Editor’s Note: Matt Dimmer is the founder and CEO of The Extra Mile, a nonprofit which collects donations of air miles and gives them to people who wouldn’t have otherwise had the means to visit loved ones diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The Hirshberg Foundation refers families in need to his organization. Here is his story.
By Matt Dimmer
Pete Dimmer was an amazing man. He was my father. My coach. A tinkerer. A fisherman. A hunter. A kind soul. He was known as the go-to guy for stuff to do around the house and in the community.
Until November of 2011, my dad was a pretty healthy 65 year old. He began having some serious stomach pains, so he went to get it checked out. Initial diagnosis was a gall bladder issue, so he scheduled surgery. But while scoping him, they determined the gall bladder was actually fine; it was his pancreas causing the problems. After this was missed in an initial CT scan, he ended up with an inflamed pancreas later diagnosed as pancreatic cancer – Stage 4.
My wife Jess and I had just relocated to LA from Chicago, where my dad lived. We were settling into new jobs and new lives, making new friends. But without thinking twice, we decided to travel home every chance we could get. Every weekend. Sometimes longer. Because we didn’t want to miss a moment. And… because we could. Because every holiday, weekend, day, minute, second… could be our last together.
It wasn’t long after a holiday visit before we had ‘the talk.’ That conversation I never imagined having with my dying father. The one that makes me tear up watching it in movies. The one where he told me there’s nothing that could make him better and he only had a couple weeks left to live. I tried desperately to hold back the wave of emotions that came over me. I fought to be the strong one, but eventually gave in and just hugged him sobbing. We got through it, I told him how much I’d miss him, how great it was to have him as a coach, a dad, and all the other memories I’ll cherish forever.
About a month before dad passed away, it struck me. What do people do when they can’t be there? Jess and I had been so fortunate, to be able to make all those trips without so much as blinking. It pained me to think of those who couldn’t see their loved ones before their passing or be able to talk about life prior to passing… simply because they couldn’t afford the cost of travel.
Looking back on it now, though it is all still so painful to recall, I feel so blessed that I was there. I was there right after he was diagnosed. I was there when he got sicker. I was there for his last cognizant moments. I was there for his last moments of life. And I was there when he died.
I was inspired to create a non-profit company. Our mission is to give those who cannot afford to travel the opportunity to visit their loved ones dying of cancer, so they can cherish the last holiday, weekend, day, minute, second… together. I was, and still am, determined to make the Extra Mile a success in his honor and was happy that I could show him some of our progress on one of my last trips home.
In my father’s last days and beyond, stories came pouring back to us. How he — as a father, coach, friend, neighbor — always went the extra mile to help anyone in need. So our name, The Extra Mile, is my way of honoring my father and carrying on his legacy.
Now others can have the chance I had: To say goodbye.
To learn more about The Extra Mile, visit www.thextramile.org. To donate miles, visit www.mileage.org/thextramile.