Winders: Don’t lose sight of research’s gifts

My dad is dying.

Not in that ‘tomorrow is promised to no man’ sort of way. He knows his end is coming sooner than most. But being Midwestern, Lutheran and a certified public accountant, he isn’t one for emotional reactions to, well, anything.

Dad has battled various forms of cancer for a decade and a half. Along the way, he has been poked, prodded, dosed and otherwise tormented to keep that damned disease at bay. For him, the news never seems to get better and his most recent was the worst of all.

A few years ago, his larynx was removed, and he has spoken with an electronic voice box ever since. It was the most life-changing of his procedures, requiring more adjustments than a 60-something-year-old man is used to making. He relearned how to speak, one syllable at a time.

Sadly, I have trouble remembering my dad’s ‘real’ voice. Not that it has stopped us from talking almost every day.

But this isn’t a sob story. It’s a thank you from both of us to those who gave us one last gift – time.

One thing my dad and I have shared my whole life is baseball. Lifelong St. Louis Cardinals fans, dad took me to my first game, St. Louis vs. Cincinnati in 1976. Since, we have watched dozens from the stands, and hundreds more in front of a television or radio.

When I left home, we continued to ‘watch’ Cardinals games together over the phone. It is always a strange ritual to those witnessing it for the first time. Over three hours, there will be long stretches of silence, punctuated by conversation or commentary on a play or managerial tactic. Needless to say, unlimited long distance plans were a welcome addition to both our homes.

Last week, we watched our beloved Redbirds win the World Series. The team’s refuse-to-quit attitude since late August, coinciding precisely with my dad’s poor diagnosis, was a welcome distraction. We were on the phone almost every night – watching, cheering.

I have never rooted so hard. See, for us, wait ’til next year might not be an option.

It sounds silly, I realize; there are so many more important things. But baseball is part of who we are. And if joy can come through an electronic box, I heard it Friday night as the Cardinals won Game 7. As I write this I am smiling once again; it’s a memory I will carry with me forever.

And it might not have been.

Cancer could have taken dad years ago. But it didn’t.

Now, we didn’t get this time because it was owed to us. Dad and I got these wonderful moments over the last few weeks because of the hard work of people like many of you, researchers who spend their lives in pursuit of an undiscovered truth.

For some, your work might spark someone to write the next great play or provide inspiration to create the next great sustainable business. For dad and I, we were given extra time, and even a voice, because of research.

The chemotherapy, originated by Drs. Robert Noble and Charles Beer right here at Western. The electro-larynx, invented by Harold Barney in the 1950s. Radiation therapy. Dozens of devices. Hundreds of medications. All innovations spawned, at least in part, out of academic-led research.

I know it can be tough to remove yourself from the day-to-day politics and frustrations of working in an academic setting. Sometimes you might question its value. But try not to get lost in the silliness.

Always remember research matters.

Take it from a kid who got to share one more World Series with his dad because of it.