Heidi McAlpin: 'It's cruel, but won't stop dad living the best life he can'
To coin a footballing phrase, it has been a summer of two halves. Which is apt, as football has provided an enduring bond between me and my dad.
The first half was the usual carefree few weeks of summer holidays including an epic trip to Canada with my husband and children.
The second half began as soon as I got home, suitcase barely unpacked, with the news that dad had cancer. No warning, punch in the stomach, in at the deep end cancer.
And so began regular visits with dad to various doctors and specialists, followed by what has become something of a prolonged hospital stay.
I was told by his oncologist that it would be a steep learning curve for us both. And this has certainly proven to be the case.
I now drive almost on autopilot to the City Hospital Cancer Centre where he is receiving specialist treatment in Ward 2A.
Nurses nod a cheery hello. The coffee shop provides daily sustenance (their gourmet sausage rolls are delectable). And fellow visitors look at you with a knowing glance. Compadres all.
As a man who has largely rejected the 21st century's advances, my dad is without a mobile phone, which makes me his de facto PA (and happy to be so), keeping friends and family informed of his condition and letting people know he is more than happy to welcome visitors to his hospital hacienda.
Before cancer ever visits your door, you sympathise with others going through it. But, like a cruel Narnia-esque portal, seeing it affect a loved one brings home its stark reality.
Mentally, my dad is his usual effervescent self. Physically, he fights to be the man he was just a few short weeks ago. The nurses and physiotherapists are with him every determined step.
Friends have been an absolute godsend, visiting regularly and keeping him up to speed on events beyond the ward - not least his "gang" at Crusaders Football Club, including Rachel, Tasha, Chris, Harry, Sybill, Trevor, Barry and even manager Stephen Baxter, who each have taken the time to call up for an old chinwag and put the world to rights. I know these visits mean such a great deal to dad.
Even better, me and his granddaughter, Scarlett, managed to get him out of hospital to see his beloved Crues play Larne last Saturday.
The game was a draw, breaking the team's winning streak. I'm not saying he's a scud, but I just hope they let us in again this week!
Days like these - and even writing his piece - is a reason to keep on fighting. cancer (small "c") is a cruel beast, but it won't stop dad living the best life he can. With the support he has around him, I know this to be true.
Next stop, another daytrip to the Rinkha in Islandmagee for a '99'.
It is still the summer, after all.
Heidi McAlpin is managing editor of Belfast & Northern Ireland In Your Pocket