I looked at my dad. Then down at my phone. 10:32 pm. July 21. 2023.
My dad was gone.
On Friday night, I watched my father — my Superman — take his final breath. It was a moment of peace for a man at war for three years.
My dad was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer (glioblastoma) in 2020. Some doctors told him he had six months to live, at best. They gave him all the grim stats, told him how his body would shut down, and plotted a future hell on earth.
At 65 years old, my dad was given a death sentence. But a funny thing happened.
My dad heard all the negativity, and he chose not to listen. Instead of waiting for death, my dad leaned into optimism and got busy living.
He had brain surgery and did chemo and radiation. After treatments, he would lift weights or walk for miles. He adjusted his diet, and my mom became his personal chef, making everything from scratch. My dad was a man on a mission. And the prize he chased wasn’t just time. It was quality of life and making the most of every day.
Instead of preparing for the end, he traveled the world, climbed mountains and skied down them, swam in oceans, and even did acro-yoga (if you knew my dad, you’d know THAT man doesn’t do acro-yoga). None of these options were ever discussed in the cancer pamphlets.
For three years, death tapped my dad on the shoulder. But my dad gave the grim reaper the middle finger, trained harder, walked farther, and ate healthier.
He did the impossible by believing it was possible.
When cancer took away his ability to use his left arm, he trained his right arm to do more. Watching a 68-year-old man teach his non-dominant arm to use chopsticks is an art of pure determination.
When cancer took away vision in one eye and limited his field of vision in his other eye, he re-taught himself how to read.
And when cancer left him unable to walk or bathe himself, even though he hated his limitations, he asked for help because that was the bravest and strongest thing he could do.
I watched my dad suffer, and I never heard him complain. Not once.
When my grandfather — his father — died a few months ago at 95, I thought it might break him. And when his four brothers had to watch him struggle to walk and talk and told him it was unfair, my dad remained steadfast:
He insisted the cancer was not unfair. Saying so would mean that his entire life was unfair, and he loved his life. He just hated the disease and thought it was terrible. And his job wasn’t to curse his life but to make the most of it.
And for him, that meant a simple choice: either feel bad for yourself or do something to make your life the best you possibly can.
My dad got lucky. Sometimes people do everything right, and the disease still takes life far too fast. But with the time he had and the time he created, my dad didn’t think cancer would take him.
Even when he only had a week left, he would lie in his hospital bed and ask me how we would get him to football games in the fall. We both had season tickets to our beloved Colorado Buffaloes. They have been terrible for the past 15 years, but we still showed up to every game and stayed till the end. My dad was excited about the fall. Deion Sanders was bringing Prime Time to Boulder. He wanted to be there on September 9th to see the first victory on the path to the greatest turnaround in college football history.
Some people thought he was crazy for talking about attending football games while in hospice. To me, it was just part of his vision.
Arnold always talks about vision, and my dad also believed in it. And his vision didn’t include death. He envisioned himself in that stadium. And while he won’t make it, that vision helped him go farther than any doctor said he would.
None of you knew my dad. But he loved life so much that he was unwilling to see his sickness as anything other than another obstacle he would overcome.
In my last conversation, my dad told me something I’ll never forget.
He talked about finishing what I started — as a husband, as a father, as a friend, and in my work. We started Arnold’s Pump Club when his health started to rapidly decline. We didn’t discuss much about my work, but he told me he read every email and that I was doing something important.
In facing death, my dad believed the world needed more positivity. If there was anything he learned, it’s that optimism is the way.
He then asked me how many people we reach each day. I told him 500,000.
He then asked how many I wanted to reach. I told him 5 million.
And then he dropped the mic.
He said, “Adam, why put a limit on what you can do? Where would I be if I did that when I was diagnosed?”
Man. My dad didn’t always have many words, but the ones he had were damn good.
In the end, my dad made his vision a reality. He stayed optimistic, bet on himself, and appreciated each day as if his life depended on it.
After I watched my dad take his last breath, I told him I was proud of him. I kissed him on the forehead, and I said, one last time, it was good to see him.
Adam Bornstein is a New York Times bestselling author and the author of You Can’t Screw This Up. He is the founder of Born Fitness, and the co-founder of Arnold’s Pump Club (with Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Pen Name Consulting. An award-winning writer and editor, Bornstein was previously the Chief Nutrition Officer for Ladder, the Fitness and Nutrition editor for Men’s Health, Editorial Director at LIVESTRONG.com, and a columnist for SHAPE, Men’s Fitness, and Muscle & Fitness. He’s also a nutrition and fitness advisor for LeBron James, Cindy Crawford, Lindsey Vonn, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. According to The Huffington Post, Bornstein is “one of the most inspiring sources in all of health and fitness.” His work has been featured in dozens of publications, including The New York Times, Fast Company, ESPN, and GQ, and he’s appeared on Good Morning America, The Today Show, and E! News.