Happy Birthday, Dad: An Open Letter To My Dad Who Lost His Battle to Colon Cancer at 25

When my larger-than-life dad was 25, colon cancer got the best of him. In the past 25 years, I’ve transitioned from the girl who misses her dad, to the girl who wants to know her dad, to the woman who understands how truly lucky she is.

We’re all thrown a few lemons in life. Not a human on this earth is going to make it to their last day without the option to make a few pitchers of spiked lemonade, but, unlike most, I was introduced - at an early age - to the reality our days are not promised.

We’re deserving of nothing, yet I’ve received everything: I have a strong family, a pack of alpha friends, a masters degree, and a business card listing me as the CEO of my own small business.

This week, as I celebrate my dad’s birthday, I’m grateful for a man who should have had more time on this earth, who fought like hell to stay, who adventured hard, and gave me some pretty tremendous chipmunk cheeks.


Ron Isley was diagnosed with colon cancer on October 27, 1991 when he was only 23 years old. He passed away March 11, 1993.

Ron Isley was diagnosed with colon cancer on October 27, 1991 when he was only 23 years old. He passed away March 11, 1993.



To my dad on what would be his 50th birthday

Happy birthday, Dad!

Today, you turn fifty. FIFTY. Five zero. You’re old, man.

In a lot of ways, I can’t imagine not wishing you were here, but I also know I’m okay even though you’re not. In your wake, you left a tribe of hall-of-fame humans who have supported me through every school play, graduation, adventure and heartbreak.

I tried to call you once. Maybe it was the rocks kicking up on the mud flaps, maybe it was the pause between songs, but for a moment I wasn’t the girl missing her dad. I picked up the phone and pulled over on that dirt road as crocodile tears fell into my steering wheel. You weren’t going to answer because I tried to dial a phone number you’ve never had. You weren’t going to hear about the simple, normal day that took a hard left when I learned I’d be in Oklahoma State’s Homecoming Royalty. But, maybe you already knew.

You’re real to me. As real as you ever were.

Whether intentional or not, the relationships you cultivated created ripples that have been steadily growing and increasing in intensity. Sometimes I’m not sure where my memories stop and where others’ memories begin. I hear your laugh rustling every time Sammy Kershaw comes through the FM speakers and wonder if mine sounds the same.

As I watch my friends bring new humans to the world, the realness of your love has amplified. Through them I see how much you didn’t want to leave. As my best friend cried her way through a terrible movie because she couldn’t imagine a world where she wasn’t here for her kids, I told her, “they’d know. We’d all make sure they know.” And, they would.

Because I know.

I know as I stand on a ledge at the Grand Canyon, as I make another pass on I-40, as I watch the sun set on another adventure. I know.

I’m good. I’m really good.

Love you.


P.S. Mobile phones are computers connected to the internet now. I know, weird.


Final paper from Comp 1 at IUPUI, Fall 1992.

Final paper from Comp 1 at IUPUI, Fall 1992.

The Ron Isley Birthday Challenge 

If you loved my dad as much as I still do today. I have a few favors.

  1. Do something adventurous. Go on a hike. Starch those jeans and take ‘em for a spin around the dance floor. 
  2. Donate to Fight Colorectal Cancer.
  3. Get over yourself and get screened if you need to. Sure, it’s your butt. Everyone has one. (I got tested at 19. You’re fine.)
Ron Isley Colon Cancer