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By Samantha Sweetin

The Goal
    Nothing mattered more to me than winning. Friday-night lights shone down on the pitch, fans littered the stands, and the score was still zero to zero. I looked down at my mud-clad jersey then back up at the scoreboard. Five minutes left! When the soccer ball was at my feet life made sense; time both slowed down and sped up, and I was in control. As I ran down the pitch, I could feel my muscles pushing and pulling in perfect harmony. Time after time either the goalie stopped the ball or my shot was not as true as it should have been. Finally, a minute left and I connected with the ball right outside the goal. I took the shot that I had practiced for hours and sure enough, it went in! I ran towards my dad who also happened to be my coach. All I wanted to do was share this moment with him. I jumped into his arms and he twirled me around as if I were five again. He kissed me on the forehead, and I ran back to the field, ready to finish out the last couple of seconds with confidence.

Conditioning for Life
    As captain of my high school soccer team and daughter of the coach, I always had to put in the extra work and prove my worth to the team. I was the first one on the field and the last one off. I not only ran my share of the exercises but ran back to run with the last girl. I added an extra rep to every workout and extra pounds to every bar, every time. My father used to tell me that if I ever felt like I could not do something to count to ten. Anyone can do almost anything for ten seconds. I became faster with every ten. I became smarter with every ten. I became better with every ten.

The Beginning of Losing
    Years after that first memory, I plopped down on my couch recalling every single minute of my intramural college soccer game. I scrolled through Facebook instead of hitting the showers. My sister, who I usually talked through the game with, was on a date so I sat alone on the couch glancing through post after post. My grandma’s post caught my eye because she mentioned my dad. Being a self-centered person, I looked at the post to see if she said anything about how awesome her granddaughter was. She didn’t. My father was in the hospital with a tumor in his brain. I called my mom hoping my grandma was just being overly dramatic. My mom answered in a voice that screamed fear but only whispered words. I got up and paced around my living room as she spoke. She danced around words trying to be reassuring, but every twist planted more doubt in my head.
    Ultimately, I only knew that my dad had a mass in his brain. I didn’t know how big it was, why it was there, what it was, what it meant, or what they were going to do. I knew about as much as my mother, which was nothing. I was sitting on the floor when my sister came home. She asked what was wrong. I told her. She fell to the floor, too. She cried. I didn’t. I couldn’t. All I could do was sit.

Stage 4
    Cancer and chemo come hand in hand. Cancer multiplies slowly overrunning the body. Chemo multiplies slowly overrunning the body. Chemo does not cure, chemo is not nice, chemo is not a gracious medicine. Chemo kills, and it kills faster than cancer. The only difference is chemo kills cancer faster than it kills the body. My dad needed chemo, and he needed it fast. We found his cancer at stage four. It started in his colon, then his stomach, then his kidney, then his gallbladder, then his lungs, then his brain. The brain was the red flag; it was the only one that sent a signal. The mind wasn’t used to being controlled. It sent a last-ditch effort of slurred speech, lack of balance, and eventually lack of language. He was 40 years old with 150 cancerous tumors.
    He lost his appetite. The man who wanted to retire and become a cook shrunk at the sight of food. His skin became green and purple, he bled through pore after pore. The mix of constipation and diarrhea always left him in constant pain. The discoloration mixed with the intense swelling made him look inhuman. Either cancer or the chemo caused him to never fully be present. He was in a restless coma-like state, or he was acting like a child, unable to communicate more than his basic needs. He was always sick, or recovering from being sick, or about to be sick.
    My mother and I stayed by his side every day. I just counted to ten, every day, every hour, sometimes every minute, I counted to ten. I counted to ten when my father cried, an impossible sight. I counted when he yelled at my mom when she accidentally turned on the lights after his brain surgery. I counted to ten when he begged me not to let him sleep. He was scared he was not going to wake up. I selfishly counted to ten, knowing his ten seconds were far worse than my own.

Golden Five
    In soccer, there is a term called the golden five. It’s the last five minutes of the match, five minutes where you give everything you have and hope you can translate your effort into magic. You see the end coming and you make a decision. Some people are thankful for the lack of time; they were ready for the match to end after their first mistake. Some people wish they had more time to make an impression; to catch up on the score. Others are scared of how much time is left; nervous that they don’t have enough energy to keep up the pace. I was always sad. I wanted more time to play, whether winning or losing. I never wanted to leave the field. I wanted to keep going, keep running, keep pushing. I didn’t understand the want to rest or to move on, not when it came to soccer. I never wanted to leave the field.

Pink Piggy Slippers
    Nothing mattered more to me than helping my dad get better. My main focus was to get him as healthy as possible in the shortest amount of time. We did not have time to waste, we were already behind, cancer snuck upon us. I was not ready to let it win. I wanted to fight. He wanted to fight. In the beginning, he could not sit up in bed without assistance. The nurses, my mom, and I worked with him for days so that he could sit up on his own. Finally, he was able to get out of bed, so the next step was to walk around his room. He never wanted to get up; he was always in pain and never really slept. Rest was what my dad wanted but movement was what he needed. Movement moves the blood. If blood is stagnant, it clots. If it clots, he dies.
    My job was simple. I just needed to stand in front of my dad’s walker and walk backward so he could follow me. It was hard for him to look up when he walked, so he focused on my pink piggy slippers. They were so bright and obnoxious that my dad could see me all around the hospital floor. When he got winded and wanted to turn back, I checked to see if the nurse agreed. When she didn’t, I told him, “Dad, you can do almost anything for ten seconds, and I know that you can walk for ten more seconds.” He smiled because he loved me more than he hated the pain. He furrowed his eyebrows and stared at my shoes again. Every day he got a little faster and a little farther. Every day I was there with my pink piggy slippers to remind him he could make it ten more seconds until he couldn’t, and I finally understood what it meant to leave everything on the field.