By Sarah Garcia - June 17, 2022
In 2015, 28-year-old Brandon Hayes and his wife were beginning the journey down one of life’s most exciting paths: parenthood. But as is so often the case, life threw an unexpected complication into the mix.
After several urgings from his mother, he visited his dermatologist to get a mole above his right ear examined. Initially dismissed as nothing of concern, he saw another doctor for a biopsy of the mole, which came back as stage 3b melanoma. His wife was five months pregnant.
“The first thing that popped in my mind was that a high school friend had passed away from melanoma, and it was in almost the exact same spot as mine,” said Hayes. “That was the scariest part.”
He and his wife went home and talked about it. He sat down that night and wrote a letter to his unborn daughter. “This was just my way to express everything to her, you know. Waiting and not knowing, that was the worst. Not knowing if I was going to be there for my baby daughter.”
Hayes was referred to Moffitt Cancer Center, where he underwent his first surgery in November 2015. Doctors removed the mole and a large portion of skin around it, along with three lymph nodes. Results showed the cancer had spread to one of the three lymph nodes.
In January 2016, he went in for a second surgery to remove 18 additional lymph nodes. After four nights in recovery, he went home Jan. 24. Just one day later, his wife went into labor — two weeks early. “We knew it was going to be close,” he said. “But not this close.”
With Hayes still bandaged up and on medications from surgery, his wife had to drive herself to the hospital, but fortunately he was still able to witness the birth of his daughter, Blakely. “Any dad will tell you, especially when it’s your first kid, there’s just nothing like it.”
Although doctors removed a lot during his surgery, Hayes said he and his wife didn’t really know what the future held. “To me, it was all about spending every moment possible with her and just enjoying it, because I didn’t know what we were looking at.”
He later underwent two more surgeries to remove spots of concern and was then accepted into a clinical trial for Keytruda, an immunotherapy drug used to prevent advanced melanoma from recurring. In June 2017 he completed his final round of immunotherapy. He has been cancer free for five years since and has graduated to once-a-year scans.
"To me, it was all about spending every moment possible with her and just enjoying it, because I didn’t know what we were looking at."- Brandon Hayes
Cancer changes your outlook in one way, and having kids does it in another way, he says. “They are both life-changing events, and when you’re facing them together, it just really makes you appreciate everything.”
Twice the Surprise
Hayes says his wife has been his rock through it all. “I’ll tell you a million times I’d much rather have been in my situation than hers because I can’t imagine what she went through, you know, being pregnant with your husband battling cancer. I don’t know how she did what she did and was always so strong.”
In 2019, life threw another surprise at the family. Hayes said he wasn’t sure if they would be able to conceive after his treatment, but were trying. “I already felt so blessed to have Blakely and to be around for her, so it was amazing to find out that my wife, Brittany, was pregnant again. She had an ultrasound appointment I was unable to attend, and she called me afterward and just nonchalantly said, ‘So we’re having twins.’ ” The couple’s identical twin girls, Brooks and Beckham, are now 2 ½.
He says there are some things that as a dad, you don’t always feel like doing. “I try to make it a point to do those things. It doesn’t matter how tired I am, how long or bad of a day I had.” There was a time when he wasn’t always sure he’d be there for his first daughter, so now he’s living life to the fullest with all of his girls.
“I’m in a good spot being five years removed, but you know, it’s still always in the back of your mind.” If there is any advice he can share with parents going through a similar situation, it’s that it’s OK to be scared, it’s OK to have those days to reset your mind, but always remember you aren’t in this alone and it’s up to you to fight this with everything you have.
“It’s one thing to fight for yourself. Your kids are just something else. You have to do everything in your power to get through this because at the end of the day, that’s what matters.”