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Father’s Day and Our Fight Against Cancer

Ryan Smith with his father Scott at Qualtrics Headquarters in 2011
Ryan Smith (far left) with his father Scott (center) at Qualtrics Headquarters in 2011

"I’m calling to tell you I have cancer." That is the phone call no one ever wants to get. I have received it too many times in my life. The first time was from my father. I was in Los Angeles for an internship at HP, and my dad called me to break the news that he had stage III throat cancer. So I cut short my summer to rush home to Utah. Cancer only ever gives us percentages and likelihoods, so with the warning that it didn’t look good, I dropped out of school to spend time with my dad.

I remember my dad—this strong, vibrant marathon runner of a man—losing weight, lying in bed, and struggling to speak. We needed to do something to keep us busy. Instead of working on a car together, my dad and I started a software company. Over the next couple of years, after months of chemo and what seemed like endless visits to Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI), my dad got better and his cancer went into remission. We were the lucky ones. All along, before we had anything, we said that if we could, we would help make this better for other people. We would dedicate ourselves to cancer. It was a pact that many people make as they are going through hardships, and it has never left our minds. We committed that if we ever made any more money or had any influence, we’d use the platform and money to fight cancer. And we have and will continue to do this with 5 For The Fight, which invites everybody to give $5 for the fight against cancer.

Last month, 5 For The Fight and Qualtrics raised $500,000 for our new tradition of making May an employee-led fundraising month. But that’s just part of our goal to raise $50 million to fund cancer research. We will go well beyond that. Qualtrics teams, our parent company, SAP, and partners around the world are funding 5 For The Fight. And all of those resources flow directly to cancer researchers around the world. With Breakthrough Cancer Research in Ireland, our teams are supporting Sylvie Amu, PhD, at Cork Cancer Research Centre. And at HCI, 5 For the Fight is helping Joshua Schiffman, MD, Alana Welm, PhD, Martin McMahon, PhD, and their incredible teams.

Every patient and every researcher knows that cancer is a bear to fight and one of the worst experiences possible. Siddhartha Mukherjee compares it to Alice in Through the Looking Glass: "The world keeps shifting so quickly under her feet that she has to keep running just to keep her position."

Ryan Smith and his dad, Scott Smith, in BYU Tanner building
Ryan Smith with his father, Scott Smith

My dad has been in remission for years. He has continued his work as a professor and a researcher. He has served in his church. He has been an amazing father to four Smith boys and his grandchildren. I always reflect that the time we have had with him over the last 17 years is "bonus time." Scott has been fighting and winning.

Then three years ago, I got the same dreaded phone call. This time it was from another father in my life: my stepfather, Mike, who also helped raise me. He’d been diagnosed with multiple myeloma. Mike and I were incredibly close. He had been married to my mother for 25 years; he introduced me to the game of golf and has been deeply influential in the lives of all of the Smith kids.

Multiple myeloma does not have a positive outcome. There is no real cure, and the question becomes: How long are you going to survive? Mike fought a great fight for the last three years, and he left us last month. This year I celebrate two men on Father’s Day—my father, Scott, and my stepfather, Mike, whose fight is done.

But I believe in this fight. I know this is a fight we can win. We won’t find a cure to cancer; we will only create one. Since I got that call in California 17 years ago, and another call three years ago, we’ve been fighting cancer more than ever. We’ve been fighting for Scott and we’ve been fighting for Mike, and we will keep fighting for everyone.

I want to make sure that because of our fight, and the fight of many others, my kids and your kids don’t have to take those calls.

Cancer touches all of us.