My teenage years are broken up into two distinct parts: before cancer and after cancer. Every memory I have automatically falls into a category in relation to my dad’s diagnosis. I got my driver’s license before cancer, and I graduated high school after cancer. I applied to college before cancer, and I got accepted after cancer. I wish my mind didn’t work this way, but cancer has a way of changing everything.

Dear 16-year-old Caroline…

It’s me, A.K.A. you, but 11 years older and a whole lot wiser. First off, stop going in tanning beds right this minute and don’t let anyone talk you into getting bangs. Just trust me. With that out of the way, here are a few other things to keep in mind as you navigate the insane world of high school, college, and early adulthood. Seriously, even if you don’t take advice from anyone else, listen to some advice from YOUR DAMN SELF.

 I’ve wanted to write this blog for a long time. A really, really long time. I’ve been putting it off for a couple of reasons. First, there aren’t words that can do this man justice. I want to honor him properly, and I know I’m not a talented enough writer to do that. Second, I don’t even know what to say. Truthfully, I struggle with a lot shame that I wasn’t the best friend I could’ve or should’ve been, and when I write about my relationship with Justin I know I can’t sugarcoat that emotion. Regardless, I decided it’s time that I at least try to write about this guy. After all, his friendship and his death altered the course of my life, and it seems insane that I haven’t touched on it yet.

Today would’ve been my dad’s birthday. I think about him every day, but especially on August 9th and February 15th, the anniversary of his death. As most of you know, he died from cancer in 2009 when I was a senior in high school.

I always hear that he’s “watching over me.” I respect and admire people who believe that so unwaveringly, and it makes me feel so good when people say he’s still with me. If I’m being completely honest with myself, though, I’m just not sure that I believe it. First, because I’m not sure what I think when it comes to life after death. I’ve tried to convince myself that he knows the current me, and I just can’t. And second, if there is life after death, I hope he’s doing something much cooler than watching my boring life. In my ideal situation, my dad gets a highlight reel every once in awhile. You know, just cut to the good stuff.

So Dad, on your birthday, these are the things I want to tell you.