Danielle and Tyler Dick never thought that a small brush with skin cancer would change their lives forever.
In 2012, doctors found a cancerous mole on Danielle’s back, but told the woman there was likely nothing to worry about. They quickly removed the growth, and Tyler and Danielle went on their way.
“We were thinking, ‘Oh, it’s nothing.’ If the dermatologist had correctly identified it, that’s when I think it would have saved her,” Tyler, 32, of Goddard, Kansas, tells PEOPLE.
The couple put the incident behind them, continuing on with their lives, and even welcoming a daughter, Taylor, about two years ago. But the brief run-in returned to the forefront of the pair’s minds in 2017 after they learned Danielle was pregnant.
“We had been trying to have a second child. When we found out we were having twins, we were shocked,” Tyler recalls of the news. “We were excited still, and very surprised. But it was April 2017 that she began having difficulty talking.”
Tyler says he and Danielle noticed that she would sometimes stumble over her words. She went to her obstetrician, who told Danielle that she was likely experiencing “pregnancy brain.” So, Tyler and Danielle weren’t worried at first, but became concerned in the following weeks when the expectant mom, then four months pregnant, had difficulty even forming a complete sentence.
“That’s when [doctors] did an MRI and found that she had three brain masses,” Tyler says, noting that Danielle was diagnosed with melanoma and underwent brain surgery and radiation during the pregnancy.
“It was very hard. Danielle was very strong through all of it. There were so many things to worry about… It was the most difficult thing. We were very nervous about [the babies].”
Danielle’s illness grew worse throughout the pregnancy, and doctors instructed her to deliver the babies early so she could undergo more cancer treatment. Colby and Reagan were born 29 weeks early on July 12, 2017.
“It was pretty wild. The twins were three pounds a piece and they were really small. It was scary,” Tyler recalls. “It was hard but we were still happy… Danielle wanted to make sure she got those babies here safe.”
Danielle was able to spend about nine months with her new babies, although her illness prevented her from visiting them in the hospital some days. At the end of April, about a year after her diagnosis, Danielle went into a coma.
“She lost quite a bit of weight. She lost her hair from all the radiation. She was absolutely beautiful and she was beautiful all the way till the end,” Tyler tells PEOPLE of Danielle. “It was just the two of us at the end. It was the hardest time ever.”
Tyler says he has had a great support system in the wake of Danielle’s death on April 25, providing help to care for his three small children. Still, he says he missed Danielle, who was 32, every day.
“There are so many times during the day where I’ll turn around to tell her something or send her a message,” he tells PEOPLE through tears. “We did everything together. I want to let her story be known, I want everyone to hear it. So we can encourage people to go to a dermatologist regularly and get their skin checked.”
He adds: “Danielle was stronger than I was. She fought all the way to the end. She never had a bad attitude about it. We never talked about the end. She was my best friend.”
Family – Health.com