s true: it always comes for the best ones. Chuck Alday has saved every penny he could since the moment I met him in hopes to build a big new house for him and his family. It was his dream and as long as I can remember, every trip to the grocery store with him and Carly included writing down, dollar for dollar, what each item in the cart was and how much it cost.

Since his diagnosis there have been positives — for a while, his cancer markers went down and we all let optimism sink into our hearts.

Unfortunately, those markers rocketed back up.

Medically, everyone has now been told that this isn’t a marathon. It’s more of a 5K.

Two weeks ago, Chuck and Robin Alday.

Two weeks ago, Chuck and Robin Alday.

Every miracle story I had ever drilled into Carly’s head now seems insignificant as his life has been broken down to mere months.

To me, the moment I got that text my world was sent into unexpected reevaluation.

It’s been so easy. I’ve been living in this fairytale college bubble where the most important thing is where I’m interning next semester.

That’s not life, though, and now I’m seeing that the real world isn’t quite as innocuous as my four years of academia.

There are real things out there that could happen to us at any moment and rob us of any of the blueprints we’ve drawn for the future.

It’s so easy not to think about it. Denial is an easy thing to embrace. But, as I’ve learned, cancer is real, and it doesn’t shy politely away from your life just because it’s too hard to think about.

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