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#EyeGetDilated: Alton Pace in Memory of Daryl Pace

Guest blog from Alton Pace in memory of his half-sister Daryl who passed away from ocular melanoma:

“Take care of your eyeballs!”

This is what my sister Daryl would often say to me years before her ocular melanoma (OM) diagnosis. Being a teenager at the time and her younger brother, I often shrugged it off. It was her way of telling me to take my contacts out before bed, something I rarely managed to do. Today, and ever since her diagnosis, it takes on another level of meaning.

For my half-sister, taking care of your body is important, especially when you feel something might be wrong. In 2016, she felt something wrong and went to get a dilated eye exam, which led to her OM diagnosis before it was too advanced. Learning what was going on with her health earlier in her cancer journey gave her the advantage to set a map for the future. Her diagnosis and treatments allowed her to maximize the time she had left.

I had never heard of OM before my sister was diagnosed with it. I knew my sister was strong, but I had no idea how strong she really was until she was living with this like nothing had ever changed. My first thoughts were would she play hockey again or would she keep her job since those no longer seemed like a reality. But Daryl went back to being a firefighter and kicking my butt at hockey, just like she had always done.

Daryl’s cancer was accompanied by a rare genetic mutation, BAP1 gene mutation, that also played a part in her brother’s passing from a different cancer several years prior. Her cancer unfortunately metastasized in other parts of her body including her liver, claiming her life but not before she was able to continue living it. Getting checked out gave things to Daryl that I now consider to be priceless.

It gave her time.

After getting her diagnosis, the series of doctors’ visits containing surgery and treatments commenced. This gave her time to figure out what was most important in her life such as continuing to work and doing things she loved like hockey, hiking and camping trips. It gave her time to travel to places she had always wanted to go and to continue to look forward and make plans for the future, even though she knew her time was limited.

It gave her understanding and closure.

In April 2019, just a few months before she passed, I was lucky enough to accompany Daryl to the CURE OM conference in North Carolina. We were able to sit in on several panels and learn more about her rare cancer. One of her doctors was even there to talk about the BAP1 mutation. Being able to catch her cancer earlier rather than later allowed her time to learn more about how it came about and gave her more understanding about the passing of her brother. It allowed her family awareness and the ability to take necessary precautions in their own lives.

Although this cancer took her life, getting tested and finding this gene mutation led Daryl to help others, even after she was gone. The family is now able to be aware of this and get tested early to then plan for the future. It is a small light to this very sad occurrence.

Now, every night before bed I hear her voice in my head saying, “Take care of your eyeballs!” Without hesitation, my contacts come out and I switch into glasses every time. Her voice is also the prompt to my quick “yes” when I’m asked if I want to get dilated at my yearly eye exam.

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