Saturday, December 31, 2011

Another Melanoma Angel.

This morning as I was being lazy in bed, chit chatting with Mr. Spots about our NYE plans, and browsing Facebook, I saw my friend Al had posted that yet another one of our melanoma friends had recently passed away. When I saw it was Randi, the tears immediately began to flow. How could it be Randi? I just talked to her a few weeks ago. She sounded good, strong, sending me more advice about how to deal with this disease and what questions to ask my doctor....

Randi was a beautiful wife, a loving mother, and a dedicated fighter. I only knew her from the blogging and Facebook world but boy, she loved the men in her life. She fought because of them. She would tell you so.

Randi's story is a bit different than others that I have shared with you. Randi was diagnosed with stage III melanoma in 2005. She had all of her lymph nodes removed in one particular area, and then went on to living five years with No Evidence of Disease. Unfortunately, melanoma showed his ugly face in April 2011 by reappearing in her brain and then spreading to other parts of her body. 

Yes, you read that correctly. For five years, Randi was healthy. She passed away on December 29, 2011. 

When people question why I must go for scans every 3 months and why I am participating in a clinical trial even though I am "fine" now, this is why. There is no cure for melanoma. For many, I don't want to say most because that is far too negative and depressing, melanoma hides for a period of time and then reappears when you least expect it. It does not simply go away. I live in 3 month spans. If my scans are clear this next time, I will go another 3 months. If not, we will fight.

As you head out to celebrate the end of 2011 (good riddance) and the beginning of 2012, consider adding "Protect My Skin" to your resolution list. You may think you look prettier with a tan, but I am sure you would agree that you look prettier alive than dead. You may think that mole is nothing to worry about but it may be the same type of mole that began my stay in Hotel Melanoma. Consider it.

And please, as you celebrate, send a prayer to Randi's family. They have lost a beautiful wife, a loving mother, and their toughest fighter...

Rest now, Mrs. Randi. We will never be able to dance on the tables in Vegas now, sweet friend, but I promise to continue to educate, educate, educate. I know that is what you would want.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

"Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas."

As of two hours ago, I am home with my family enjoying this holiday. I wanted to take a few minutes to wish you and your families a wonderful holiday. Step away from the internet, your worries, and your dark thoughts, and enjoy this holiday with your family. Make memories.

We are all so blessed to be here.

As a little girl, I grew up listening to the Carpenters Christmas record so it is only right that I share this song with you tonight.

"Christmas future is far away

Christmas past is past

Christmas present is here today

Bringing joy that will last

Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas

Let your heart be light

From now on our troubles

Will be out of sight

Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas

Make the yuletide gay

From now on your troubles

Will be miles away

Here we are as in olden days

Happy golden days of yore

Faithful friends who are dear to us

Gather near to us once more

Through the years we all will be together

If the fates allow

Hang a shining star upon the highest bough

And have yourself a Merry Little Christmas now "

Merry Christmas, friends. XO

Monday, December 19, 2011

"You're Famous!"

Boys and girls, it is weird to log onto a famous foundation's website and see a video of yourself....

I was taking a relaxing bubble bath tonight when my phone started ringing. Since I had already talked to Mom like five times already, I wasn't expecting to hear from her again tonight. I answered, she said, "Did you know your interview is posted online?"


You see, I participated in a Skype interview with a Famous Cancer Foundation back in August. (I will talk more about this experience when I am given permission!) I posted a link to an article from that website tonight on Facebook. When my mom went to go read the article, she saw my picture on the right hand corner. They have posted 4 minutes of our interview! I didn't think too much of it, I thought mom just found it after playing detective, but then I received a text message from my baby sister: "You're famous!"

Well,'s 4 minutes of my interview!

PS) I swear I don't sound that annoying in real life.

*A special thank you to those people who made this happen. It was an honor. I can't wait to tell you all more about it!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Bald & Beautiful...Barbie!

I have always been a fan of Barbie. I had everything from the life size Barbie car (that I was too scared of to drive so I would stand on the back of it and sing......) to the Christmas Barbies to Ken and friends. I loved Barbie. Seeing this story online tonight made me love Barbie even more.

Thank you, Mattel, for making this little girl remember that she is a beautiful princess, with or without cancer.

Now, go make more of these dolls so that we can buy them so that another little girl with cancer can feel as special as beautiful Genesis.

***Oh, and Mattel, please donate a portion of the sales to childhood cancer research.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

"May I Pray For You?"

I never talk about my cancer at work. Sometimes patients will say little comments that make me wish I knew them on a personal level so that I could share with them why I am "so" pale, but I know it would be unprofessional. Today, however, something happened that made it impossible for me to keep quiet. Today I heard the words, "I have been battling Stage III Melanoma for the past five years."

I couldn't hold back.

I grabbed his arm, and said, "Oh! I have Stage III melanoma too!"

(What can I say? I meet very few people who truly understand this cancer so I got a little excited.)

There we were, a 24 year old girl & a 60 year old veteran, bonding over cancer in the middle of a busy waiting room. We swapped war stories, he told me how he is glad I did not stay with a local oncologist as he is a patient at Duke, and then he looks up quickly at me and says, "Can I pray for you?"

I assumed that this sweet veteran who has his own battle to fight was going to pray for me on his own time. Oh no, this was not his plan. He wrapped my hands with his own, bowed his head, and began to say a beautiful prayer requesting God's healing and love. When he looked back at me again, we both had tears in our eyes. He kissed my hands, looked directly in my eyes, and said, "Take it from me, I am blessed to be here. Please never give up."

I will never give up.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Preach it, Sister!

There are few things that I admire more than strong and classy women. (I appreciate strong and honest men too...reason number 3121 why I'm in love with Hotel Melanoma.) I came across this article, How to Talk to Someone with Cancer, today while browsing Facebook. What type of cancer does the author have, you wonder? Well, she has stage IV melanoma. She gets it.

Cancer Girl's first Rule: "This is a bad time to be emotionally needy."
         As much as I want to be a good friend to everyone, sometimes my own fears are literally the only things I can handle. I am polite, and I try to offer as much emotional support as I possibly can, but I will admit that I will not be winning Best Friend of the Year anytime soon. I realize that hearing about my cancer is scary to some people, especially those closest to me, but when you shut down and start acting all weird to me, well, it ticks me off. I understand that you're scared, but this is my life in jeopardy, not yours. Please don't ask me to sugarcoat things because you don't like what you are hearing. Cancer Girl shares her experience with needy folks: "That’s why the relative who called me after my initial diagnosis to insist, “Tell me you’re going to get better. I need you to say you’ll get better,” is the person whose calls now go straight to voice mail.I
Cancer Girl's Second Rule: It’s a very bad time to disappear.
     I have been lucky that this has not really happened to me. Like I've mentioned a time (or 10000) I have an amazing support system. However, I do want to share a piece of Cancer Girl's advice. "It doesn’t take big gestures. It takes less than a minute to send an email or a text or pick up the phone or walk over to someone in the supermarket and say, “How are you?” That’s all it takes to let someone know you’re still on her team. And that minute can be the difference between a miserable, scary day and feeling supported and reassured."

Cancer Girl's Third Rule:  Someone else’s dramatic life event is not your opportunity for closure.
        OH, this is a good one. I have heard from a lot of people since all of this started, the crappiest of crappy ex-boyfriends, and the girls who slept with said crappy boyfriend. Some of those people were sincere. Others probably heard the news through the grapevine and thought they better apologize and gain my forgiveness before I croaked. I never felt like it was appropriate to hear the apologies for how they treated me when I was healthy now that I am (was--since I am NED...??) sick. There is a time and a place for everything. Some of those people came to me because they were actually apologetic. Others, I do believe, just wanted to feel better about themselves. It wasn't the time or the place.

Cancer Girl's Fourth Rule: Remember it’s a fine line between curiosity and finger-pointing.
        Yes, I used the tanning bed. Sure, I got sunburns growing up. Yes, I should have known better. In my situation, my melanoma was (probably) brought on because of my mistakes so maybe I do deserve to blame myself. However, as Cancer Girl says, " Cancer happens to Marlboro-devouring rock stars and it happens to little babies. So keep anything that sounds like blame to yourself." I blame myself enough at 4 am when you're sleeping soundly.

Cancer Girl's Fifth Rule: "Similarly, don't tell them how to fix this."
      I appreciate all advice. Really, I do. I have learned more about melanoma and how I want to fight my fight because of the advice of others. However, especially in the beginning or when things get really scary, I just want someone to listen to what I want to do instead of telling me how I should do it. I do not like it when people get too pushy with me. Cancer Girl explains a great way to approach this subject: "If you’ve read of a promising trial or know the best specialist in the field, you can ask if they’d like the info. But don’t tell them that they have to move to the country or go macrobiotic, Helpy Helperton."

Cancer Girl's Sixth Rule: Don’t be hasty with the best-case scenarios.
       I try to be a very upbeat and positive person 95% of the time. Having said that, constantly hearing "You are going to be fine!" piss me off to the 10th degree. Of course I want to believe I am going to be A-OK. I want to be the 90 year old woman flirting with my hot doctor. However, I know the seriousness of this disease. I am the one the doctor is speaking about at my appointments. Please don't push "Everything is going to be OK" down my throat too often. Sometimes it forces me to feel like I cannot admit my true fears. 

     Currently I have No Evidence of Disease. What does that mean? Does it mean that I am cancer free now? Does it mean that I can completely start living my life like this was all a bad dream? Am I now a survivor? I am going to let Cancer Girl explain this one: "Even if things are going well, let it go at its own pace. I can’t count the number of times people have called me a “survivor” or said things like, “So, are you cured?” This happens a lot to those of us in the club. It makes us feel a little rushed here. Like you’re so eager to wrap this thing up and move on already." Be patient with us.

Remember, because I caught it so late, my Melanoma is not curable. However, I have, as they call it, No Evidence of Disease at this time.

Cancer Girl's Seventh Rule: On the other hand, don’t be a downer.
       I know, I know. It's hard to find the middle ground.  Please try. (We cancer patients are demanding, huh?)

Cancer Girl's Eighth Rule: Your Aunt Betty’s cancer is not all cancer.
      Every cancer is different. Just because I have my hair and look like the normal me, do not assume that my battle is any less difficult than your Aunt Betty's battle. If you are truly curious and want to know the history, do some research. Cancer is a weird and tricky thing. I doubt any two stories are the same.

Cancer Girl's Ninth Rule: Be useful.
         I will let Cancer Girl explain this one since I have been lucky in this category: "This does not mean calling up and saying, “I wish I could do something,” or worse, promising, “I’m going to baby-sit the kids or make you dinner” and then never doing it. This is not your big chance to feel pleased with yourself and your good, empty intentions."

Cancer Girl's Tenth Rule: And this is the most crucial – be guided by the person’s cues.
     If you ask me how my treatment is going and I quickly change the subject, please do not force me to talk about it. Sometimes I enjoy sharing my story with someone else because it allows me time to vent and educate. Other times I want to be a normal 24 year old girl, at the bar, with her friends.

Listen to Cancer Girl on this one, "Respect their limits — it’s their cancer party, and they get to call the cancer shots. You don’t have to cure anybody. You don’t have to cheerlead. You don’t have to do very much at all. Just be a friend. Just stick around. Just let them know they are not forgotten even if they’re not around as much lately. They are not scary because they look different. And that if they can handle this, you love them enough to handle this too."

Thank you, Mary Elizabeth Williams, for your brave and honest article.

I know you all will appreciate it too.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Tan Shouldn't Define You

Sometimes I think Youtube is ridiculous. There are so many pointless videos that most of us never need to see. Then there are videos like these that are worth sharing with all of your friends and family---especially the young kids.

If we tell 10 teenagers that they could die from skin cancer, most of them would forget about us by the end of the day. If they see a beautiful young girl crying over having to tell her mom that she has melanoma, they will remember.

Share it, share it, share it.

I would much rather have a painful surgery than have to to go back in time and tell my family that I have advanced melanoma. That, my friends, was the worst.

Protect the skin you're in.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

I know, I know...I have been a slacker this past week. I have been totally consumed by Harry Potter and exhaustion. I fought a pretty rough sinus infection this week. I will get back to posting more regularly soon, I promise.

I just wanted to post a Hi, hope you are well, and a request that you would please say a prayer for a newly diagnosed warrior Andy and his wife Erin as they head into his SLN biopsy tomorrow. We all know how scary it is. Please send positive juju their way.

In case you haven't seen this video--Dear 16 Year Old Me--check it out & make sure you share it with your friends, especially younger folks. No matter how many times I watch it, it still gets to me.

Now please excuse me as I go curl up on this cold Sunday night and watch Miracle on 34th Street. It's a classic.

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Map of Me

When most people move they find letters from crappy ex-boyfriends (OK, maybe that's just me...)  pictures from when they were younger, and receipts for things they probably should not have bought. What do I find when I move the rest of my stuff into Mr. Spots' apartment?

I found a map that I had not seen since the day of my very first melanoma surgery. It's a map of me.

Malignant melanoma often spreads from the original tumor site to regional lymph nodes. Knowing that there is cancer in your lymph nodes is scary because it means that the melanoma has the ability to spread wherever its little black heart decides to go. How does one find out if there is cancer in lymph nodes? Well, that's where Sentinel Lymph Node mapping comes into play.

Lymph nodes are important because they are part of the immune system; they help fight disease. Unfortunately, sometimes cancer cells spread from the original tumor sites into regional lymph nodes. With advanced melanoma, it is important to find out if the lymph nodes have been affected by the disease. describes SLN mapping well. They say, "The first lymph nodes that the fluid from the tumor flows into are called the "sentinel lymph nodes." A sentinel is someone who stands guard. You can think of the sentinel lymph node as the gatekeeper to the rest of the lymph nodes. If the sentinel lymph node has cancer cells in it, there is a chance that the cancer has spread. If the sentinel node does not have cancer cells, the other lymph nodes in that area are probably also cancer-free, and the cancer probably has not spread."

How do you determine if there is cancer in the SLN?
Again, says, "The surgeon will inject a blue dye and a radioactive tracer around the tumor site. The lymph fluid carries the blue dye and tracer away from the tumor, to the nearest lymph nodes. The surgeon looks for the lymph node that has blue dye in it (or uses a detector to find the lymph node that has the highest amount of tracer). This is the sentinel lymph node. The surgeon removes this node and a pathologist will test it to see whether it contains cancer cells."

I vividly remember being on the table after the dye was injected into my body (this is actually quite painful) and seeing the way the two technicians changed. There was one lady, around my mom's age, and one younger guy. He was new to the hospital and it was obvious I was one of his first patients. I remember when they informed me that I was "glowing" in 4 separate areas. I asked the new guy if that meant that Dr. Pink would cut me in in all four areas. He quietly responded, "You want him to, ma'am." Well, shit.

It is weird for me to look at this sheet of pictures and know that it is actually me. I imagine most people feel that way. As you know, the results of the SLN were less than pleasant: Definitely positive for melanoma under left arm, right neck, and "possibly positive" under right arm. Ew. 

When I received these results, we immediately started looking for cancer centers who specialized in melanoma. Mom kept pushing for Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. After talking to the people in the scheduling department, and many hours of debate and frustration, I decided it was best. 

MSK determined that there was not enough melanoma in the SLN under the right arm to say for sure that it was positive. They did agree on the other two reports though. This meant I was stuck with the decision of having the full lymph node dissection or "watching and waiting." (Have I mentioned that I hate that term, by the way? Must think of a more positive way to describe the observation treatment plan!)

After meeting with Dr. Glinda, my surgeon at MSK, I decided that having the full dissections were necessary. When she admitted that she would do the same if she were in my shoes, I knew it was what I needed to do. That way it would allow us to know exactly how far this cancer had spread and it would also give me a peace of mind. 

I had the full dissections and before I even left NYC to heal, Dr. Glinda informed me that all of my lymph nodes were clear: No evidence of disease. (And yes, this news made me cry in the middle of the busy waiting room.)

People have asked me if I regret having gone through the full dissections. My answer is--and always will be--Absolutely not. Sure, I have some pretty intense nerve damage. And yes, my right neck/shoulder looks a lot different than my left side, and at times it makes me very self conscious, but because of these surgeries, I know that I am fighting melanoma just as hard as I can fight. If it spreads, I will know that I made the necessary decisions to try to prevent it from spreading. I could not sit home and night and wonder if there was more cancer in my "glowing" areas. That is just not who I am. I am a need to know girl. Some would argue--including my first oncologist--that the full dissections were unnecessary, but I would bet money that he would change his mind if he was the one with cancer...I rest easy at night because I know that I am taking all of the necessary steps to fight this thing called Melanoma.

Oh, the memories...

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Let's Not Say That.

I read an awesome blog titled:Tips on Surviving Your Cancer today during my lunch break. It hits on a few topics that cause a lot of debate within cancer patients. Do you tell people you have cancer? Do you shave your hair or let it fall out on its own? Do you ask for help?

Well, it made me think. 

Instead of the typical advice that I would give a newly diagnosed melanoma warrior, it made me remember some of the comments that people have said that have made me cringe. Remember--you must censor yourself sometimes. My life is in danger, you know.

"It's just skin cancer. They will remove it out and you will be fine."
          This simple statement has the ability to turn me into Mega Bitch. Yes, I thought melanoma was just skin cancer too back when I used the tanning bed and spent numerous hours in the sun. And yes, I am guilty of saying that statement myself. AND yes, if caught early, melanoma can be cut off of you, and you will just need to follow up with a dermatologist throughout the years. However, for many of us, melanoma is so much more than just skin cancer. It is the very thing that wants to kill us. Need I remind you that your skin is your largest organ?

"Well, you don't look sick!"
        Sometimes I think people would take my cancer more seriously if the treatment options caused us to lose our hair. People associate cancer as a bald head with a scarf. I do not look like the typical cancer patient. Because I have my hair, people assume I am not that sick. You know what scares me most? I don't know what's going on inside of my body. I would much rather look like crap on the outside and know that my miracle drug is healing me. I was recently introduced to this incredible blog (seriously, have your tissues nearby when you read this.) The blog is written by the husband of a recent melanoma angel. Nick writes from the point of view of the caretaker. In this particular post, he is discussing waiting rooms. He writes, "Meagan looks fantastic, as she doesn’t appear to have cancer, so sometimes you get the feeling people are looking at her and wondering, what the hell is she doing here messing up our ‘hood - this is for CANCER patients. I sometimes feel like standing up and announcing, “we are here for a reason - my lovely wife has fuckin’ metastatic melanoma!”. Amen, Nick, Amen.

"Thank God it's not breast cancer!"
        I am not trying to discredit breast cancer patients. Their own personal battles are no different than my own. Cancer is cancer. However, do not tell me that I should be thankful that I have melanoma instead of a cancer like breast. Do you know what it feels like when your oncologist, a melanoma specialist, tells you that they just don't know the best way to treat melanoma? With many cancers, there are certain treatment plans that have been tested and have been proven to work time and time again. With many cancers, there are numerous years of extensive medical research. With melanoma, we are just now beginning to progress with research. (Speaking of which, did you all read the AMAZING news today?!!!) 

"I have a family history of skin cancer but I have never been to a dermatologist."
       Family history is a huge indicator of what you will eventually have. Don't wait until it's too late.

"My brother died from melanoma." 
      Please, I am already scared. When you are stressing the big work project you have coming up, I am wondering what it is like to die. (Sorry, dramatic. But it's true! I think about it.) Instead, tell me something that will give me hope. Knowing that this cancer is not going away--ever--I need things that will inspire me.

"But I LOVE being tan!"
...I am pretty sure you love being alive too. Pick one. 


 And I repeat...

                          "It's just skin cancer."

"Melanoma - a word that changes your life forever. 
To all the survivors you make us believe in miracles. 
To all the beautiful angels you make us believe in love. 
To all the amazing warriors you make us believe in hope. 
We will never give in and will never give up. 
Melanoma you've got a one way ticket to hell. ♥"
        ~Borrowed from a friend on Facebook, Melissa.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Well, Crap.

I just spent a little over an hour writing a blog post about a quote that I saw from The Velveteen Rabbit that made my little brain do some thinking. I was going to share it with you all; however, I hit "X" instead of "Save" and the entire post is gone.


I bet this little girl felt the same way I did when she encountered this situation:

Well, crap.

I will try again tomorrow....

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Be As You Are

I started this blog with the promise to be exactly who I am. I don't hide how I am feeling. If a tan chick pisses me off at Barnes and Noble, I write about it. When I am struggling with how people treat me since the cancer diagnosis, I vent. And when I am scared beyond measures, you pick up on it. I keep very few secrets when it comes to my cancer. Because of my lack of concealing my feelings, I never know how people will respond to my posts.

I was not sure how people would feel about my last post. I spent a lot of time on it and I put my true feelings and fears out in the open. Imagine my relief and surprise when I heard from so many people who could relate exactly to how I was feeling. I even heard from quite a few blog readers that I did not know existed! Because of that post, I gained another reason to be molemates!

I started reviewing my blog tonight. I wanted to see who was referring others to my site, etc. I was stunned to see that my blog--since February--has had 95,548 hits! Wow.

When I initially started posting I did it as a type of therapy. I had a hard time talking seriously about the melanoma, I would downplay my fears, make a joke to take away the seriousness of the diagnosis, or quickly change the subject. I felt like if I was strong, it would make things easier for everyone else. As most of you know, you can only be strong for so long until you crack. Writing kept me sane. It allowed me to absorb everything that was happening to me. When you are initially diagnosed with cancer, things happen quickly. You go from being perfectly healthy to ridiculously sick. Your day to day life turns completely upside down and your new schedule revolves around doctors and medical words that require Google to understand. I also did it as a way to stay sane. My family is the best, as I have mentioned a time or two, but they like to know every little detail. It was nearly impossible to explain every appointment to every person who called me. It was easier to just post a link to my blog on Facebook and have them read it there.

Instead of just my family reading it, many more people read my words. It is flattering and humbling to know that my experience helps someone else. When I was first looking through blogs, I had very few options. I wanted to read someone's raw emotions. I wanted to know that the anger that I was feeling was normal. I wanted the truth. That is why I have promised to always be honest with you all.

The comments I receive, the emails that share your personal stories, the fact that you share my words with someone else means that I am doing exactly what I aimed to do, I am writing the truth.

Cancer is not pretty. It isn't pink ribbons and butterflies. We have good days, and we have bad, bad days. We have ugly scars, massive amounts of determination, and secret fears that will make you cringe. We take the good with the bad. And if anyone doesn't like what they read on this blog, well, tough stuff. Like the picture says, "There is nothing more badass than being who you are." I just happen to be one brutally honest melanoma diva.

Please continue letting me hear your stories. Even if I cannot respond directly to your comments, I read what you write, and I am inspired by you.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving Toast

"Do you have a special toast in mind yet for Thanksgiving?"
~One of my blog readers

I have been staring at this screen for 54 minutes. 

I have typed a few paragraphs...

          I have deleted a few paragraphs...

How do I explain why I am thankful 
when the very fact that
I am alive
is reason enough?

If you had forced me into a corner and asked me in January if I thought I would be alive to see another Thanksgiving, I would have quietly told you no. When this roller coaster of craziness began, I was hit over and over again with bad news; news that seemed impossible. The mole that they removed was not huge or deep. In fact, if it had been just a tiny bit smaller, they would not have done the sentinel node biopsy to see if the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes. Not only was the cancer in my lymph nodes, it was in 2 separate lymph node basins on completely different sides of my body, and possibly in another lymph basin. Did I tell you that there was only a 10% chance that the cancer would be found in my lymph nodes? Did I tell you that some oncologists would consider me to be stage IV since melanoma was found in basins on both sides of my body? So, yes... Had you forced me to answer the question, "Do you believe you will see another holiday season?" I would have told you no.

Here I am, only 10 months into Hotel Melanoma, still alive, and showing No Evidence of Disease. Despite my brave smile, my positive attitude, and my fighting spirit, I have shocked myself. No, I am not cured. As you all know, melanoma is not a curable disease. I will be fighting this battle until the day I die. But I am in a stage where all melanoma warriors want to be: I am showing no sign of the disease. 

If asked to give a Thanksgiving toast, I would never get through it. I would simply say this: Thank you for letting me be here to thank you in person. 

Thank you, God, for allowing me to get through these 10 months, alive and well. I am still trying to discover religion in my own way, but I do believe that there is a man upstairs who listens. (If not, I talk to myself way too often.)

I thank you, my beautiful family, for providing me with unconditional love, support, and forgiveness. I know that when I am scared, I am not an easy person to be around. You ignore my grumpy mood swings, hold my hand, and get me through the day. I will never be able to fully explain the love I have for each and every one of you. I am who I am because of you.

Although she is included in the list above, I feel as though my beautiful mother deserves a special thank you. I will never forget calling her in St. John, telling her that my mole was melanoma, but not to worry because they would just cut it out and I would be fine. Since the beginning, she has been next to me. She makes me laugh while I am chugging the nasty scan juice. She gets an attitude with the grouchy doctor who tries to tell her Interferon is a "fine" treatment plan for her 23 year old daughter. She knows when I need space and she knows when I need to cry. Never has she let her own fear get in the way of supporting me. She is, without a doubt, my rock.

I am thankful for my boyfriend, Mr. Spots, for still making me feel like the most beautiful girl in the room...even when I look like Mrs. Frankenstein. When I was recovering from both surgeries, I became incredibly self conscious. I felt like I looked like what I was: sick. Cancer or no cancer, a girl wants to feel pretty. Scars and all, he made me feel like I had no reason to hide. And when being the tough girl act becomes too much, Mr. Spots is the one who suffers through my tears. There are days in the shower--the one place that I can cry--where I will just sob into him. Most men, especially a fairly new boyfriend, would run for the hills. Although melanoma has put our relationship to the test, we found our way back to each other. For that, I am especially thankful.

I am thankful for my friends. This cancer has allowed me to truly see who I need in my life. There are certain people who take an extra minute to send me an uplifting text. They randomly drop a card in the mail. They treat me no different than they did before I became The Melanoma Chick. That, the treating me like normal, continues to make me extremely grateful. When the going gets tough, my friends wrap their arms around me and protect, protect, protect. I have said this before, and I will say it again, I have the best support system.

I am thankful to the strangers who have entered my life in the form of doctors, nurses, receptionists, and people in the waiting rooms. Because of you, even the scariest of moments are bearable. To the nurses who joke with me about the hot doctors, thank you for realizing I may have cancer, but I am still a 24 year old girl who appreciates Grey's Anatomy looking doc's. To my beautiful surgeon, Glinda, for treating me like a friend, not a number. To my own real life Wizard, my oncologist, for knowing that he has to reassure me time and time again. I am thankful for the folks who are a lot smarter than I am who are working their hardest to find therapies that will help us melanoma patients live longer lives. I am thankful to the patients in the waiting room who give me silent smiles, who randomly say "I will pray for you" as I am called back for a scan, and the ones who inspire me with their positive attitudes.

Tonight, and every night, I am thankful to those of you who have donated your time, money, and support which have allowed my family to provide me with the best medical care on the East Coast.

I am thankful for the internet because without it I am pretty sure I would have spent way too much money on therapy. The internet has allowed me to "meet" friends, my own mole mates, who have helped me in ways no doctor ever could help. They take their time to explain medical information to me, they interrupt their own fears to build my confidence back up, and they cheer the loudest when I receive good news. As I have said, I hate the cancer, but I love the people I have met because of it.

Tonight, more than anything else, I am thankful to be alive.

....and now, I am emotionally drained.

Happy Thanksgiving, dear friends.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Oomph

I am tired tonight so I was just quickly browsing online for an uplifting quote to accompany the pictures of me crossing something off of my non-existent bucket list.

(I did the Richard Petty ride along experience
at the Charlotte Motor Speedway!
Boy, those cars go fast....!!!)

Have you ever noticed that you find special things when you are not looking for them? That is what happened to me tonight. I found an article about Joe Kogel. The guy seems like an odd duck, but he made a few comments about his experience with melanoma that hit home for me.

Kogel was diagnosed with malignant melanoma at age 25. He is another cancer warrior who believes cancer has actually been a good thing for him. He explains in the article that "steering into the skid of his fast-approaching mortality forced him to learn how to really live." What better way to put it? Like me, he went from being a healthy 20 year old kid to learning he may not even get to reach that dreaded 30th birthday. Getting old no longer seems like such a bad thing when you learn that you may not be able to...

I have talked to many fellow cancer warriors about how we no longer sweat the small things. Sure, we still get pissed off when our co-worker is being a brat, and yes, we still hate waiting in line at the grocery store, but I can promise you that you will never hear us complain about having the "worst" day just because something minor went wrong. The worst day in our books is hearing our oncologist tell us that the cancer has spread, it is not knowing what the next month, the next scan, hell, even the next day will bring. A bad day is hearing that your fellow cancer warrior has died. That's a bad day.

Sometimes I find myself losing patience with people who complain about how horrible their lives are simply because their boyfriend broke up with them, they had a bad day at work, etc. It makes me wonder how they would handle a real problem. Then I remind myself that those issues are big deals to them. When you compare cancer to the daily problems of people, cancer wins. I have had to learn to have patience that even though my problems are life threatening, the problems of others are still important.

Kogel says, "Life is filled with moments and the more open to them you are, the richer your life becomes. Not easier, not better--richer." Is that how cancer has affected you? I know sometimes I act like I am cheerful all the time, and usually, that is true. No, this experience has not been easy--physically or emotionally--but the one thing that I can control is my emotional response to it. Because of this cancer, my life has become enriched with love, knowledge, and motivation. Kogel explains it well. He says, "Cancer's just one of those things that intensifies whatever's going on. . . . Cancer really provided me the oomph, the leg up to take the next step. The next step was dying. I died of cancer. Whoever I thought I was at that time died."

Isn't that how we feel?

If you meet a cancer patient and they tell you that the cancer has not changed them, I will tell you that they are lying. The person that I was for 23 years of my life died on January 10, 2011 when the dermatologist informed me of the seriousness of my melanoma. And boy, it has been a struggle for others in my life to adjust to the new me since the diagnosis. I may look the same, at times I am the same, but I truly believe that I have been changed for the better. I am becoming who I really am meant to be thanks to melanoma.

Melanoma, as Kogel said, has given me the oomph to take my life to the next level.

That oomph, I believe, is what makes me a survivor.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

AIM at Melanoma!

Let me begin this post by saying that I will never forget this weekend...ever. It was such a special weekend filled with family, friends, and fellow melanoma warriors. If you were lucky enough to attend the AIM at Melanoma walk in Charlotte this Saturday then I am pretty sure you heard 2 female voices screaming at 8:20 in the morning. No worries....It was just our excitement when we first laid eyes on each other.

Finally! Anne & I meet in person!

I saw Anne before she saw me. I was walking up to the table where she was standing when I saw her begin to look for someone. Then all of a sudden she spotted me and we start screaming and hugging. I had to keep screaming to keep from crying. She is just like I imagined....beautiful & beyond sweet. You would think that there would be awkwardness between us since we've only talked through the internet and phone, but there was none of that. That's how you know you have made a special friend!

Anne organized a great event. Over 200 people registered for the very first AIM at Melanoma walk in Charlotte, NC, and we raised over $33,000. I think it's safe to say that is a great amount for the first year! I fully believe that next year will double this year!

Me with my mom & baby sister!

Aiming for a cure!

One of my best friends drove
from Roanoke for the walk!
 Anne giving the opening ceremony!
 Don't leave your kids
without a parent...
My aunt & cousins walked
with me too!
Just a walking towards a cure!
 Melanoma Survivor...
and STAYING one!
 He ran the last lap for me...
And yes, he was sore after!
 Melanoma hasn't been kind
to our relationship...
but I think it's safe to say,
we are stronger than ever.
 One of my favorite shirts from Saturday:
"Team Lisa. Loving you through it."
(And yes, I teared up when I read it.)
What a great way to honor their friend.
The walk on Saturday was humbling, rewarding, and it made me extremely grateful. We may still be a small group who understands the dangers of "just" skin cancer, but we are a determined group. We will get the word out there. We will put our heart, soul, and sweat into this cancer so that one day if a family finds themselves in our shoes, they will have more options than what we initially had.We will raise awareness so that your future babies do not have their life shattered by "just" skin cancer at age 23 when their biggest worry should be finding themselves. We will raise money so that hopefully one day tanning bed lovers will not die due the dislike of being pale. We may be small, but we are strong. And everyone knows, you don't mess with strong. One day, I fully believe, our cancer will be as well known as breast cancer. Why? It's because of people like us.

Again, a huge thank you to Anne for organizing such a rewarding walk. Your hard work paid off, missy! 33,000 dollars towards a cause that hits so close to home? You made it happen! I am already looking forward to next year.

I will never forget this event.


Thursday, November 17, 2011


It's time! I
in Charlotte, North Carolina!
*Yes I realize this isn't the picture
that AIM probably wants associated
with their walk, but what the hell,
it fits my attitude towards melanoma. ;-)

I am so excited to head to Charlotte tomorrow after work. Not only do I get to spend the weekend with part of my family, and other melanoma warriors, but I also get to FINALLY meet my girlfriend Anne. Remember the beautiful prayer that Anne sent me when I went in for my surgery in March? I am just now getting to meet her! Finally! Not only does she have melanoma, she also has a family to raise; however, she has organized this walk in Charlotte and raised lots of $$$ for this great cause. I am so proud of her.

I went to visit the homepage for the walk tonight so that I could get the details about the check in time, etc. While looking, I noticed that the walk is in loving memory of two beautiful ladies: Melissa Sicola, age 33, and Laura Gillespie, age 30. The world lost these beautiful women far too soon. Anne has also dedicated the walk in honor of me. If I had organized the walk, it would have been in honor of Mrs. Anne. The woman is a super sweet rock star!

In other news, I had a dentist appointment yesterday. For some reason, sitting in the chair at the dentist's office really freaks me out. I still fear my oncologist more, but the dentist is pretty high up on my list of irrational fears. This appointment ended up being a teaching moment. Like any doctor, you have to fill out your medical history. When the kind-of-tan assistant asked about my cancer, I sweetly smiled and said, "Melanoma....stage III. Tanning beds are my worst enemy." She kind of laughed and said, "Yeah, I have been trying to quit. My Grand Father has a history of skin cancer so I know it runs in my family." I said, "Well, with the statistics that are available now, you would be silly not to quit. Plus if you really need a reason to quit, I will show you my scars." She said, "Are they really that bad?" Instead of showing her my scars that have actually healed nicely, I gave her a run down of the last 10 months of my life. I also passed her a card with my blog address. I hope she reads it. Minus her tanning addiction, she was a very sweet girl and she distracted me from the scary kid with loud tools coming towards me (AKA the 29 year old dentist...)

I did give the dentist a bit of excitement. I had been complaining about pain on the left side of my teeth. He looked at the X-Rays, looked at my teeth, and said, "Chelsea, have you had a lot of stress in your life?" Since we had already gone through The Cancer History, I gave him a "Are you serious?" look and said, "Uh....Slightly." He, excitedly, said, "I know it! You have been grinding your teeth!" Well, Doc, I am glad you know what you are looking at...

I am joking. He was a nice fella. 

But really. I just got diagnosed with cancer this year. Of course I have stress in my life, silly boy.

You never know when you will have the opportunity to teach. I could have simply kept my personal life personal, but because I took the extra minute to share my experience (I swear I don't go on and on about it. I keep it sweet & probably too short.) maybe she will actually stop tanning. She already said she had been trying to stop, and she did continue to ask a lot of questions, so maybe, just maybe, she will cancel her membership. Fingers crossed!

Well friends, I want to thank you again for all of your generous donations. I bypassed my own goal of $1,000. This money is going towards an excellent organization and I could not be more thankful for your help. I will be sure to tell you all of the details soon! 

From the very bottom of my heart, thank you.

Yes, YOU.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Believe You Can

I have quite a bit to write about, but I very little energy to do so tonight. Who knew a tooth ache could be so painful?! Ouch. Want to hear something silly? I fear my oncologist just as much as I fear the dentist. That sounds ridiculous, right? I mean, a dentist is a dentist. Oh well...we all have irrational fears, I guess.

I also fear clowns...don't judge me.

Y'all know I love to meet my blog readers & melanoma friends in person. Well, this past Friday I got to meet two beautiful blog followers in person! Mr. Spots had told me that he used to work with these two girls and that they had been introduced to my blog by a mutual co-worker. I thought that they just read my blog in the beginning; however, they have kept up to date and fuss at their girlfriends who tan. It was so humbling to meet them in person and know that they are sharing my experience to help others. You girls are gorgeous! Thanks for reading!!

As you know, I am heading to Charlotte, NC THIS Saturday for the Aim at Melanoma walk. I am so excited to participate in this event with my family and friends. I will be sure to take a lot of pictures and notes. You will get the full scoop.

Until next time.......XOXO

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Dysplastic Nevus....Whaaaaaat?

Today I headed to Dr. Cool Guy, my local dermatologist, to have my stitches removed & get my final results. When the nurse called last week to let me know that my mole came back "OK" (She didn't want me to worry over the nurse ever!) she told me that everything was fine. Dr. Cool Guy had a different reaction to the results.

He walked in, gave me a hug, and said "OK. The mole was a compound dysplastic nevus with moderate cytoarchitectural atypia." I gave him the "please dumb it down" look and he said, "It's not melanoma, but I am glad it is off of you." Well, in that case, me too! 

What is a dysplastic nevus? Otherwise known as an atypical mole, a dysplastic nevus is a type of mole that looks different from a common mole. It can be larger than a normal mole, varies in color, and is usually flat. A dysplastic nevus is not cancer.

If a dysplastic nevus is not cancer than why is the dermatologist happy that I had the mole removed? A dysplastic nevus is more likely to become melanoma than your normal mole. According to The Skin Cancer Foundation, people who have atypical moles are "at increased risk of developing single or multiple melanomas." They also explain that melanoma can begin within a dysplastic nevus.

What happens when you learn that you have a dysplastic melanoma? Well, don't freak out. Instead, use this diagnosis as a learning experience for you, especially those folks who do not have melanoma. Grab a partner, have regular at home skin checks, schedule to see a dermatologist once every 6 months, stay far away from the tanning bed, wear sunscreen--even on overcast days! Remember, when caught early, melanoma is treatable. Be smart. 

Okay, I am finished lecturing for the night. Check out my friend Al's blog. He explains how we had our own "Occupy" event the other night! Whatever it takes, we'll get the word out.