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by Hal Berger   |   November 9, 2021

My Grandfather, My Hero

My grandfather was my hero.

He was the definition of a Renaissance man — he was a Veteran, an accomplished dentist, a skilled photographer, a gardener who cultivated an impressive collection of bonsai trees, a collegiate fencer who fenced at the national level — I can go on and on. He even ran the New York City Marathon until he was seventy-nine, at one point being the oldest male runner from Brooklyn! When I think about how my grandfather has impacted my life, it isn’t easy to put it into words.

As one of five boys in my family, he devoted himself to nurturing passions in all of us. For some of my brothers, it was sports. For others, it was marine biology and photography. But for me, it was history. From visiting history museums across the country to building scale models of historical aircraft and ships together, he instilled in me a deep appreciation for history. His vast library of historical books and movies covering a myriad of eras was a wonder to behold, and every week he and I would talk on the phone about what books we were currently reading.

But what I loved the most was hearing about his time in the US Army. He was a paratrooper in the 11th Airborne Division (which bore the nickname “Angels”) in the early 1950’s. I vividly remember the stories he would tell me about his time in the Service, and we would flip through his photo albums, each photo captioned in his classic sense of humor.

He told me how he would jump from the Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar, a plane he proudly informed me was the only twin-engine transport in the US Air Force that couldn’t fly on only one engine, which made every jump even more exciting! Needless to say, these stories made a lasting impression.

My grandfather was first diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1988, getting radiation treatment the year after. In 1996 the cancer returned, and my grandfather had surgery in an attempt to remove it. But prostate cancer is a stubborn foe, and it returned for the final time in 2015. After trying several other treatment methods, my grandfather turned to a clinical trial, but sadly it was not enough. A proud man, he did his best to hide the disease from his grandchildren and the rest of the world. Indeed, it wasn’t until the final years of his life that I even learned he had prostate cancer.

Knowing what I know now, I wish he would not have been as proud as he was, for when a person is afraid if other people know about their diagnosis, they often don’t get the support they truly need.

He was admitted to the hospital in December 2018 with severe pain in his lower back, and his condition deteriorated from there. The cancer had metastasized. Jack Berger – my grandfather, my hero – fought his prostate cancer to a draw on April 21st, 2019.So much of who I am today is because of my grandfather.

After a loved one passes, people choose to commemorate them in a myriad of different ways. I decided to learn how to jump out of an airplane in the same manner my grandfather did nearly seventy years ago. I jumped in his memory, carrying his photo with me as I did so.

I also applied for a job here at ZERO. After all, what better way to honor my grandfather’s memory than to help prevent other families from going through the same thing mine did? The minute I saw the job posting, I knew that this would be no ordinary job: this is a calling, a responsibility to my grandfather’s memory that I help fulfill every day. Whether it’s advocating for policies that will help prostate cancer patients and their families or working with high-risk groups such as Veterans to help educate and inform them about their risk for this terrible disease, I am doing my part to bring about an end to prostate cancer.

My grandfather’s passing left an indelible hole in my life. ZERO is helping me fill that hole.