Monday, October 31, 2011

What We Don't Like To Talk About

Since it is Halloween, I thought I would discuss a scary topic...Recurrence.

Most people are under the impression that when you are diagnosed with melanoma, a doctor will "cut" the melanoma out, and "you will be fine." I have been told that over and over again. Here's the thing: That is not always true. Even if you catch melanoma in the early stages, there is a slight chance that it will come back. When melanoma returns, it is called a Recurrence.

Melanoma warriors hate the idea of a recurrence. Obviously, right? I know what you are thinking. The likelihood of melanoma returning after you "beat" it is slim. Wrong! According to MD Anderson Cancer Center, "Melanoma patients have a high risk of developing new melanomas. Some also are at risk of a recurrence of the original melanoma in nearby skin or in other parts of the body."

Since I am stage III, I am going to discuss the likelihood of me having a recurrence. While trying to find reliable sources to find statistics since I do not know the actual numbers (I try to ignore these scary numbers) I found this depressing statement. On the American Cancer Society's page discussing melanoma, it discusses using adjuvant therapy with interferon to help "fight off recurrence longer."

OK...maybe I am being fussy, but I absolutely hate the way that they have worded the above statement. I am all about positive thinking...I guess this is why I do not look at these sites, huh?

Anyway, proof that recurrence is likely is in their use of the word "longer." If recurrence was not popular, I believe they would have simply said, "...using adjuvant therapy with interferon to help fight off recurrence." Maybe I am getting too upset about their use of the word "longer." Maybe....

According to the Melanoma Research Foundation, the risk of recurrence depends on a few things:
"thickness of the primary tumor, with thicker tumors carrying greater risk than thin tumors, the presence of ulceration in the primary tumor and the presence of satellite metastases surrounding the primary tumor. The probability that melanoma will recur after appropriate treatment is characterized as low- intermediate-risk, or high-risk.
  • Low-risk: less than 20% risk of recurrence
  • Intermediate-risk: 20-50% risk of recurrence
  • High-risk: greater than 50% risk of recurrence. High-risk melanoma has a high probability of having already spread to local or distant sites at the time of treatment." (article here.)
My doctors have told me that it is likely that I will have a recurrence in the next two years OR never again. No one knows. I could go 50 years and then find another funky spot...or I could find a new one on Wednesday....or melanoma could be found in my organs. Melanoma tends to love lungs, livers, and brains. Scary enough for you?

If you would like to view other scary statistics, click here. My 5-year Relative Survival (%) is 61.7. Improvement! When I first started viewing the statistics, before my doctors warned me against looking at them, my 5-year survival rate was somewhere in the 50% range.

Next time you hear of someone having melanoma, please be sensitive. It is not "just" skin cancer. It is scary. It is a guessing game for even the medical world. It is my version of The Wicked Witch...How dare melanoma try to take my happiness!

My red slippers are on & I am ready to fight.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Pink October

There is one last day in this very Pink October, so I feel like it is my duty to remind people that "for women carrying a specific breast cancer susceptibility gene, the presence of abnormalities in the gene doubles the risk of melanoma."

It sure would stink to beat breast cancer and then get diagnosed with melanoma, especially advanced melanoma. I feel certain that their cancer experiences would be completely different....Not exactly different in a good way either....

How could they prevent themselves from joining us in Hotel Melanoma?

According to The Skin Cancer Foundation, breast cancer patients and survivors should:

Beware of photosensitivity. 
    "Photosensitivity is an increased sensitivity or abnormal response of the skin to sunlight or artificial ultraviolet (UV) light; people with photosensitivity are at increased risk of developing skin cancers. Photosensitivity can be caused by certain medical conditions and treatments, and breast cancer patients should find out if their treatments could make them photosensitive."

*Beware, a lot of medications cause people to become photosensitive!

Be Screened & Perform Self Exams:
     You know how you feel your boobies for lumps? Check your skin for changes! If caught early, melanoma is easily treatable. According to Melanoma Research Foundation, the median lifespan for patients with advanced melanoma is less than one year.

Speaking of statistics.... Let me remind you that "Melanoma primarily affects individuals in the prime years of life and is the most common form of cancer for young adults 25-29 years old and the second most common cancer in adolescents and young adults 15-29 years old." (See other statistics here.)

So, while I encourage you to continue to be Pink if that is a cause that is important to you, be smart. Melanoma is highly treatable if detected early. Do not pay attention to your boobies and ignore that "just not right" mole. Be proactive.

Or you could end up with these...

You do NOT want to end up here.
(Even in NYC, 
people look at you funny
when you have drains coming out of you.
Trust me.)

Sidenote: I just searched "Melanoma" on Pinterest to see if there were any new inspiring photos to include in this blog post. What did I find? A picture of my own scar! Someone "Pinned" my back scar picture, linking it to my blog. Cool! (But it did totally catch me off guard...)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Walking For A Cure!

Do you think he's wearing sunscreen?

If not, as my sister pointed out,
he will be bacon soon enough!

As most of you know, I am participating in the Aim at Melanoma walk in Charlotte, NC on November 19th. I am so excited to be a part of this for quite a few reasons. Obviously, melanoma is important to me so anything that raises money for research is something that I wish to participate in. Another reason I am excited is because one of the first melanoma warriors I bonded with is Mrs. Anne. She is the fabulous (seriously...she is wonderful) lady who organized this walk in just a few months.Anne has also raised a big chunk of change to be donated to the organization. Like I said, she's awesome. 

Yesterday she let a great piece of information leak: On November 19th at the AIM for a CURE Melanoma walk in Charlotte, there will be FREE skin checks from 8am-11am provided by Charlotte Dermatology! Before you start to get anxiety about strangers seeing you get checked, the skin checks will take place in a mobile hospital until provided by Carolinas Healthcare Systems, Levine Cancer Institute, and Carolinas MED-1.

I hope to see you there! If you cannot make it, I hope you will mention this great organization to others and encourage them to check it out.

And Anne, I so admire you for your hard work, dedication, and beautiful spirit. I am SO excited to meet you in less than a month!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


I know that I have complained a time or two about how my biggest concern should not be cancer.
My biggest concern, at 24 years old, should be finding my dream job, gaining even more independence, and enjoying my 20's. Instead, well, you know what my life has been like since January. I could be bitter, I could be royally pissed off (and I am both sometimes! especially scan week!) but instead, I see this year as being both the worst and best year of my life.

Yes, the year I got diagnosed with stage III melanoma has been one of the best--most eye opening--years of my life. Because of my diagnosis, I stopped floating through life. I have a purpose now in a way that I did not have before. I am going to fight melanoma not only for myself, but I am going to fight for everyone it has taken from us. I am going to fight in terms of education, publicity, and personally, I am going to fight it from attacking my body. I did not have that purpose prior to January. I always admired people who stood up for themselves despite what others may say about them, but I never had a cause I felt so strongly about. Now I do. 

I have the courage. I have the belief. And I have the determination. 

You, Evil Melanoma, have consumed a lot of my time, energy, and happiness; however, you are leading me to be who I am meant to be.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Restless Nights

And the scanxiety begins...

If you have any experience with scheduled CT scans/MRI's, you know what Scanxiety feels like. I try to talk myself out of it, I tell myself that I have no reason to be paranoid about the upcoming scans; however, my mind still focuses on it. I become grumpy. I get headaches. I become snappy. And I definitely stop sleeping through the matter how exhausted I am!

This time next week I will be packing my bags to head to New York City. On Wednesday, October 2nd, I fly to NJ to meet Mom. I have scans on Thursday, results and treatment on Friday. It is hard to believe my 3 months of freedom have already passed. The last time I went to NYC, the clear scans were such a relief, but I had a hard few weeks after I returned home. I am nervous that now that I have started living my life again, things will come crashing down. I fully believe that if I were to receive "dirty" scan results, I would have a harder time accepting it now than I did in January. In January, I was totally caught off guard when Dr. Cool Guy came in and gave me the less than desirable news that the mole he removed was melanoma. This time, although I am hoping for the best, I have to prepare myself for the worst. You know, just in case...

The lack of sleep is probably also because I am worried about my Pop's surgery on November 2nd. Tomorrow he goes in for a stress test--we've been through this before where they found a blockage and ended up having to do a double bypass surgery--and I am anxious to hear good news regarding that. Prayers please.

I am a bit bummed today. My mom had gotten tickets to be a part of the taping of Anderson Cooper's show on Thursday; however, due to scheduling conflicts, we will not be able to go. Because ipi/yervoy is known to cause inflammation of the eye, I have to see an eye doc while at Sloan Kettering. Originally I was supposed to see the eye doctor in the afternoon, but they have changed the appointment. Sooooooooo, no Silver Fox for me! I know that I should be grateful for the wonderful care that I am receiving, and I am, but I really hate that my mom went through the trouble of trying to plan fun things for us to do and we aren't able to do it. Mom always tries to make my trips to NYC more than just medical appointments. Like I have said before, she is the best. Let's hope my eye doc is as adorable as Mr. Cooper!

Here's what I have to say to melanoma tonight:

Melanoma, I'm coming after you...again!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Life, Love, and A Whole Lot of Fun

As I mentioned in the quick post last night, I traveled home to "The Shore" this past weekend with Mr. Spots and his little boy. It was my niece's 5th birthday, my sister's 30th birthday, and the last time I would see my Pop before his upcoming surgery. Unfortunately, Pop is having surgery on the day I fly to NYC for my latest set of scans & treatment. Prayers and good juju needed for our family that week, please! We had a great weekend visiting with everyone.

My Momma, Granny, Sisters, and my niece!
Oh, and Louis!!

Mr. Spots.
It has been a difficult year on us,
but I can say, 
we are 100% stronger than we ever have been.
Take that, melanoma.

The kiddos in my life.

My sisters really are that fun.

Although the weekend passed too quickly, I truly enjoyed visiting with them. No time with family is ever enough, right? I like to share certain details about my life because I want people to remember that I am not just a girl with melanoma. I am a girl with a real--often dramatic--life. I am not miserable. I am not always depressed. I am an average 24 year old girl who has advanced melanoma. It could totally be worse. I refuse to let this cancer take the rest of my happy spirit. I will continue to have moments, nights of restless sleep, because of this cancer. However, I will not, as I am proving, stop living my life. I am too darn stubborn for that. I am a face of melanoma....

which brings me to this website:  Check it out. It's great. It is a website full of stories of people with cancer. Unlike some of the other sites I have seen, this one is uplifting. Thanks to the great girl who emailed it to me!

Oh, and for the record....

Sunday, October 23, 2011


I traveled home to visit my family this weekend so I am far too tired to write a real post; however, I saw this picture on Pinterest and felt like it was appropriate to share. The strangers I have "met" recently have given me such comfort, such love, and such meaning. For that, I will always be thankful. is bed time!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Grateful Heart.

I want to say a special thank you to the people who have contributed to the AIM at melanoma walk that I am participating in in November. In the last few days I have received incredible donations from friends and from complete strangers. Just today I received a donation that was so generous that I could not believe my eyes when I received the email...I do not know you, but I am so grateful for your contribution. Melanoma, as it must be to you, is extremely important to me, and I can not thank you enough for your sponsorship. Other special people have donated despite the amount of money I know they have had to spend for/because of melanoma. Thank you. There are not enough words in the vocabulary to thank you...  I want to contact all of you personally; however, some of you, I do not know how.... Please know that I see your names and I feel so much gratitude.Those of you who have not listed your names, it means a lot that you feel the desire to sponsor me without even letting me know who you are so that I can thank you. I feel truly blessed to have people read my words, relate to my stories, and support my cause.

I'm going to bed tonight with a grateful heart.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Pink Envy

My guilty pleasure is listening to celebrity gossip. I'm not quite as bad about it anymore--and I watch VERY little television--but I do listen to the morning radio station when they do their celebrity topics. Yesterday as I was driving to work the topic was Giuliana Rancic and her public announcement that she is battling breast cancer. I have to admit something that is going to make me sound like a horrible human being. When I first heard that Rancic came public with her breast cancer battle, I rolled my eyes. When will a celebrity come out about a less popular cancer? Then I automatically regretted my bratty feelings and felt sympathy for Giuliana. Cancer is cancer. And, as we know, cancer, well, it sucks.

As author of Black is the New Pink writes, we all feel a bit envious towards breast cancer. Breast cancer receives so much support from society both financially and emotionally. It seems to most of us non-breast cancer warriors that our cancers get left out. Still, I have learned quite a bit and related to many breast cancer stories. Al, author of Black is the New Pink, posted a great quote of Giuliana's that I believe all of us will relate to:

"I had a friend call me yesterday, and she said, 'I'm so sorry, can I do anything for you?' And I said, 'Just call your doctor tomorrow and make an appointment. That's what you could do for me.'”

Isn't that one of the exact reasons why I am sharing this blog? I want people to learn from my experience. No matter what happens, I want them to take the extra steps to keeping themselves and their loved ones far, far away from melanoma hell.

(Please forgive me for my selfish resentment...I would not wish cancer--no matter which kind--on my worst enemy. As for Giuliana, not that she will ever read this, I wish her the best. I have always admired how public she has been with her struggles with infertility. I imagine she has helped many women.)

By the way, I came across this article today from The Skin Cancer Foundation. It says, "If you’ve had breast cancer or melanoma (the deadliest form of skin cancer), be aware that having either one raises the odds of developing the other, according to a study published in the Irish Journal of Medical Science."

I hope the Pink folks pay attention to this and vice versa...

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


"Cancer did not win – it couldn’t win because she wouldn’t let it.  Every person she touched, every person that changed their behavior to the sun, to tanning booths – that was a win against cancer.  And I applaud you as you also have that strength – to never let it win and to scream it from the rooftops so that everyone is aware – educated – and then we must find a cure."
~A friend of Tina's 
I received an email today from a friend of Tina's, telling me that she appreciates that I continue to mention Tina in my blog. After reading my blog post from yesterday she decided to contact me. Initially, I am always a bit uncomfortable when I receive emails from strangers who know the people I write about because I always have a tiny fear they will be offended that I am discussing their loved one. However, we can all see from Tina's blog that she had a plan: She was going to spread melanoma awareness. Just because she is no longer here to do it herself does not mean that we need to stop sharing her story. Like other stories, maybe Tina's will be the one to stop a young mother from hitting up the fake-and-bake salon.

After reading the email from Tina's friend I began to think. I am still in the stage of my melanoma diagnosis where I sometimes forget I am indeed a cancer warrior. I still have to fight the urge to question the receptionist when she calls my name. "Are you sure I am the patient?" There has not been a time that I have walked into Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center that I have not read the sign, sighed a big sigh, and wondered how I ended up in this position. Reality never hits me as hard as when the nurse puts the needle in my arm and begins treatment. Yep, either I'm the patient or I predict a huge lawsuit in the future. (Teasing...................If they decided I was incorrectly diagnosed and I do not have melanoma, hey, I would be so happy I would not even consider blaming anyone!)

For the obvious reasons, death scares me. I do not want melanoma to kill me. Not now, not ever. I want to win. When I have talked about other warriors passing away due to melanoma, I have said that they have lost their battle. But, after reading the email today, I realized I am looking at it in the wrong light. Yes, their death is tragic. However, like Tina's friend said, melanoma has not won just because the warrior passed away. If that warrior caused one person to change their lifestyle, if he caused one person to get a odd spot checked by a dermatologist, if she shared her story with her children, melanoma isn't winning... Quite the opposite, in fact. 

Melanoma, unlike death, is something we can prevent. 

Are you preventing it?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Glenna Kohl

 *I like to think that the warriors
who have been taken from us
are up above, 
smiling down on us,
proud of how determined we are to educate.*

I believe the internet has been a wonderful thing for the cancer society. It allows warriors to connect to other warriors, it allows warriors and family members to do their own research to guarantee that they are receiving the best treatment possible, and it allows us to connect to others we would have never heard of before.

Sometimes there are stories that hit me harder than others. Glenna's is one of them. Here is this beautiful, YOUNG, spunky girl who had the world at her fingertips. Then, all of a sudden, she is diagnosed with skin cancer, melanoma to be exact. Realizing that my story closely resembles one of another young lady who has lost her battle makes me sad...It hurts my heart to see and read how dramatically her life changed in such a short amount of time. After feeling a huge amount of sympathy and admiration for Glenna, my own fear hits me. My story could end like Glenna's.

Let me introduce you to the beautiful Glenna Kohl. Glenna Kohl was, by everything I have read, a friendly and upbeat 22 year old girl who received a huge shock when she was diagnosed with stage III melanoma. Not only did Glenna have a great personality, she was also very health-conscious. She ate the right foods, exercised at the gym, but she also used the tanning bed. Why? Well, who thought of the tanning salon as being a real threat? Not us.

When Glenna was diagnosed with melanoma, she was in shock. She went from being healthy to having stage III melanoma. (See why I feel nervous now? This is my story!) Cosmo published an article about Glenna that describes her battle with melanoma. In the article it says that Glenna had actually had a mole removed a few years before being diagnosed that was determined to be irregular. When he tested it again, it was positive for melanoma. Had Glenna received the accurate results of an early stage melanoma, it is very possible that would have been her only scare. (See....EARLY DETECTION IS IMPORTANT.) According to The American Cancer Society," The 5-year survival rate is around 97%. The 10-year survival is around 95%." Only a short time after being diagnosed with stage III melanoma, Glenna found another lump. She was officially stage IV which, according to The American Cancer Society, has a 5-year survival rate for stage IV melanoma of about 15% to 20%. The 10-year survival is about 10% to 15%." (Cough Go-Get-That-Funky-Mole-Checked-Now Cough.)

In 2008, the beautiful Glenna lost her battle to melanoma. She was only 26 years old. Determined to honor their daughter, Glenna's friends and family have a wonderful campaign aimed at melanoma awareness. They are determined to share with others how dangerous suntans--real or fake--actually are.  No tan is worth a life. Skin cancer--no matter how harmless it seems--can kill you.

Please think twice before you step foot in a tanning salon.

Remember people like Glenna and Tina.  

Sunday, October 16, 2011

You Shouldn't Have To Face It Alone.

Today's blog post comes from a guest. I had never considered letting someone else put their words on my page completely, but I think this article is one we can all relate to. As I have said time and time again, I would not be able to handle cancer if I did not have the support that I do. My support team has become my family.

Healing Communities: Support Groups for Cancer Patients and Survivors.

There is a reason why cancer patients and survivors share such a deep and obvious bond. Those who haven’t experienced receiving a diagnosis, and enduring cancer treatment can’t possibly understand the full spectrum of emotions that come with it. Cancer, once only spoken about in hushed tones, has come into the light of public awareness. Nowadays, most of our lives will be affected by cancer at some point. According to the National Cancer Institute, one's lifetime risk of being diagnosed with cancer is 40.77%, meaning that one of every two men and women will have cancer within their lifetime. As a result of these growing numbers, the need for supportive care outside of the clinic walls has expanded. With the improved availability of support groups for cancer patients and survivors, medical professionals have discovered that these groups do more than provide an emotional outlet. Some studies suggest that they may actually help patients live longer.

In 1989 Dr. David Spiegel published the results of a groundbreaking study. Women with breast cancer had received a combination of group therapy and training in self-hypnosis. When compared to a control group, their life expectancy was no less than double. Although subsequent attempts to replicate the study have had mixed results (these studies failed to also include self-hypnosis training), the potential for improved quality of life and improved pain management is
well substantiated by both doctors and patients.

So what can one expect to find at a cancer support group? While some groups may be open to both patients and survivors of any form of cancer, still others may cater to a more specific group. Often, the needs of survivors may be different than those of patients who are still receiving treatment. For example, an individual with
mesothelioma may be dealing not only with medical care, but legal issues that stem from the environmental exposure that caused it. Additionally, mesothelioma life expectancy is, on average, shorter than for someone with a slow-moving form of lymphoma. Therefore, his group may deal with issues of grief and mortality differently. On the other end of the spectrum, those who have moved on to being survivors may need community support as they deal with the many ways in which cancer has changed their finances, relationships, appearances, fertility and life's priorities.

No matter what the focus of a cancer support group might be, the universal benefit lies in the basic human need to feel understood. We are social creatures and sometimes the mere knowledge that other people have stood in our shoes and survived is enough to dispel fear and lift a tremendous weight from our shoulders. Cancer is a life changing illness for all who experience it. Thankfully, it's one that needn't be faced alone.

By: David Haas

Thank you, David, for bringing your article to me to share with others! 
To view David's blog:

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Tan Ban

The skin cancer community is overly excited about California's decision to ban tanning for minors. Then there are the people who argue that a parent should decide if their child is allowed to tan or not, but they do not seem to have a problem with the fact that it is illegal for their children to smoke or drink underage. Tanning beds are now known to cause melanoma. It's time to admit it, tanning bed lovers. Tanning is not good for you.

Last night I received an email from someone at Newsy. They had read my blog and thought that their latest video covering the Tan Ban in California would interest my readers. The video discusses California's latest law and how tanning salon owners are responding. Needless to say, they are not pleased. The video features the owner of The Body Bakery (Seriously. That's the name of the salon...You all know what I am thinking.) The owner says, "“If a parent is allowing their child- not child, but I mean their teenager to go tanning, then it’s up to the parents- not the government to, you know, allow them or not allow them.”

Siiiiigh. I wonder how long people will try to say that. I wonder if this is what people said back when they outlawed smoking for minors. I know, melanoma is just skin cancer, but it kills. When it kills, it kills quickly.

I posted a link to the Tan Ban video on my Facebook and an old co-worker posted: "I don't think tanning in general should be outlawed or anything bc I think it is a choice(maybe not the best one) but people let their kids 15,16,17 go and they go like every single day after school, that's nuts!!"  A part of me can understand why she would say that...The government has not outlawed smoking for people over the age of 18, why should they outlaw tanning? I am not saying (though I would like for it to happen) that the government should outlaw tanning beds for everyone. People should be free to make their own poor decisions; however, if teenagers are not allowed to drink an alcoholic beverage, why should they be allowed to get into a machine that could lead them to Hotel Melanoma?

Melanoma can and will kill your baby girl (or boy. Whatever.) We have very little control over cancer, there are some of us who will get a melanoma diagnosis without ever stepping foot in a tanning salon, but there is too much evidence against tanning salons to argue. In this article Dr. Rigel, a dermatologist at New York University, said "Twenty years ago, it was rare to see a woman in her 20s with melanoma, and we also did not see a lot among women in their 30s. Now, we commonly see cases in women in their 20s, and every one of them has a tanning history. The foremost issue for melanoma in women is tanning beds. For the first time, we’re seeing an increased incidence of melanoma in young women in their 20s and 30s, and the only thing they appear to do differently than young men is go to tanning salons." 

In honor of being diagnosed with melanoma 9 months ago yesterday, here are updated scar pictures:

The left side of my neck, surgery was on January 26, 2011

 The right side of my neck--full lymph node dissection
at MSK on March 24, 2011
Where it all began...
Wide Excision, January 24, 2011.

*I have two scars under both arms but they don't show up well 
in pictures these days. I also have two "bullet holes"
from the drains from the surgery in March.

(So, don't tell me that tanning is good for you.
It isn't.
I was just about scar free before melanoma,
I tanned because I wanted to be pretty.

Thanks to Aim at Melanoma and the California Society of Dermatology & Dermatological Surgery, teenagers in California will no longer have the option of tanning. I fully believe that had I not been a tanning bed visitor, I would not have joined Hotel Melanoma at the age 23. I am proud to be walking for Aim at Melanoma in November. 

*Thanks to those of you who have already contributed. It goes towards an amazing group.

Monday, October 10, 2011

California Girls

 ...under the age of 18 better accept that pale is the new tan.

On Sunday, October 9th, the melanoma world received great news. California banned use of tanning beds by minors. 

Prior to Governor Jerry Brown's decision, California minors between the ages of 14 and 17 were able to use tanning beds with the consent of their parents. Not anymore! Outlawed! Just like smoking!

AIM at Melanoma put a lot of work into getting this bill approved. Thanks to their determination, some teens will never step foot in a tanning salon, and hey, maybe if they do not use a tanning bed, maybe they will never hear those sickening words, "You have melanoma." Chances are high, I believe.

Hey, the rest of the United States, PAY ATTENTION! California, you are saving lives!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Friendship or Love.

"But she said for those who survive this disease,
it is more than just pink shirts and raising money.
She said those going through this fight
need someone to listen.
Not fan fare,
or whoopla,
but friendship or love that is undying."
  • ~Pamela Price

I am reading the current edition of Bella  which is, of course, dedicated to breast cancer since it is breast cancer awareness month. I have to admit, I was a little bitter that the entire edition is dedicated to breast cancer since I had emailed this same magazine requesting them to do something for melanoma back in May. In their defense, they did publish my article, but that is all....Anyway, I am a faithful reader so I thought I would check out the articles. The second article that I read actually reminded me that regardless of the type, cancer patients all go through the same emotions. The shock, the fear, the anger, and even the acceptance that we do have cancer, and when it really comes down to it, cancer is something we have no control over.

This article, written by Pamela Price, discusses how many of us have numerous t-shirts that we have received after attending a fundraising event. Price writes, "These days there are t-shirts, socks, vests, hair accessories, etc. that show you support one or many causes. Yet, what does all that really mean?" Good question, Pamela. Think about your latest Facebook feed. So many women started posting "I am ___ weeks and craving __." This was supposed to promote breast cancer awareness. All it did was cause people to think you were pregnant and craving weird foods. Will that cause women to go get their yearly exams? Will it cause women to feel their boobies? Will attending a karaoke event for skin cancer cause people to go to a dermatologist? Probably not.

Yes, all cancers need fundraisers, not only for the research that is still needed, but families going through a cancer diagnosis need the financial support sometimes. One thing people do not realize is that cancer is expensive. Some of us, like myself, are lucky enough to have great insurance plans. Others have been kicked off of insurance policies due to being too high risk. Between the traveling, the medical expenses, and the possibility of losing your job, cancer is expensive. Fundraising is crucial. 

What is as important as the financial help you can provide to a cancer warrior/cancer research? The support you give unselfishly to the cancer warrior. In her article, Price discusses a member of her church who had decided to be at peace with the fact that she was losing her battle with breast cancer. Price remembers her friend explaining that what cancer survivors need is someone to listen to them. She says, "...For those who survive this disease, it is more than just pink shirts and raising money. She said those going through this fight need someone to listen. Not fan fare or whoopla, but friendship or love that is undying." This hit home for me. As much as I appreciate and needed the financial and physical support from those who have helped me, I would have never been able to even pretend to cope with a cancer diagnosis without the emotional support that I have received. Some people probably think I have used my cancer to bring attention to myself. Some might say I beg for attention. I share my experience for 3 reasons: my story my save someone else, my story may help another person going through a similar experience, and my sharing my story has been extremely therapeutic. Having someone read the words that I can write but can't always say has allowed me to cope with the craziness that is now my life.

People do not like acknowledging the fact that one day they will die. Instead, they tell you that things will be OK. They remind you that you will get through this. I am guilty of telling others these same comments as well. You have a tumor on your brain? I am going to tell you that you are going to be fine. Why do I do that? Well, I don't know what else to say. How do you look at someone you have grown to know and love and say, "Well, shit. This may just kill you after all." You don't! You tell them that they are going to receive excellent care. You build up their confidence as best as you can because they probably have very little confidence of their own. You encourage them. On the other side, you have to respect that things are the opposite of fine, they are the opposite of OK, and that shit is really going to get tough. You listen to their fears no matter how scared those fears make you. You do it because that is what they need: They need to be heard.

Next time you are surrounded by someone going through a hard time, be patient with them. Let them know that it is OK not to be strong all the time. Let them feel safe to let their guard down. I can promise you that support will mean more to them than the t-shirt you wear in their honor. 

(But don't stop supporting causes that are important to you. Without money, there is no research. Without research, well, you knooooow.....)

(All pictures found on Pinterest.)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Tanning IS bad.

I know all of you who read this blog are educated in the dangers of tanning beds. Some of us, like myself, learned the real dangers far too late. This article ,published today, says that tanning beds may be worse than any of us realized.

Doris Day, a dermatologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in NYC said, "Indoor tanning is like smoking for your skin.It's the single worst thing you can do in terms of skin cancer and premature aging."

**Side note: Speaking of tanning aging your skin, have any of you been watching X Factor? I have never watched it before but I have caught a few episodes this season. I am amazed at how old these young blonde candidates appear. I will look at the girl singing, look at her age, and be amazed at just how much older she looks. (Definitely not in a good way!!!)**

The article also mentions how tanning salons often claim that tanning beds will boost the amount of vitamin d your body makes. In response to the rumor that tanning beds use to catch clients, Day says, "This is nonsense and an excuse. We know people burn in tanning beds and that UVA and UVB are toxic."

In my opinion, toxic is never a good word to hear....

Who do we need to keep out of the tanning beds the most? Teenagers! Of course everyone is subject to melanoma, and yes, we know that tanning beds increase the risk for melanoma, but teenagers think they are invincible! Day says, "They are immortal in their mind, and skin cancer and aging seem a long ways away."  Day stresses, "Melanoma, a potentially fatal form of skin cancer, is not an old person's disease."

Don't we know...

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Cancer Famously Won Again

Maybe it is just because I am sensitive to the word "cancer" but it seems like in 2001 I have personally known more people who have been diagnosed with cancer than any other year. It just keeps attacking.  It does not matter how old the person is, how rich the person is, how healthy the person is.
Cancer attacks.

 Tonight we learn of the death of Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs, like many of you who read this, had been a warrior against cancer since 2004. Today, he lost his battle.

Since my hospital visits & many hours traveling would have been super boring & probably even more stressful due to a lack of a distraction, and because of my great respect for an intelligent man, I felt like Mr. Jobs deserved his own blog post on this site. After all, we may not have the same type of cancer, but when it comes down to it, cancer is cancer.

Rest easy, Mr. Jobs. Your intelligence and determination will be remembered.

"If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. 
Don't settle.
As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it.
And, like any great relationship, 
it just gets better and better as the years roll on."
 ~Steve Jobs

Monday, October 3, 2011

Dreams Into Plans

If you kept up with my adventures during the summer, you know that I toyed with ideas about what to do, where to go, and who to be once treatment came to a halt in August. I virtually told you that I felt safe living at home with my family, but that I felt like I was not being true to myself. I have never been the girl who gets scared back into the security net that is my hometown. However, cancer is not simply scary. Losing a job or the ending of a relationship is scary. Cancer is scary. In one afternoon I went from having stitches removed to hearing a head dermatologist question my desire for a family. Boom. Safety net needed!

If you know me in 'real' life, you know my family is outstanding. We share a closeness that can't be found in just any family. We talk often, we share too much about every little thing, and I am pretty sure my mom could sense my sadness no matter how far away she is from me. Honestly, it is a bit eerie. Because I was able to live at home during my 3 months of the beginning of the ipi trial, I healed emotionally and physically. Having my parents take care of me again did wonders. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't a lazy bum, but Mom totally took care of me, never making me feel guilty for moving back home. I knew there wasn't another place in the world that she would want me to be. I was able to see the rest of my family whenever I wanted or needed, something I have not been able to do since before I left for college in 2005. Living at home again was honestly the best thing for me. Not only did it help with the ipi trial, the time at home allowed me to finally grieve for what had happened to me. The first few months after I was diagnosed, I was constantly moving. I was either going to meet new doctors, having surgeries, or yet another scan. If I wasn't at an appointment, I was healing from one. I did not have the opportunity to sit back and truly realize that I am now a cancer patient. I was too busy trying to kick some melanoma ass to even toy with too much self pity.

So, while at home, I did a whole lot of crying. It confused me because I had every reason to be happy. Yes, I was traveling back and forth to New York City for the ipi trial, but all of my scans were still clean. To my knowledge, I was showing no evidence of melanoma. Why the tears? I think it all finally hit me. My life truly--excuse my language--went to shit. My relationship was suffering, I had a lot of extra free time on my hands to think and stew about life as I now know it, and I found entirely too much time to browse the internet. Add a few more stress factors in, and I think you will see why the depression kicked in. Some will even wonder why it took so long.

Once my 12 weeks of the strict ipi schedule ended, I knew I needed to make some decisions. I felt like I had two choices. I could stay in my hometown, find my own place, and get a new job. That would allow me the comfort of being surrounded by my family, but I could also build a life of my own. But when I really started to think about living there full time again, it made me sad. Of course I want to be near my family. I love them more than any other thing in this world. Being back on The Shore to live? That has never been what I want for my life....Would I let cancer scare me back into changing my dreams for myself? Or were my dreams different now?

Choice number two was that I could return to Roanoke and try to regain a bit of normalcy to my life. Because I felt like my relationship with Mr. Spots (y'all remember him?) was not over, I felt like I owed it to myself to get back to Roanoke. I knew that had I not been diagnosed with cancer, I would not have left Roanoke. I liked the life I had...After a spontaneous major meltdown on my Step Dad's shoulder, I packed a suitcase filled with enough clothes to last me a week and headed out to Roanoke. I needed to spend some time with Mr. Spots and see if I even wanted to give our relationship that last real chance. As a couple, we have been through so much in the short time we have been together. Some of it could have been handled differently--on both of our parts--but I knew that my heart was still with him. I knew that if I moved back to Roanoke, I would be answering a lot of my own questions. There would be no "what if's" down the road. I needed to see if I was still in love with the guy who--excuse me for being cheesy--stole my heart all those months ago.

While in town visiting Mr. Spots a job opportunity landed in my lap. I took it as the universe sending me a sign. Although I had a job with an amazing boss ( family and I are incredibly thankful for her) that I had taken a leave of absence from, I knew I needed a fresh start. I, as I have said before, am not the same girl that I was a year ago. Jumping back into my old job, my old relationship, the old apartment, it was all too much. The idea of it was just as smothering as the idea of living back home. I accepted the job immediately.

Telling my family that I was moving away from them again was much harder than I had imagined. A part of me felt so selfish for allowing them to take care of me for 9 months, then once I felt strong enough, running back away from them. I was worried that I was not brave enough to live "on my own" again. Another part of me was scared that by leaving my parent's house, I was jinxing myself. After all, while living at home, I received all healthy scans. Would I start living my own life again only to wind up back home due to stupid melanoma? (And yes, I said stupid in a very bratty tone. I hate it.) I could not let that fear consume me. If I spent my no-evidence-of-disease years hiding behind my family, waiting for the next dirty scan, what is the point of being healthy? That is letting the cancer win. 

So, with the blessing of my family, I packed my bags in 3 days and headed west. How did I forgive myself for "leaving" my family again? I realized that I am healthy. Because I am healthy, I am able to have the opportunity to chase my dreams again. Knowing that my family will support me no matter what decision I make in life, I forgave myself. I knew that they would want what is best for me. If being away from them means I am healthy, I believe they would be OK with any amount of distance...

I have been here for 3 weeks so far and I am beginning to feel like the girl I used to be. Sure, my priorities are different, I get tired very easily, and yes, I still have moments of fear, and I have some serious homesickness, but I feel good....In fact, I feel great.

I, for the first time since January 10, 2011, feel like just another 24 year old girl....

....A 24 year old girl with numerous battle scars, more compassion than I ever had, and enough determination to take risky chances and find just who I am supposed to be.