January 08, 2015
Putting family first after my dad's melanoma recurrence
BY Melanie Steel
Silver lining. I've never been a fan of that term. It reminds me of a consolation prize that no one really wants. But three years ago, I began to accept and appreciate that term in a whole new way.
In December 2011, my dad was diagnosed with stage IV melanoma. The ugly disease had resurfaced in his lungs after lying dormant and undetectable since the treatment of a spot on his back in 2001. The diagnosis stopped our family in our tracks. We soon learned how deadly this disease can be and started wondering how much time we had left with my dad. At that time, I was ready to receive my consolation prize -- my silver lining.
Finding the silver lining after Dad's melanoma diagnosis
For the first time in my life, I treated time with my family as my first priority. In December 2011, we didn't know if dad would have two months or two years. We guessed closer to two months and began to spend as much time together as possible.
Looking back, I know that my dad worked extremely hard to provide for my brother, my mom and me. I get that. Unfortunately, that often meant that family time was more limited than any of us would have wished. We now had a reminder to grow closer as a family. This has meant more visits and more phone calls. This has meant more time to say "I love you." This has meant longer conversations and tighter hugs. This is my silver lining.
How melanoma has helped my family grow closer
But the best part of my silver lining doesn't have anything to do with me. When Dad was diagnosed, my daughter was only 1 year old. Yes, we saw my parents once a month, but I knew that if he were to leave us quickly, she wouldn't remember her grandpa.
So,, their relationship became a priority for me. Luckily, my husband and I live close to MD Anderson, and my parents stay with us each time they come for an appointment, test or treatment. As a result, my dad has been able to play with my daughter on the swings, take her fishing in the backyard, read her bedtime stories and fall asleep with her.
No part of this disease has been fun, but I have a strong appreciation of my consolation prize. My daughter and my dad have a stronger relationship than anything I could have ever imagined -- and I'm not sure I would trade that for the world.
My daughter loves her grandpa and asks for him almost daily. Whenever my mom walks into the house, my daughter's first question is, "Where's Grandpa?" She also knows that Grandpa will let her get away with almost anything - and she is sure to leverage that. Last time my parents were in town, they played dollhouse together. It was a beautiful sight.
I know that this relationship would have been possible without my dad's disease, but I'm not sure that we would have taken the time out of our always-busy schedules to make it a priority. I'm not proud of that, but I think it's true.
Find your silver lining
I'm not sure what your silver lining looks like, but I encourage you to find one. I encourage you to focus on that during the hard days. It's helped me get through the saddest moments and remember the times of great joy I've experienced with my dad.
My dad has beaten a lot of odds at this point. He still has stage IV melanoma and the pains associated with the disease. Some days that is hard to swallow.
Other days, I choose to focus on my silver lining. Today, I have a four-year-old girl with the best grandpa in the world. Just ask her.
Melanoma is one of the cancers MD Anderson is focusing on as part of our Moon Shots Program to dramatically reduce cancer deaths. Learn more about our Melanoma Moon Shot.
I'm not sure what your silver lining looks like, but I encourage you to find one.