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Melanoma, Marathons and Life Lessons From Dad

Melanoma, Marathons and Life Lessons From Dad
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Published on July 30, 2020

Told He May Never Walk Again, A Melanoma Patient Went on to Run Marathons

My father grew up in the snowy mountains and trout-filled streams of Wyoming. Far from his mind were thoughts that those sunny days would lead him to one of the most excruciating moments of his life.

In the time before sunscreen was commonplace, skin cancer prevention was of little consequence; however, my father’s melanoma diagnosis and treatment left a deadly legacy in its wake. 

A Family History

As far back as I can remember, my father and I would drive 45 minutes out of town to get a checkup once a year. For me, this was a fun adventure away from school. For my dad, it was a reminder of a painful part of his past — the removal of several of his lymph nodes at the Mayo Clinic.

I learned later that the reason we drove out to the clinic was to be seen by a dermatologist who was trained at the same place my father got his lymph nodes removed. The standard skin assessment was always weird to me, the gown, the gloved hands, and the smell of antiseptic in the air. Since it only happened once a year, I usually forgot about it. 

As time moved on, I was told bits and pieces of information about what my father went through. He had had a type of skin cancer but was now okay. They told me I had to wear sunscreen consistently now because of it. We even used long-sleeved clothing while hiking and sun hats to protect us. To younger me, this was just an inconvenience. Now, I see the real reasons behind their consciousness with my sun exposure as a child. 

Thankfully, I spent probably too much time in the sun as a kid who loved the water. With the precautions we took, I was still able to enjoy all the thrills of being young. Even more, the legacy of skin protection remains with me to this day — the religious application of sunscreen before going outside and making sure I have the proper clothing. 

Beating the Odds

What is even more striking, is the fact that my father’s cancer diagnosis, and subsequent recovery, is a testament to the love that my parents had for each other. My father, who had only just recently finished his residency as a general practitioner, had a one-year-old child at the time of his diagnosis.

At first, they removed the mole, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief for the moment. On a trip to Lake Tahoe, my mother noticed a weird and rapidly expanding mole on my dad’s leg, a telltale sign of melanoma. He got it checked out and found out it was cancer. Several months later my dad noticed that his lymph nodes had become swollen, leading him to get the area checked out again. The diagnosis was dire — the cancer had metastasized into his lymphatic system.

Through a connection, my father was referred to the Mayo Clinic. They told him to expect the worst: if the cancer could be removed, he would never walk again. 

Seeing the potential for my dad to pass away, my mother began applying in earnest to master’s programs so that she could support me in the event of his untimely passing. My father, an avid runner, began to prepare himself for a life of limited mobility.

After a successful surgery and many months of recovery, my father slowly regained back his previous mobility. Showing no signs of the disease, my father ran a marathon a year after his diagnosis. They even sent a picture of him crossing the finish line to his oncologist. Beating all of the odds, he eventually even ran the New York City Marathon as a way to show that even cancer doesn’t stop you from doing the things you love. 

Life Lessons from Dad

I realize how poorly things could’ve gone had things not worked out the way they had. I am thankful every day that he could beat the odds! It’s part of the reason why I am so adamant about my skin protection routine. If my dad could survive something so trying, I owe it to him to practice my own cancer-prevention techniques.

I still go to the doctor every year to get checked out and go out of my way to put on sunscreen and stay in the shade when possible. Even though my dad doesn’t run as much as he used to, it still brings me so much joy to see him enjoying the outdoors, especially when all of that could have been taken away from him. 

~Silas Hassrick 

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