I never knew my father. What I do know I pulled together from stories told to me. I know he was tall. I know he had eyes the colour of an Australian summer sky. And I know he died after Stage 4 Melanoma spread to his bones.
At the age of 12, sitting with my school skirt pulled as high as I dared, pale legs stretching out in the sun, I wasn’t worried about the last fact. Like the characters in the fairy-tale book he left me, what made him up was scraps of imagination. What had hurt him couldn’t hurt me; it was a sad story.
I wanted to be golden and brown like the girls I saw in magazines and movies, so I’d put on a bikini, stretch out in the hot sun and try to tan. I remember spending hours in my backyard, sweat rolling off me, feeling proud of the angry, red sunburn because it meant once it healed, I’d be one step closer to being beautiful. I did have a basic understanding that each patch was damage done but that didn’t matter. I didn’t need SPF or a hat. What had hurt him couldn’t hurt me.
Cancer likes to take hostages; it not only hurts the person with the disease but also the people around them. Before my 16th birthday, my mum, the woman who raised me by herself after losing her partner to Melanoma, had an odd freckle on the back of her leg. For as long as I could remember she’d always had this freckle, but it’d changed, gotten darker and bigger. It was Stage 3 Melanoma. While I lay in the sun, walked around without a hat because I wanted blonder hair, she was trying to figure out how to tell me. In the end I figured it out myself after seeing her Google search history.
The seriousness of the situation didn’t really strike me until much later. I was scared, I was confused but I didn’t cry until I told my best friend. We walked around the oval at school, the beginnings of summer heat kissing our unprotected skin. I think I got sunburnt that day.
The day my mum and I drove to Sydney, the day she went into hospital to have the mole and some lymph nodes removed, is when the flood gates broke. Every worst-case scenario ran through my head. It was hard watching her go through this, but she’s always been a fighter. She spent days in pain, days frustrated and furious with the world but five years later, we finally received the all clear. We’ve been lucky, she didn’t need chemotherapy, but she did have a significant part of muscle removed, along with the mole. A scoop has been taken out of her leg and she hates it, calls it ugly, but she’s still here and that’s what matters to me.
I’m ashamed to say even after her operation I still ventured outside without basic sun protection until the end of 2019, when another possible Melanoma was found on my mum’s nose. Watching the heartbreak on her face, the scream of ‘it’s not fair’ in her eyes when the topic of possibly having it cut out arose is what finally got under my skin.
What hurt my dad didn’t hurt me, but it hurt someone else I dearly love. My 2020 resolution is to be sun safe and be apart of Generation SPF.
I hope my dad would be proud.