My mom used to have to go to all my dad’s doctor’s appointments with him, because, left to his own devices, he couldn’t be trusted to be honest with the doctor. No matter what his symptoms were, or how he was feeling, he would freeze up and insist that he was fine.
He came from a generation of men that has an allergy to being perceived as weak in any sort of way; with a fear of showing any physical or mental vulnerability. He got pretty good with emotional vulnerability after a couple of decades of marriage and fatherhood, but Dad never quite got the hang of admitting to his physical ailments until they were impossible to ignore or hide, like when he insisted he was fine to shovel the driveway and landed on his back for a week with a slipped disc.
Today is Father’s Day, and my dad is still dead. He died of cancer on my 25th birthday – metastasized melanoma, to be exact. It’s possible his death certificate was signed before I was even born; he grew up as a redhead in Deer Isle, Maine in the 1960s, before sunscreen was widely used and before widespread societal knowledge of the importance of skin protection, and how early damage can come back to haunt you. Dad spent his summers on the water and at the beach, and pretty much in a constant state of sunburn.
But he got through one bout of melanoma, in 2010. It’s possible he could have survived the second recurrence as well, if it had been caught early enough. But it wasn’t caught early. Doctors are, generally speaking, kind and empathetic and hardworking humans, but they are humans, and they make mistakes. A doctor made a mistake; Dad was misdiagnosed with fibromyalgia and the cancer grew unabated for months. By the time they found a tumor the size of a grapefruit on his liver, it was too late for chemotherapy or radiation therapy or immunotherapy to help.
Routine preventative medical care can feel annoying, and boring, and unnecessary. Trust me. I’m not exactly excited to get a pap smear every three years until I’m old enough to stop getting paps and start getting colonoscopies.
So this Father’s Day, if you’re a dad and you’ve been putting off routine or recommended health care, please consider getting it scheduled. (Tomorrow. Doctor’s offices are closed on Sundays. Or you can have one of your kids help you with the online patient portal.) If you start experiencing unusual symptoms, tell a medical professional immediately, even if it’s embarrassing or you don’t want to make a big deal out of nothing. It might be something. Trust me when I say, your kids will appreciate it.
(Of course, I know that not everyone has access to or can afford preventative health care, or any sort of health care, for that matter. That’s a whole other series of articles. For now I will just say that for-profit health insurance companies have blood on their hands, as does pretty much the entire pharmaceutical industry. Please support Medicare for All for Father’s Day.)
I’ve been a blood donor since I was seventeen, and more recently started donating platelets as well. There seems to be a misconception about my motives, however. I’m not donating “in honor” of my father (who, by the way, was scared of needles).
Not exactly. I donate my platelets because if I do, I might be able to help spare another girl from going through the pain I did. My dad should have been able to walk me down the aisle and hold his grandchildren and grow old with my mom, but he didn’t get the chance.
I loved my father. I would have done anything to save his life; I would have cut out any of my organs; I would have raised any amount of money for any experimental treatment. But I couldn’t do anything except stock the fridge with his favorite Gatorade flavors and watch him die. But there are other dads out there, whose cancer was caught early enough for chemotherapy to be effective. Platelets – my platelets – can keep them alive and healthy enough to complete the full course of chemo, which increases their chance of keeping the reaper at bay long enough to watch their children grow up.
Happy Father’s Day, dads. Please take care of yourselves. Your children will appreciate it.
Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:
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