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My name is Lauren, and I lost my father to melanoma.

Dad was 43 years old when he had me; I was a “surprise” to my mom and dad as my sisters were 15 and 18 when I was born. Dad and I had our ups and downs as does any father and daughter living their life, but my father was a hard worker, a dedicated family man, and pushed me to become the woman I am today.

Dad began having pain in his side and went to the doctor where a cantaloupe-sized cyst was found on CT scan. Dad was about 5’1″ (I am 5’8″ so you can imagine how great it looked with me in 3 inch heels while he walked me down the aisle!), so that mass took up a large amount of space in his abdomen. Surgery was scheduled and the doctors planned on removing his spleen and gall bladder as well due to the amount of damage that the cyst had caused.

My one sister and I went to the hospital with mom and dad on surgery day. I had a sense of foreboding and kept watching the indicator that he had made it into recovery. While in surgery, we received a visit from the nurse that said the surgery was taking longer than expected but not to worry, the doctors had it under control. I knew at this point there was a major concern, but did not express my views as I did not want my mom and sister to worry.

After he was in recovery, we were asked to meet with the surgeon in a private room. I knew this meant there was bad news to come. The surgeon explained that behind the cyst was another cantaloupe sized mass – a tumor. It would be biopsied. We went to see my father and I was the one that explained to him that he had cancer, we just didn’t know what kind yet. I kept him upbeat and told him his only goal was to heal from surgery and we’d fight whatever it was. 

The news came back: it was melanoma. The surgeon referred us to an oncologist and I was in shock. I am a pharmacist, so I have medical knowledge, and I knew that was bad. I remained optimistic for my family but the news was shocking. I had to call my dad’s brother and my oldest sister to explain the news. I remember carrying a cell phone outside the hospital and just wanting to break down. I knew our time was limited.

Dad’s oncologist was nice and recommended a treatment, which dad wanted to do. He wanted to fight! When spots were found in his kidney and adrenal gland, dad asked for a kidney transplant. He wasn’t giving up! Dad didn’t fully understand that even a transplant wouldn’t save him – he was going to die. I helped him complete all of his paperwork and became his medical support through all of this.

Dad was so proud I had become a pharmacist. He always called me “doc” as I have my doctorate degree. Dad bragged about me and told all of his doctors what I did. I went to all appointments and helped him and my mom understand what was being said. Dad began having facial sagging and after hospital admission was found the tumors spread to his brain. I remember him packing his flannel pajamas saying he wanted to be comfortable. He joked with the nurses. My parents were not affectionate in public but I would see my mom slip her hand into my dad’s when the doctor walked in.

My dad attempted to get into studies with no luck. He did not qualify. Dad did donate countless vials of blood which would be used for melanoma research. Dad remained strong and wanted to help others with the disease.

After the brain tumors were found, the oncologist pulled me into the hallway to see the scans. He told me that he could not believe my dad was still alive with the severity of the tumors present, let alone joking with the nurses. Dad amazed me through his entire battle and never complained, never felt sorry for himself, never ever once wanted to be a burden.

Dad wanted to die at home. I was on the golf course for an outing when my sister called. “You need to get home – dad is having seizures. Hospice is on their way.” I arrived to find dad confused and having intense seizures. We had an emergency med kit in the fridge and the hospice nurse arrived a short time later and administered some anti-seizure meds.

Dad could no longer communicate. He showed a slight uptick of the lip when I tried to tell him something funny. On occasion, he would blink one eye when I would ask him to respond. Dad kept saying, “puh-puh-puh” but that was all he could muster.

The hospice nurse pulled me aside. “Are you sure you are up to taking care of your dad? Do you understand fully the burden and the exhaustion that will come? Do you understand the mental strain and the impact this will have on you for years to come?” Yes. Yes I did. This was dad’s wish. My mom and sister were there with me and we understood but knew we wanted to take care of dad. My oldest sister was called and was on her way.

A hospital bed was installed and dad laid there and looked at the family portrait we had given him and my mom. As the days went on he slipped away but kept breathing. We had to provide him with meds around the clock. I administered his meds every 20 minutes. My mom would set the alarm for 20 minutes so I would doze at night. He had to be changed and administered suppositories since he was not capable of swallowing. His meds were squirted in his mouth, rubbed on his wrist, and inserted rectally. The hospice nurses stopped by occasionally to check on him and on us, but we were providing his care.

Both of my sisters, me, and my mom (dad’s four girls) were surrounding dad when he took his last breath. I ran home for a short period to check in on my husband and children as I had temporarily moved in with my parents to assist with care. Mom later told me she was stressed the entire time I was gone because she was worried dad would pass. He passed away not shortly after I took his hand. He had waited for his girls to all be with him when he took his last shallow breath.

It was raining when dad passed away in the living room, and shortly after the thunder boomed. I joked that heaven was welcoming dad and boy, was he making an appearance! I would do it all over again in a heartbeat, but I miss him terribly every day.

Dad was a light-skinned red head that enjoyed being tan. He was an Army Veteran that maintained his physique his entire life. Dad went shirtless and enjoyed soaking up the sun. A tiny, tiny mole on his back the size of a pencil tip was the culprit. I now see my dermatologist every 6 months since I am at high risk – I have a parent that passed from melanoma, I used tanning beds and burned from the sun, and I have multiple moles on my body. The day of his funeral I had stitches in my back because I had been to the dermatologist who had removed a fairly large section of a pre-cancerous mole. Dad helped me understand what I did to my body and may have saved my life.

My father could have watched his grandchildren flourish and watch my promotion at work. He could have celebrated more wedding anniversaries and enjoyed more holidays. Instead, dad passed away only 10 months after his diagnosis and we watched him taken from our lives. We miss dad every day.

Due to dad’s fight I am currently co-director of a charity which donates the funds raised to melanoma research. If I can prevent one person from getting melanoma, it is worth sharing my story and dad would be proud.