By: Taylor Gazda Stipe
This Isn’t Happening
My dad wasn’t supposed to get cancer. He never smoked a pack a day, he never drank his liver away, he’s always stayed in pristine shape.
My dad was not supposed to get cancer, but he did.
In October 2011, my dad was diagnosed with advanced metastatic melanoma. Sounds like something you’d hear on Grey’s Anatomy, right? When my parents first told me of the diagnosis, I didn’t understand why they were so upset.
“Melanoma is just skin cancer, right? The doctors can just remove it, Dad. They can just remove the tumor and you’ll be fine. Right? Dad?”
The silence coming from the other end of the phone was a direct indicator that everything was not fine. The cancer had already made its way into his lymph nodes and eventually would spread to his chest.
“No, no, no, no,” I repeated as sheer anger came over me. “NO! This isn’t supposed to be happening! You don’t drink, you don’t smoke, you eat right, you exercise!” I continued. “YOU’RE not supposed to get cancer, Dad! You are not supposed to get cancer,” I yelled as if he had any control over it.
Turns out, my dad was the perfect candidate for the disease. It was the many hours spent outside working cows, bailing hay and even exercising that exposed his unprotected skin to the sun’s ultraviolet rays, causing him to develop the most aggressive and most deadly form of skin cancer.
Deciding to Fight
When his doctors at MD Anderson began to realize the severity of his case, they gave him a 25% chance to make it five years. As his daughter, this was a hard pill to swallow. Immediately, we began to set goals.
The first being, he was going to make it to see me graduate from college. On December 12, 2015, my dad watched me walk across the stage and graduate from Oklahoma State University. I knew he wouldn’t miss it for the world.
The second goal was that he would make it to walk me down the aisle on my wedding day and the third goal was that he make it to hold my first born child. God had other plans.
On December 23, 2016, my dad held his grandson and namesake, David Hudson Stipe, for the first time. I knew he wouldn’t miss it for the world.
On February 17, 2018, my dad met me at the top of a staircase to walk me down the aisle to the love of my life and a man I see so much of my father in. With tears in his eyes, he kissed my cheek and whispered “I wouldn’t miss this for the world.”
Cancer Doesn’t Always Win
In the six years of having melanoma, my dad has had countless surgeries, he’s undergone weeks of radiation, and he’s made over 55 trips to MD Anderson Medical Center for treatments. Cancer is strong, but he’s stronger.
When he decided to fight, he decided to fight for more than just himself and for more than just his family. He chose to fight for the other farmers and ranchers who are also susceptible to melanoma by sharing his story and spreading awareness.
As National Melanoma Awareness Month kicks off, I ask that you please be aware of the signs and the symptoms, wear your sunscreen and protect your skin to protect yourself. My dad wasn’t supposed to get cancer, but he did and you could too.
You can check your skin for potential melanomas using these ABCDE criteria:
- Asymmetry: One-half of a mole or birthmark does not match the other
- Border: The edges are irregular, ragged, notched or blurred
- Color: The color is not the same all over and may include shades of brown or black, or sometimes with patches of pink, red, white or blue
- Diameter: The spot is larger than one-quarter inch, although melanomas can be smaller
- Evolving: The mole is changing in size, shape or color