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My dad – the hero every story deserves

9th Sep 2021

My Dad told me countless of tales and played many different characters. But in the end, when it comes to my story, he will always be the hero.

A man - Thomas - holds a pointy-eared dog as they pose on a country hillside

Growing up, Dad told me childhood stories about when he was a giraffe, a fighter pilot, even a sweet on a market stall. Not once did I ever question him. I believed every single word he ever said to me.

My dad was, and still is, my hero. It was only when he told me he had cancer that I didn’t believe him. I wanted it to be a massive lie – my dad didn’t have cancer. It was something other families went through, and I only read about. It wasn’t true!

Only it was true… and my family were going through it.

I wanted, no, I needed, Dad to hug me and tell me everything was going to be okay. Because that’s a dad's job, isn’t it? Only he couldn't. This time, I was going to have to find other ways to cope.

Dad's blood cancer journey began on holiday

He had been doing some repairs on his caravan and thought he had broken a rib. When he came home, his pain was getting unbearable, but always the tough man, he just put it aside.

Eventually the pain became too much, and we convinced him to go to A&E. Unfortunately, he was sent away with paracetamol. Dad already had arthritis, so he was already taking some pretty strong pain medication.

He continued to try and cope with the pain. He wasn’t able to sit down for longer than a few minutes and lived on very little sleep. After numerous tests, still undiagnosed, Dad was eventually sent to St James’s Hospital. I still remember the fear of driving him to hospital, petrified that any bump in the road was going to hurt him even more.

Dad was sent for a PET scan, which showed that he had cancer. We didn’t know what kind or how severe it was, just that he had it.

Eventually, we got the news that Dad had stage two non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

To say that I thought my world was ending is an understatement

I saw friends and elderly relatives die from cancer, and the grief I felt for them was overwhelming… but nothing could compare to this.

A middle aged couple post together on holiday.

Dad was so strong for us. I don’t think he ever thought he would die from it. After a round of chemotherapy, Dad was told he was in remission. They were going to give him a blast of radiotherapy to get rid of any stray cancer cells, but things were looking good. Unfortunately, though, two weeks later, Dad found more lumps and received the news that his cancer had returned.

Dad's oncology team were amazing. They did everything they could to help him, but unfortunately, despite everything they threw at the cancer, it came back stronger and harder than before. We were told there were no more treatment options to try.

My Dad was 65, with four young grandchildren who adored him, with another on the way.

In June 2016, we went away to Aberdaron in Wales as a family. We had a bittersweet few day together, and even celebrated Father’s Day – a day I will never forget.

Dad didn’t make it home from the holiday

He became poorly and went straight into hospital, where myself, Mom and my two sisters stayed with him – sleeping on the floors and chairs so he didn’t have to be alone. Dad passed away on the 4th July 2016, two days after turning 66.

Why did he die? This wasn’t meant to happen!

He was no longer in pain but the hole he left in our lives can never be replaced, nor would I want it to be. It hurts so much, but I know I’m lucky because I had the best dad for 35 years of my life.

How would we live each day knowing that we didn’t have a dad or a grandad for our children? They are missing out on everything he could have done with them and all the love he had to give.

Gone, but not forgotten

I mention him every single day to my children. I make sure that their “Nommy” will never be forgotten.

A man - Thomas - holds two small babies; another young boy sits between his knees, a young girl to his left.

Fundraising in Dad's memory

For the past six years, myself, my family and friends have taken on some challenges in Dad's memory. This includes the Race for Life, the Great North Run three times, and the Yorkshire Three Peak’s challenge. My children were only six and seven years old when we walked to the peak of Snowden in what can only be described as horrific conditions.

This year, I ran 100 miles in February and my son, Theo, who is only ten, ran 30 miles in June. We have raised just short of £8,500 since Dad's diagnosis. For as long as I am able to, I will continue to do what I can to help such an amazing charity.

A young boy poses with a Blood Cancer UK medal, flanked by his mother and grandmother.

My dad, Thomas Andrew Micheal Burke was one of the good ones. He was taken far too soon, but his name will live on through all of us.

I miss him every day. I hope I make him proud, and that what I do will help find a cure. Because we need to live in a world where cancer isn’t a killer anymore.

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