The Loving Favor of My Father

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It was fall of 1999. We were both students at Neumann College in Aston, Pennsylvania. Two different people from two different places who didn’t know each other. Todd, originally from Succasunna, New Jersey; me, from South Philadelphia. 

We met through a friend, of sorts—one of Todd’s friends that I knew from a school website—that I had never seen. I had met him online; his name was Harry, and he was also a student at Neumann. One night as I sat in the computer lab, Harry sent me an email: “Let’s meet up tonight.” I agreed and went to wait for the knock on my dorm room door.

The waiting drove me nuts. Finally, the knock came. I opened the door…and almost passed out. I couldn’t breathe. He was stunning.

Five minutes passed as I tried to chat and regain my composure. Then I learned the real truth; this wasn’t even Harry! It was his friend, Todd. Harry had gotten nervous about the meeting and sent Todd to meet me instead.

Funny how the cards are dealt in this game of love. As I first laid eyes on Todd, I knew.

This was the man I was going to marry.

We hit it off immediately. Todd was athletic and played soccer for the college; he was also very smart. Every summer we went our separate ways and returned to our different hometowns, but as soon as we saw each other the following fall, it was as if we had never left. We belonged together…and everybody knew it.

Todd eventually decided to transfer to West Chester University. I chose to stay at Neumann for another semester. As we juggled schools, my family moved from Pennsylvania to Turnersville, New Jersey. My mother and father had always dreamed of having our family there.

I soon followed, leaving Neumann to move back with my parents. I did not want to stay at Neumann without Todd, and I needed to get back to work. I moved back home, took a full-time job, and enjoyed being close to my parents, my sister, Linda, and my brother, Richard. 

It was there in November of 2001 that I made my life-changing discovery; Todd and I were pregnant. Debra Lynn, our beautiful blessing of a baby girl, was born August 10, 2002 in Turnersville. What a day it was when we welcomed her into our family! Todd transferred schools again, this time to William Patterson University, ultimately graduating and then returning to Turnersville to raise our daughter as a family.

Soon after, my father, Richard Hetzel, saw his health begin to rapidly deteriorate. Our neighbor found him—collapsed and unresponsive—on the ground outside our house. It was fortunate that our neighbor discovered him, as he immediately called an ambulance and had my father rushed to the hospital. 

Once at the hospital, the diagnosis was inconclusive. The doctors could not be sure of what happened, and my father couldn’t remember anything about the incident. Nothing. With no answers, he was sent home.

My father got worse; he began having seizures. My mother knew something serious was going on and rushed him to the hospital at the University of Pennsylvania. Within twenty-four hours, my father was having surgery. He was diagnosed with a glioblastoma grade IV/stage IV brain cancer.

My dad made it back home from surgery just in time for his granddaughter’s first birthday party. We were so happy that he was able to share that joy with us. He would not have wanted to miss it…and we were happy that he didn’t.

The surgery was the beginning of our long struggle. A struggle we made as a family. Through it all, my mother was his backbone. She remained by his side as he gained almost one hundred and fifty pounds due to his numerous medications. She supported him through many anxious trips to Duke University in North Carolina for additional treatments. What my dad could not do himself, my mother did for him.

He was determined to live. Sadly, after ten months of constant battle with his brain cancer, my dad lost his fight. Curiously, it was on April 1—April Fools Day—2004. He must have thought that was funny; that is the kind of man my dad was.

Still, we were blessed. With Debra’s arrival, my father was able to meet his first grandchild. My sister Linda married her husband, Dan, during that last year. My father was there to walk her down the aisle. She was blessed; we all were.

Since my father’s passing, I have become engaged to Todd—the man of my dreams. We are getting married on September 14, 2007, in an old church in Philadelphia. Our reception is set for Blackwood, New Jersey. We have planned for food, travel, guests, and even a honeymoon! We especially thought long and hard about what we might do for favors for our guests. 

Then it struck me; we would donate the money for favors to the Tug McGraw Foundation. We would buy “45YGB” bracelets for everyone at the wedding, in the spirit and recognition of both Tug and my father. Every hand at our wedding would be decorated with Tug’s message of “ya gotta believe.”

After all, both Tug and my father had the same type of brain tumor. Both were treated at Duke University. Tug was a true inspiration throughout my father’s struggle. So much that, when Tug passed, no one wanted to share the news with him, fearing that his own hope would be taken away. We wanted him to continue to believe … like we did.

Like we still do.

Thank you so much for honoring us by sharing our story. I have been blessed to have my father, and our family is now equally blessed to join you in your continued fight against this disease.

Dana Hetzel, the author of this article, is pictured here as she takes to the dance floor with her father, Richard, at her sister’s wedding. It is a treasured celebration.

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