Friday, September 26, 2014

Cancer Survivor

I couldn't sleep last night. I tossed. I turned. My husband probably thought a few times about pushing me out of the bed. I tossed and I turned some more. What would have me up at 2:30 A.M. in such a fit? The title "Cancer Survivor."

Some of you know that wearing the hat "Cancer Survivor" makes me cringe and quickly change the subject. To many people who have not battled melanoma, that probably seems ridiculous. After all, I've sat half naked on a cold exam room when the dermatologist mumbled those two words, "it's melanoma." I've seen the sympathy in the nuclear medicine tech's face as the radiologist informed me of the "hot spots" on a scan. I've looked an oncologist in the eyes as he told my then-boyfriend and I that melanoma would not kill me "right now." (And then I basically fired him.) I spent a month recovering from a brutal surgery only to have a more invasive surgery a month later that kept me in the hospital for 4 nights. I knowingly signed up for a 3 year clinical trial involving a placebo and a drug the doctors didn't know all that much about for stage 3 patients all because I didn't like my two other choices: "watch and wait" or Interferon.. I FINISHED the 3 year clinical trial with only a few bad memories. I've spent 3 and a half years of my time and effort sharing my story on every social media outlet in hopes of saving one person from making the poor decisions I've made. I've traveled to Richmond and met with committee members begging for them to protect Virginia's teens from the dangers of tanning beds. I went from having no scars on my body to having more than I can count. But I still cringe at being called a survivor. 


I am surviving. Every new mole, every swollen lymph node, every 3 months with the oncologist and dermatologist, we do what needs to be done to make sure we keep one step ahead of melanoma. And despite that, the sneaky beast has come back twice. So tonight, when I walk the stage with other cancer survivors at Cure By Design, I'm walking for all of my mole-mates who are no longer here to strut the stage. I'm walking in honor of my melanoma friends, many I've never met, as thanks for the love and support you continue to give me. I'm walking as a survivor because I know that's what they would want. I'm walking as a survivor because that's what I intend to do: survive.

To learn more about the Cure by Design event that sponsors the American Cancer Society or to donate in honor of your favorite cancer survivor, please click here.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Destination: Australia

You know how there are places on your bucket list that you want to see? Australia is on mine. Even before melanoma, I knew that I would need to be extremely careful in the Australian sun.

Australia is known for the highest rates of melanoma and they are also known as being way ahead of the United States in terms of sun safety. That's why when I received an email from Fiona  at, I knew I wanted her to take over my blog for the day. We have a lot to learn here in the States! Read on... (And be sure to check out their infographic. It's SO good.)


Australia’s Biggest Killer

The land down under is kind of infamous for its menagerie of venomous creatures. We hear horror stories of giant jellyfish. We see gruesome images of lightning-fast snakes, and fear bathroom-dwelling black widow spiders.

Yet despite this cornucopia of poisonous fangs and stingers, there is one killer in the Land of Oz that trumps them all. It’s often invisible to those who don’t know how to find it, and can attack people before they’re even aware that it’s there.

That killer is skin cancer.

Some Like it Hot

Australia is a pretty sunny place. If it seems like an obvious statement, that’s because it is, and if you’re planning your vacation there, it’s probably one of the main selling points.

As this handy infographic shows, average number of sunshine hours every year is 3,200, consistently reaching some staggering temperatures. On the southern coast of Australia, the average temperature in cities like Sydney and Melbourne weighs in at a balmy 26ºC (79ºF).

Further inland, however, these temperatures can climb all the way up to the Australian record of 50.7ºC - that’s 123ºF - a temperature that ravaged Alice Springs back in January 1960.

With such a scorching climate, you would assume that residents would have the common sense to apply a healthy coating or two of sunscreen, right?

Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

The Facts

Doctors in Australia have more than one million patient consultations for skin cancers every single year. In fact, skin cancer accounts for 80 percent of new cancer cases in the country.

The collective quantity of incidences of cancers like Bowen’s disease, carcinomata and melanoma shows that the country has one of the highest skin cancer rates in the world. In 2011, over 2,000 people tragically died from skin cancer in Australia, most of which were preventable.

And the primary culprit? The sun. Up to 99 percent of all skin cancer cases are caused by exposure to the sun.

But, in the words of The Jackson 5, “don’t blame it on the sunshine”. You can - and should - enjoy the glorious weather of the South Pacific if you can, as long as you take the appropriate measures before doing so.

How You Can Stay Safe

So many people make a big deal out of the “effort” they have to make to stay safe in the sun. But it’s easy. Just remember these three important things:

Sunscreen - be sure to apply one ounce of high SPF sunscreen every time you apply, which should be three or four times a day in the summer.

Stay hydrated - and no, dipping in the pool doesn’t count. Drink plenty of water to stop your body and skin drying out, which could otherwise increase your risk of sunburn.

Get out of the sun every now and then - no matter how much water you drink and how much sunscreen you douse yourself in, you’ll still burn if you’re in the sun too long. If your skin feels hot, go inside until it cools down. If you’re at the beach, pack a hat or umbrella; statistics show that a wide-brimmed hat can reduce UV radiation exposure by 50 percent.

Staying safe in the sun does not ruin holidays; it makes them. If you’re protected and sensible, you and your family can enjoy Australia’s gorgeous weather care-free.


Thank you, Fiona, for educating us all. I hope to use these tips in mind when I get to cross Visiting Australia off of my non-existent bucket list! Until then, I know I can follow them here!  Be sure to view their Infographic and share it:

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Chasing Life

"...I didn't see a wealthy businessman or a candidate seeking office standing before me. I saw a father and I recognized that look in his eyes, that terrible fear because I've seen that same fear in my own mother's eyes, in my grandma's eyes, in my baby sister's eyes, because I have cancer, too. And let me tell you, it's a bitch. And it's an equal opportunity offender. No amount of money, no amount of privilege can make you exempt. ...And when it chooses you, you're suddenly thrust into a club you didn't choose to join, you're shipped off to war even though you never enlisted in the army, but you have to put on your armor anyway, and know that if you are lucky, you'll discover new sides of yourself like a will you never knew you had. And you'll get to see new sides of the people who matter the most to you in the world as they wrap you in their warmth and lend you their strength when yours is running low. And then you go off, you fight, you fight like hell because, really, what other choice do you have?" 
-Chasing Life

...So did anyone else sob their way through the latest episode of Chasing Life? I needed to share this quote with you before I forget about it. I'm heading back to NYC on Thursday for updated scans and an oncologist visit. May was my last infusion so this will be the first set of scans I've had post completion of the 3 year clinical trial. Fingers crossed it's a completely boring visit.

Hope you're all well. I'll update soon, I promise.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

No Turning Back

Dear Politicians,

I watched you roll your eyes last year. I heard you say there was no need to ban minors from using indoor tanning beds, that we should let parents be parents. I shot a dirty look in your direction when you laughed at us and stated, "You can't stop them from spending 7 hours at Virginia Beach, why should we ban this?" I cringed when you acted like you--the people we are supposed to trust to make the best decisions for us--should spend time worrying about other things, not something so silly as a machine that is responsible for the 400,000 cases of skin cancer, about 6,000 of them melanomas, that are estimated to be related to indoor tanning in the United States each year. (Source.)

Well, elected officials we are supposed to trust, the acting Surgeon General disagrees with you.

(l-r) Assistant Secretary for Health Dr. Howard Koh, Stacey--ACS CAN volunteer and skin cancer survivor and Acting Surgeon General Rear Admiral Boris D. Lushniak (source)

"I’ve got to, as acting surgeon general, call out the facts. And the facts are that indoor tanning is a source of ultraviolet radiation, period. Ultraviolet radiation is a known carcinogen, period. This is a needless exposure to ultraviolet radiation. According to research…we’re looking at about 400,000 cases of skin cancer, about 6,000 of them melanomas, that are estimated to be related to indoor tanning in the United States each year. So I have to look at this as being a major problem. We certainly know it’s something that’s become popular amongst youth. And much like the surgeon general comes out very vehemently against youth smoking, I am coming out quite vehemently against youth exposing their skin to ultraviolet radiation in tanning booths." 
-Acting Surgeon General Rear Admiral (RADM) Boris D. Lushniak, M.D

Today the acting Surgeon General released his Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer. The report says, "Despite efforts to address skin cancer risk factors, such as inadequate sun protection and intentional tanning behaviors, skin cancer rates, including rates of melanoma, have continued to increase in the United States and world wide." The report goes on to share other info that has been gathered and five goals that we need to aim for to solve the "major health problem" of skin cancer.

Acting Surgeon General Dr. Boris Lushniak told CNN, "Until today, the surgeon general has never said, 'UV radiation is bad for you; protect your skin."

This is a game changer, folks.

I also learned that this is the first Call to Action from the Surgeon General in 3 years. The last was regarding mothers and breast feeding.

I could summarize everything for you that the Call to Action stated, but I believe you should take the time to read it yourself. There's some good info there, folks. Info that I do not believe our elected officials can argue against.

To read the summary of The Surgeon General's Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer: click here.
To read what the American Suntanning Association has to say in response: click here.
To read what the American Cancer Society has to say in response: click here.
To read what the Melanoma Research Foundation has to say in response: click here.
To read what the Skin Cancer Foundation has to say in response:
To read what the Melanoma Research Alliance has to say in response: click here.
Article on USA Today regarding this Call to Action: click here.
Article on CNN regarding this Call to Action: click here.
Article on MSN regarding the Surgeon General's report: click here.

I applaud you, Acting Surgeon General Dr. Boris Lushniak, for recognizing the need for this call to action. If states were slow to recognize their important role they have in helping decrease the amount of lives traumatized by skin cancer, this should help enforce why new policies have to be put in place. Too many lives depend on it.

Acting Surgeon General, you've made this melanoma diva a very happy girl.

A step in the right direction....Ah, it feels so good.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Funniest Sunburn Contest

If you logged onto Facebook today and caught up with your favorite melanoma friends, you probably noticed that people have been upset with Ellen DeGeneres. While I can't find the link now, the show requested folks to send in their funniest sunburn pictures.

Funniest + Sunburn = Seriously?

Before I go on a big long rant that I really am too sleepy for--thanks Rising Star for keeping me up too late--I have to admit that this probably would not have bothered me pre-melanoma. I would have looked, cringed, maybe even giggled, and moved on. But life after melanoma involves taking things more seriously than other people. A sunburn to me is the thing I can absolutely never get again. A sun--cough *Tanning Bed* cough--burn, now, is what made me sick.

What's funny about that?

So I joined in with my friends and responded to Ellen's request. Instead of the sunburn pictures--which I have many of--I sent a photo of myself post-melanoma. Most people think I probably have one scar to choose from. At this, I laugh.

 (The site of the first melanoma.)

 Melanoma was found in lymph nodes here...

 And melanoma was found here...

 And here...

(This mole was melanoma (in-situ) as well, March 2013.) 
 The site of the most recent borderline melanoma in-situ.

 The only places where I don't have melanoma scars are on my feet, my scalp, and my lady bits. Every where else has been marked either by melanoma or by trying to prevent melanoma. Both arms, both sides of my neck, my legs, my belly, my back xA LOT, and even my face. (Heading in next week for another surgery on my face. Yes, I'm still waiting for my appointment. I don't want to talk about it.)

As I said to Ellen, "I know you requested photos of sunburns, and I have plenty of those, but it's because of those burns that I was diagnosed with stage 3 malignant melanoma at age 23. Encouraging others to send photos of their sunburns is sending the wrong message. There is nothing funny about a sunburn, Ellen. Nothing. Sincerely, Still A Fan."

I'm proud of my friend Christina for bringing this contest to our attention and for all of my melanoma friends who took the time to speak out and explain why a sunburn is no longer something to joke about. Would we ask folks to send in photos of them smoking cigarettes?


A Sometimes Drama Queen. ;-)

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Things I'm Afraid to Tell You

I was reading one of my new favorite blogs tonight, Whispering Sweet Nothings, when I was inspired to write a similar blog post. Shane talks about how as bloggers we tend to only show the world the best of ourselves. We sugarcoat shit. Sometimes we say what we think you want to read. Sometimes we act like things are more perfect than what they really are. Sometimes we act like we aren't afraid. Sometimes we preach. Shane was brave enough to share some of her most personal feelings, so I thought I would share a few secrets of my own that I may hold back. (Some because I don't want a full inbox of hate mail! :0)

 I still miss the worry-free feeling of sunshine on my skin  I grew up at the beach. Many of my childhood memories involve a beach. Almost every major vacation involved a beach. The first summer being back home after being diagnosed with melanoma, I didn't know what to do with my free-time without spending my days at the beach or in my parents pool. I still miss getting up fairly early, grabbing a book, a bottle of water, and maybe some SPF for my face and shoulders, and not worrying about anything else until it was time to head inside many hours later. There were no big hats, umbrellas, select hours I should be in direct sunlight, or the absolute fear of a sunburn. 

I really do think your fake-and-bake tan looks horrible and cheap. I'm not just saying that because I have melanoma and can't get a tan. I truly, honestly, most definitely think that your skin should not be that shade of leather.

I had to remove myself from 2 different melanoma groups. I try to be supportive of everyone. I have a true desire to be a supporter of others and meet as many folks as I can within the melanoma community. However, I came to the conclusion that I could not completely obsess over this cancer. I couldn't have my Facebook newsfeed be nothing but articles about melanoma, latest updates about melanoma, and melanoma patients fighting with each other about something the other one said. I needed a break so I removed myself from two of the groups I belonged to. 

I do not regret removing myself from melanoma groups. I love my Molemates. I cheer with them when they get great news, I cry when they receive the news none of us want to hear. Having said that, I also have to look out for my emotional well being. Removing myself, deleting certain Facebook friends from my personal Facebook page, etc,  was what I needed to do for myself. Despite the hate mail I received it wasn't an attack against anyone else. It doesn't make me any less of a melanoma supporter. It doesn't make me a bitch. It makes me a girl who knew I was letting the internet have too much control over my emotional health. If you still think that makes me a non-supportive bitch, oh well.

I sometimes don't wear sunscreen. Before you freak out, read what I have to say. My face products have sunscreen in them. My hand lotion has sunscreen in it. I work in a basement of a hospital that has absolutely no windows. I walk outside for just moments to get to and from my car. I'm usually in long pants/skirts and a long sleeve sweater/cardigan. (It's negative 20 degrees in there, always.) My skin is always covered. If I spend any additional time outside, or know that I am going to spend additional time outside, I always wear sunscreen. I have multiple bottles in my purse. Don't shoot me. 

I become such a brat before oncology appointments. I'm not lying when I tell you that you're better off just not to talk to me the day I get scans. Just wait until I receive the results. Scanxiety makes me such a little brat. You've been warned. (And I apologize now.)

I am curious about getting a spray tan. A local spray tan salon here in Roanoke recently sprayed the Miss Virginia candidates. I saw her post on Facebook and mentioned that it would be great to interview the owner for my blog. I'm curious how she got into the spray tanning business and if there was a reason behind it. Since then I've been wondering if documenting a spray tan would be good material for my blog; however, I think it totally goes against the message I'm trying to send: Embrace your natural skin tone and look pretty doing it! (My decision about the spray tan still hasn't been made. It would be a one-time thing.)

I hate being in the room with a lot of people when I get scan results.  Receiving bad news is terrifying. Having to look over and see how your family is reacting to bad news is heartbreaking. I never want my family to experience that again.

I get a little peeved when people say I have skin cancer. I have melanoma. It's aggressive, deadly, and a sneaky little bitch.

I never respond to blog comments. But it's not because I don't read them or don't want to respond! It's because I don't have the slightest clue how to do so! I try, but I always fail! *I am going to work on this and figure out how to respond so please make sure you sign in with your Google account or leave an email address where I can get back in touch with you!!!!*

When are we going to start trying for babies?  Please, why do people still think it's OK to ask that? (This is now my promise never to ask anyone else that question ever again.) I've always wanted to be a mom. I think I grew up knowing that was the one role I most definitely wanted in life. When the doctor says it's OK, if the doctors says it's OK, I pray there will be babies. And trust me, I'll annoy you so much with pictures and posts, you will wish you had never wondered when we'd have kids.

I don't care that you got a sunburn. Don't worry about what I'll think.  Worry about reapplying your sunscreen next time.

I love my 'real life' more than I love my melanoma blog.  I know that I'm pretty much the crappiest blogger lately. I post once or twice a month. I don't update you on the latest drugs, the most recent articles, I don't share like I used to. But here's the thing: I work full-time for a hospital in a job that leaves me tired and sometimes grumpy. I'm a newlywed wife who actually likes her husband, I'm a step mom to a kid we see for 7 days and miss for 7 days, I babysit 5-6 nights a week during the weeks we don't have my step son, I enjoy cuddling with my dog and reading some silly romance novel. I am enjoying my life. I have melanoma. I'm thankful every single day that Melanoma is not my life.

My melanoma blog I'm denying saved me during my darkest days. I didn't want to talk about the seriousness of what I was going through. I didn't know how to tell people without downplaying it or making a joke. I was completely shutting down. I am so thankful my mom recognized this and advised me to write. She saved me from a severe depression and many hours in therapy.

I'm already fearing the comments I'm going to get about sunscreen. If a body part is exposed for more than 10 minutes per day, it has sunscreen on it. I promise.

What are some things you keep to yourself?

*Although Shane doesn't have the slightest clue who I am, thank you, Shane, for inspiring me tonight.*

Monday, June 23, 2014

"Super SPF: Showing Your Children How To Stay Safe In The Sun."

It's summer. When kids aren't playing X-BOX, their handheld devices, or watching Netflix, they are typically outside enjoying the wonderful weather. (Oh how times have changed...!! We were never inside during the summer months!! Teaching your children that there is more to sun protection than lathering on sunscreen once a day is extremely important. So how do you explain it all to them? This infographic will definitely help!

I think that the more we discuss sun protection with our kids, the more likely they will to remind us and others about the need for sun protection. For example, I took my little family to Kings Dominion the other weekend for a little Father's Day getaway. Y'all know I'm all about some sunscreen. We all stopped to reapply every 90 minutes. Who was reminding me before I suggested it was time to apply? My stepson. Why? Because we talk about the need for it.

How come the little kid roller coasters are scarier to me than the adult ones?!
Holy whip lash!
 PS) He was wearing a hat too, he's currently sitting on it here.

While you're browsing online I do encourage you to check out Skinfo! The graphic above really is great and I believe it's easy for kids to understand all the different key elements to correct sun protection. Skinfo also has sunscreen and sun protective clothing items available. Check 'em out and let me know what you think!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

She Asked For It

So it was just this week that I blogged about how I don't pressure those around me--well, not co-workers or almost strangers--into protecting their skin. I post what I have to say online, I share my story once I'm comfortable with you, and that's that. I don't comment on your obvious sunburn. I don't let you know I notice your brand new tan in the month of January when you haven't been on vacation. I smile and treat you just like I treat every other person. I'm not going to let my personal feelings towards tanning change the way I treat a person. Point is, I keep my mouth shut. No lectures.

(But I do post stuff like this.

However, sometimes, situations just walk in to your office fall into your lap.

Today one of my co-workers began walking down the hallway, pushing one of the young X-RAY students towards my office. I knew, just by looking at which student he had by the shoulders shoving towards me, what was about to happen. "You need to talk to her, Chelsea." I started shaking my head, "No. I saw her tan. It's her body. I'm not going to lecture her." "You need to talk to her." He stood there, with his hands on her shoulders, preventing her from walking away. I was determined to be nice to this young girl who I don't even know by name and just give her the sweet smile, followed by the, "You really shouldn't tan" comment. But then she looked at me directly in my eyes and said, "I go to the tanning bed all the time."

I don't know what happened. I don't know why I let the poor girl have it like I did, but by the end of it, my hands and my voice were shaking. I don't have the slightest idea what I really said, but let's just say it went something like this:

Student: "I go to the tanning bed all the time."
Me, in a shitty voice: "You can go to my chemo sessions with me too."
Student: "No thanks."
Me: "And you're a RED HEAD! You're basically just asking for it!!!!!"
Student: "Stoooooooooooooop."
Co-Worker: "We've been telling her that she needs to stop. It's so bad for her!"
Me: "AND YOU'RE A RED HEAD!!!!!!! Statistically you're a walking melanoma patient!!!"
Student: "Stooooooooooooop."
Me: "Do you know that they said I had a 50% chance of being here in five years?"
Student: "Stooooooooooooooooooooooop."
Me: "If you don't catch it in time, it's not like you can just cut it out. There is no cure."
Student: "Stooooop."
Me: "The World Health Organization classifies UV rays from tanning beds as a class 1 carcinogen, just like tobacco. You might as well start smoking."
Student: "Guys, stooooooooooooop."
Me: "You have to know how bad it is for you. With all of the research that is available, every time you turn on the news they are talking about it. You have to know."
Student: "I obsess with sunscreen every time I'm outside!"
Me: "WHAT'S THE POINT?! 10 minutes in the tanning bed is just like spending 8 hours in the sunlight without sunscreen. What's the point in obsessing with sunscreen if you turn around and go to the tanning bed?"
Student: "I like the way it looks."
Me: "But that's the other thing! IT DOESN'T LOOK GOOD! It makes you look old!"
(This is when two of my co-workers chimed in with the changes they've seen in their skin after years in the sun.)
Student: "Stoooooooooooooooooooooooooooop."

And the convo went something like that. The student never said she would consider what I yelled said, but she did thank me. So while I doubt she'll cancel her tanning membership any time soon, I doubt there will be a time in the near future when she doesn't think about the mean girl in the scheduling office who told her that her tan isn't pretty.

(I swear, I wasn't trying to be mean. I realized right away that my tone of voice was abrupt, I was harsh, I said things that I usually only write because they are hard for people to hear, and I let her have it. I don't know why. It just came out! She is such a beautiful young girl with her whole future ahead of her and I hate to think about what she may face in her future.)

Maybe tomorrow, if she'll make eye contact with me, I will apologize for being a bully and encourage her to make better life decisions. Not only for her benefit, but because I don't want to be seen as the mean melanoma girl who throws scary info at the first tan girl that gets brought into her office.

Eh, whatever.

She asked for it.


(A big thanks to my co-worker who raised some serious melanoma awareness today! I appreciate you!)

Monday, June 9, 2014

In My Face

There once was a gal who valued a tan. She tanned before prom, graduation, and vacations. She tanned before summer break so that she would get a "base tan." She tanned to make her skin, as society determined was the prettiest, bronzed.

Y'all know all of that. I have never denied my tanning history nor have I ever played the victim because of my melanoma diagnosis. I know I screwed up and made some really shitty decisions that I will forever pay for. 

 You don't have to be a radiologist to know you're not supposed to glow like that.

While I am all about protecting my skin, my family members skin, and encouraging others to do so via the Internet, I am not pushy about it in my every day life. I don't pass a sunscreen bottle around the bleachers at my step son's baseball game. (Although I cheered a little when someone else did.) I don't lecture my co-worker about her obvious burn. Unless you're friends with me on Facebook or stumble upon my blog, chances are you don't know I go to NY every 3 months to see my oncologist. Unless you already know about it, you can bet I don't share my melanoma story with you until I consider you a friend. That's just not how I am. I don't want to be that girl who is always yelling at the co-worker she barley knows about his weekend at the beach.

However, if you are friends with me on Facebook, you know I preach sun safety and my true hatred for tanning beds. I try not to be obnoxious, but I'm certainly aware that I probably am. ;-)

Having said all of that, I can't help but cringe when folks come up to me and say, "I thought of you this weekend. I said to my husband, 'Chelsea's going to get mad at me for getting a sunburn" or "You are going to be mad at me, but I'm going to go to the tanning bed just for a few times." I never know how to react because I want to keep the friendly and professional relationships, but I really want to be like "Whyyyyyyyyyyyy do you tell me these things?!" If I saw your sunburn--and I always see the sunburns--I would never say a word. If I noticed your obvious fake and bake sessions, you can bet I wouldn't mumble a sound about it. While I like to raise awareness, I know there is a time and a place for it. But throwing it in my face? Making a point to tell me the things you know I will get upset about? WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO SAY?! Ahhhhh!

So I started thinking about it today. Let's say I had lung cancer. Would my associate come up to me and say, "I thought of you today when I bought a new pack of cigarettes"? Would the stranger I see once a month say, "I only smoke when I drink" as if that is an excuse for her bad habit? Or would that be in poor taste?

Am I supposed to just be like "Oh OK!" because it's just a tan? Big deal?

If UV rays from tanning beds are class 1 carcinogens, just like tobacco, why can we make excuses for our poor decisions just because we want to look good at the country club?

I make a point to keep my cancer outside of certain areas in my life, but when I hear these confessions, I can't help but speak up. Obviously these folks know their decisions are poor choices, yet they make them anyway. And really, that's on them. It's their skin, their biggest organ. (And yet, the sensitive girl buried inside of me can't help but feel the sting. You don't have to make better life decisions just because I got melanoma, but you could refrain from telling me about those decisions. I had to learn my lesson the hard way which is why I put time and effort into sharing my experience.)

Maybe next time, instead of almost asking for my understanding, they will apply the extra sunscreen and cancel the damn tanning membership.

A girl can hope, can't she?

*Disclaimer: This isn't about a particular event. These types of comments are made weekly. DisclaimerX2: You should know by now there's always a chance YOU will end up on my blog. ;-)


(And yes, I realize it's been forever since I've blogged. PLEASE FORGIVE ME. Life is good--yet very, very, very busy!) 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Media Controls the Mind.

People in the spotlight have the great advantage of making a positive impact on society. They also have the disadvantage of upsetting a lot of people by comments they make. Today, I physically cringed while reading an article about Mike Schmidt’s cancer. The Ex-Phillies great, Mike Schmidt, was diagnosed with stage III melanoma last August. He is just now beginning to discuss his cancer with the public.
Mr. Schmidt has had numerous operations, radiation, and chemotherapy. The York Dispatch wrote that he is going through the third protocol of three different immune system boost treatments and is about a third of the way through the 12-week process. Obviously, he’s fighting melanoma with all he has. We all understand that, respect that, and we wish him well.

Here’s why I started cringing: the article states that the Ex-Phillies great is becoming an unofficial spokesperson for getting ones skin checked. OK, that’s wonderful. However, when discussing the new chapter in Mr. Schmidt’s life, he says, “I can think of a diagnoses that could be a hell of a lot worse. Cancer is a scary thing. Mine’s skin cancer.”
No joke. I cringed. My shoulders tensed. My jaw dropped.

Let me define stage III melanoma: According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, “At this point, the tumor has either spread to the lymph nodes or to the skin between the primary tumor and the nearby lymph nodes.” This means it has gone through the skin. In my opinion, if this has happened, the cancer can no longer be classified as “skin cancer.” It’s melanoma. Stage III malignant melanoma.
Mr. Schmidt also said, "I have to have scans every three months. Who knows what and when and where something's going to come up. That stuff travels around you microscopically. Until you have a year's worth of scans that show no residue and they tell you you're cancer free, all you can do is treat it."
We all know that he's going to always need to be followed, don't we? Sigh.
Please feel free to read this article yourself. Maybe I’m overly sensitive to it all and overreacting (wouldn’t be the first time!), but it sounds to me like Mr. Schmidt needs to be educated a wee bit more on the seriousness of his cancer. 

Maybe he wants to downplay the seriousness of melanoma to the public? Maybe he’s in denial? Or what scares me the most, what if he just hasn’t been clearly informed? But, he, someone who is speaking about his battle with cancer to the media, is doing our cancer, melanoma, not a lick of good. We’re fighting so hard to have melanoma taken seriously, and to see this article, well, it gave me a clear flashback to the many times I’ve been told, “at least you don’t have a real cancer.”

I do have a real cancer.
And, Mr. Schmidt, so do you.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Bunk Beds and Backpacks

This is why I'm not as successful at this whole blogging thing as I possibly could be: I disappear for weeks on end. Forgive me. Life has been fun--and thankfully--melanoma free lately. I'm also having a major issue with my computer that even my IT degree husband can't fix. Anyone have any advice for a good laptop? Apparently I am now in the market. 

Since we last spoke, I turned 27 and my dog got diagnosed with cancer. I'll update you on all of that when I steal my husband's computer from him. Today I wanted to share this incredible article my new friend Kate wrote. I'm not sure how I came to read Kate's blog, but each post leaves me with chills, and usually tears. One day soon I'm going to take that 3 hour drive to DC and meet her in person.

In the meantime, please, my friends, meet Kate:

Bunk Beds and Backpacks

We were married when I was twenty six, and we held hands in a church in Arizona while I hoped the day would go off without incident.  Now I am thirty, and I hold his feet in my hands as I slather them in peppermint oil and massage, hoping he will rest.

"I was thinking on Saturday we could go look for bunk beds in the morning," I say as I sit on our bed, trying to create nightly "rituals"--as suggested by our holistic health practitioner--because we don't sleep.

"Sure," my husband says, reclined against the pillows, "we can do that."

A birthday gift for our soon-to-be-two-year-old, a big boy bed like his big brother.  But then I imagine their room without a crib, just two boys, no more babies.  I start to cry.

I begin to tell him that I want another baby, even though he already knows and even though I already know what he'll say.  He's not interested in having more children, and it kills me every time he says it.  He's too tired as it is, he will tell me, we can finally travel, the kids are finally old enough.  If we have another baby, we are back to square one, back to sleepless nights and non-stop nursing and no time for anything that we love.

And sure enough, he says all of these things.

"But they grow up," I tell him, "they're not babies forever--look how fast it happens," I motion to their room on the other side of our wall, the room that holds two towheaded boys.  They are enough, but sometimes, I tell my husband, I long to hold a baby, to know that we will have a house full of noise and toys and balls and dirty clothes for a long, long time.  That we will have millions of grand babies and great grand babies. 

I can't be left alone, I think to myself.

"I won't try to change your mind," I say, rolling onto my back, lying next to him.  "I wouldn't want you end up blaming me if something happens."

If something happens.  

He sighs so deeply that seems to unleash something in him.  He clears his throat, and I can tell, without looking, that he is holding back tears.

"There is nothing I want more in this world than to have a house full of kids with you," he confesses.  "But I don't know what our life will be like, I don't know if I'll be here in five years, or even two years, and just like you don't want to held to blame, I don't want to leave you with a big family if I can't be here to help you.  What if I get really sick again, and you're taking care of a newborn?  I can't do that to you."

He refers to his diagnosis--stage III melanoma--with a fifty percent survival rate after five years.  He is a year into his clinical trial, yet for some reason only recently has this statistic begun to haunt him.  It haunts him to the point of sleeplessness, to mental anguish.  It haunts him so relentlessly that he has started to change--he is not the same man I married four years ago.  So I massage his feet with peppermint oil, hoping it'll bring him back to me.

I am crying now, big tears rolling down my face, because I understand him, understand the truth that is finally escaping his lips, and my heart breaks for it.

"But for me it's different," I confess, "because I want more little versions of you, just in case."  Like an insurance policy, I think, a safety net, I want to surround myself with more little people that are just like him--if something happens. 

We lie together, crying slow-rolling tears down exhausted cheeks, silently understanding and silently struggling.

I roll towards him, wiping my tears on his shoulder and neck, burying myself in his smell.  "I'm so sorry," I whisper.  I'm so sorry we have to live like this, I'm so sorry that all of our decisions are based on the probability of life versus death, that his cancer won't come back, that he will win.  I think these things, but don't say them aloud. 

"I just want to give you everything you want," he whispers back, "I'm so sorry I can't."

Eventually, we fall into a sleep so deep it obliterates all possibilities of dreams.

Two days later I am seated in a coffee shop, watching ice skaters glide in circles on a DC ice rink though a big picture window.  I try to write, but my mind is blurry from lack of sleep and throbbing emotion, and so instead, I call my mother, because I know she will pick up, and I know she will listen.

"Why are you at Starbucks at nine o'clock at night?" she asks me from her vacation in Florida, knowing I would usually be at home in my pajamas, sitting with a hot mug of tea and my husband by my side.  Tonight, however, I am frozen and tired and cannot wait another second for my breakdown.

Surrounded by strangers working silently on laptops, with ear buds and the buzz of caffeine to drown me out, I begin to detail the latest emotional trauma in a slew of disturbances over the last fifteen months.  I tell her about babies, about statistics that she already knows, about my husband's thoughts of his own death.  I sob as I divulge my deepest fears, shivering uncontrollably--though from cold or from fear I can't decipher.

She is silent for just a moment before she speaks.  

"You are both making this decision out of fear," she tells me, "You are afraid he's going to die, and so you want a baby.  He's afraid he's going to die, and so he doesn't want a baby.  But both of you are using fear as your motivator.  That's no way to make a decision--especially one like this."

I watch an ice skater spin in circles in the center of the ice, faster and faster, until she almost loses control.  She stops herself just in time, then skates away.

With a brown paper napkin, I dab mascara stains off my face.  I glance around to see if anyone was witness to my breakdown.  If they were, they don't show it.

"Thanks, mom," I tell her, "I should go home now."

I find my husband at the computer.

"Did you talk to him?" I ask.  My stint at the coffee shop was an effort to grant him the privacy of a phone call in our tiny DC townhouse--so he could discuss things like dying without his wife around.

"I did," he gives me a half smile and a shrug.  Then he begins.


"Mmmmm," I say, glancing up from my computer, "smells good."  My husband shrugs and modestly tells me he hopes it turns out as he stirs the fragrant curry he's making for dinner.  I put the kettle on, then lean against the counter, waiting.  It has been a week since our baby breakdown.

"We've talked so much about having another baby, but have we come to a resolution?" I watch him.  "Will you ever feel comfortable enough with the statistics to move forward?"

He leans back, a dish towel thrown over his shoulder and hands in his pockets, thinking.

"You know, my friend told me it gets easier the further away you get from it," my husband says as I pour boiling water into my cup.  His cancer friend, his mentor, who is fifteen years from his diagnosis, was the phone call my husband made earlier in the week as I watched ice skaters through blurry eyes in a coffee shop.  "You have to live your life like you would without cancer," he told my husband.  "You can't let it run your life.  And it will get easier, you're still right in the thick of this."

But the further we get from this, the older I get, I think to myself.

He shifts his weight and I notice the dark circles under his eyes, his disheveled hair--reminders of a surprise visit from the side effects of his treatment and his weekend spent in bed, forgoing our ski trip because he was too ill to travel.  Another example of the utter lack of control he has over his--our--life.

"To be honest, I crave a little bit of stability right now," he tells me, his blue eyes misting.  He's right, we have moved three times in the last eighteen months, and we can't find things like birth certificates and passports. 

"I still haven't unpacked the backpack from Argentina," he laughs.  The backpack, storing his medical records from the hospital in Buenos Aires that biopsied his cancer-filled lymph nodes, that delivered the news that would change our lives, sits in a closet in our basement--a metaphor for how we've dealt with this disease.  For the last year, we worked through the physical trauma of this illness--cutting out the cancer, infusing medication into his body to prevent a recurrence, dealing with infections and subsequent hospitalizations until he was finally healthy--and now, at the year anniversary of his clinical trial, we are just starting to sift through the emotional wreckage. 

I watch him as he moves back to the stove, absentmindedly stirring the curry.  Another baby, perhaps, but right now, he needs someone to help him unload the backpack.  This wasn't what I expected when I married my husband on a 115 degree day in the desert four years ago.  But it's what I promised. 

"Let's go get that backpack," I say. 

Chills, right? Go read all Kate's post now:

And forgive me for being a horrible blogger. I needed a little break. XOXO!