5 For The Fight: My 5 For Is For My Dad

“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.

Qualtrics' origin
In 2002, Qualtrics started in the Smith family’s basement. Ryan and his father, Scott, in foreground, right.

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.

On World Cancer Day, 5 For The Fight will extend to five pilot countries within SAP, inviting all SAP employees there to give €5 each month to this important cause. All of the money raised will go directly to cancer researchers around the world. SAP employees will support researchers at Hopp Children’s Cancer Center Heidelberg in Germany, Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Australia, Huntsman Cancer Institute in the U.S., and The National Cancer Centre in Singapore. And we plan to announce a brand new project soon in India.

Every patient and every researcher knows that cancer is a battle 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.”

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.

Qualtrics CEO Ryan Smith's 5Then 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.

Who Is Your 5 For?

  1. Think of someone you know who is fighting or has fought cancer
  2. Write their name on your hand
  3. Take a picture like the examples in this article
  4. Post it to your social media account alongside: #5ForTheFight #sap4good
  5. Check out more information on 5 For The Fight

A version of this story previously appeared on the Huntsman Cancer Institute’s Circle of Hope.
Ryan Smith is co-founder and CEO of Qualtrics.