I gripped the baseball bat tightly and swung hard.
The ball I'd hit sailed through the air as I sprinted to first base.
"Go, Caity-Bird!" my dad, Drew, cheered, using his nickname for me. "Run to second."
At 10 years old, I loved baseball and Dad, 56, coached my team, the Liverpool Angels. We were the first all-girl team in the regional comp and we'd reached the semi-finals.
Dad was often away for his job as an equine chiropractor so I treasured our time together.
Sometimes he took me fishing and gave me tips on how to cook the perfect sausage rolls, his favourite.
When I was 11, a horse kicked Dad in the stomach while he was at work. A lump developed, so he went to the doctor.
"It's a hernia," I heard Dad explaining to my mum, Allison. "I need an op to remove it."
I didn't know what a hernia was. Dad had type-two diabetes but, apart from that, he'd always been healthy.
Once he was in hospital, I knew I'd have to help Mum around the house. She'd struggled with rheumatoid arthritis since she was 21.
Her bones were terribly brittle – when my brother, Blake, was a baby she'd dislocated her shoulder just lifting him out of his cot.
"I can open jars for you, like Dad normally does," I offered.
Smiling, she pulled me in for a hug.
But after Dad's surgery, the doc called us in.
"When we opened your husband up, we discovered many serious health conditions we weren't aware of," he explained to Mum.
Dad had renal failure and cirrhosis – long-term liver damage. He needed transplants and excess fluid drained from his stomach.
My heart raced as I looked at Mum. I didn't understand the medical jargon but the worry was etched across her face.
Dad stayed in hospital and I kept him company.
The nurses were run off their feet so I asked if I could help.
One explained that Dad's kidneys weren't removing fluid in his stomach so docs had to drain it into a bag.
"Keep an eye on it," she requested. "When it fills up with fluid, call us over."
For hours on end I kept my eyes glued to the bag. As soon as it filled up, I raced to the nurse's desk.
"We need a new bag!" I exclaimed. I loved helping out but mostly I enjoyed keeping Dad company.
A year later, a liver transplant became available. Before the surgery, Mum and Dad sat me down.
"There's a chance I may die, Caity-Bird," Dad said. "Look after Mum and know I love you."
Tears welled in my eyes. I didn't want to imagine losing him. Thankfully, the op was successful but it had been a close call.
"Your liver was the size of a prune," the surgeon said. "If we hadn't operated, you'd have been dead in three days."
I cuddled Dad extra tight. When he finally got to come home, I was stoked.
"Maybe we can go fishing soon?" I suggested. "Or play catch in the backyard?"
"Of course," he beamed.
But as the weeks passed, Dad weakened. All his problems had wreaked havoc on his body. He developed gout, blood clots, pneumonia and emphysema.
His kidneys worked enough to put off a transplant but they weren't healthy.
"Everything's snowballed," he sighed. "Docs are saying I'll never fully recover."
That night, in bed, I thought about how much Dad used to do around the house. What would happen if he was too weak to leave his bed? And with Mum's arthritis, how could she care for him? I was only 12, but my parents needed me. I couldn't let them down.
It's time to grow up, I decided. I threw myself into caring for them. After school, while Mum cleaned the house, I started cooking.
Dad kept an eye on me, giving advice whenever I needed it.
He wasn't strong enough to stand in the kitchen for hours, but I loved bonding with him.
Once Dad grew too weak to wash his hair, I did it for him. And when Mum's arthritis flared up, I chipped in with the laundry.
When I turned 16, we had to move to a smaller, more affordable house, since Dad could no longer work.
Thankfully, teachers at my new school understood my situation and gave me assignments in advance, so I had more time to work on them, they also gave me notes from any lessons I missed looking after Mum and Dad.
Some classmates thought I was getting special treatment.
They didn't understand that I was trying to nurse my parents and run a household.
Amazingly, I managed to graduate Year 12 and was accepted into TAFE to study hospitality and childcare.
Now Mum has osteoporosis, so her bones are weaker than ever, and Dad suffers from chronic back pain, on top of his other conditions.
We know he'll never fully recover, but we keep him company and make sure he's comfortable.
I've made sacrifices. I can't catch up with friends like regular teenagers, but I'm not at all resentful.
My parents did everything for me when I was little and now I'm returning the favour.
It still upsets Dad that he's lost the active life he cherished so much, as well as his career and coaching our baseball team, but we're closer than ever because of the time we've gotten to spend together.
I wish my parents had an easier lot in life, but I'll always do everything I can to ease their pain.
Editor's Note: Sadly, following the publication of this story, Caitlin's father Drew passed away.
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