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When my biological dad left us when I was little, I had the most incredible experience of my uncle stepping in and helping raise me. It was like someone walked out and then I gained the most incredible father figure. I was later lucky enough to have my (step) dad enter my life as well, and while I may have lost the person who was supposed to be a father to me, I gained 2 “dads” that were better than I could have ever imagined.
My uncle Dean was the coolest. We lived in California. He cleaned/plastered pools for a living and, during the summer, I got to go to work with him almost every day! I would swim in the pools while he cleaned them. He would let me listen to music really loud in his truck and, honestly, just thinking about it brings the biggest smile to my face. When I was a pre-teen, our worlds kind of got flipped upside down. My uncle had been complaining of back pain for a while and finally went into the doctor to find out he had stage 4 multiple myeloma. Cancer. He had bone cancer. Stage 4. The doctors planned his treatment, we did everything we could to support him. Essentially, he was given 2 years to live, but they said they would try everything possible to prolong his life.
I honestly don’t think it really registered with me when he was first diagnosed. I was pretty young and naive. I don’t remember a ton about the beginning of his cancer journey. I do remember how strong he was though—the strongest human being I had ever met. He didn’t let anything stop him. He went to his treatments, he did what he had to do and all with a smile on his face. His faith was strong, his attitude positive and honestly, if it wasn’t for what the cancer was doing to his physical appearance—you would have NEVER known he had it.
He lived 15 years. They told him 2, that he would live 2 YEARS, and he surpassed that by a long shot. He drove me to school all through middle school, let me “steer” from the passenger seat, he let me take his bike around the neighborhood and he always shared the positive things in life. I knew I could count on him for anything, even when I was my teenage self. He taught me what strength is, he taught me what faith is and if I have any ounce of positivity in my body—it’s from him.
Cancer wasn’t nice to him though. He lost over a foot in height, he was sick constantly, his hair was thin, he looked weak, and even when he was positive and strong at the end, you could tell he hurt, that he ached and that this sick disease was literally killing him. I hate cancer. I hate it so much. It took away one of the most incredible people in my life way too soon. I wasn’t ready for him to leave. I think I got to the point where—15 years, it seemed like he was just invincible. He was never going to leave, at least that’s what my mind thought. He was just in the bedroom downstairs and always there when I had a question.
Then the day came, and I almost didn’t believe it. He had made it this long. There’s no way. And that was when I made myself a promise. A promise to live his legacy—to teach my children about him and to always keep him in our home. So that’s exactly what I do. Blake knows exactly who Dean is. In fact, we have had some pretty incredible experiences with her and him that I will keep between us. But, I gave her my little stuffed dog—one he gave me as a child, that I slept with every night well into my teenage years—and she loves it. She calls it “mommy’s special doggy” and takes it everywhere. If you show her a picture of Dean, she knows exactly who he is right away, and watching her face light up is the most incredible feeling and I know he is smiling.
Cancer is ugly, but cancer teaches and brings out a strength in you that I have never seen before. Pfizer launched This is Living with Cancer™, a national awareness program designed to help people manage their lives with cancer and stay connected to their communities. As part of This is Living with Cancer, Pfizer has launched LivingWith™, a free mobile app designed to help patients and caregivers manage life with cancer and organize important information in one place.
Cancer sucks, and I miss my uncle every single day, but I am so grateful and lucky to have had the moments I did with him.
I was selected for this opportunity as a member of CLEVER, and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.