Friday, November 30, 2012

You Are Not Alone- At Least You Don't Have to Be

I’ve been wanting an eReader for quite a while now, but struggled with giving up the idea of holding good, old fashioned books. I also struggled  with giving up a couple hundred bucks of my hard earned money.  Then there was the choosing of which e-reader to buy. I am one of the most indecisive people you will ever meet.  It was just all too much for me, so as usual, I was one of the last few people on the earth to be up with the latest technology. You don' t even WANT to know how long it took me to get a smart phone, which is clearly just too damn smart for me, since it is always auto correcting my thoughts. No, I did NOT want to refer to my sister as a “duck” face, so stop changing it!

Well thanks to a Black Friday sale and a 30 minute run down of "how many gifts I've bought for you in the last few years compared to how many gifts you've bought for me," my husband bought me an Amazon Kindle.  I’ve had it for a week and honestly, I haven’t been on it THAT much, probably because I have serious issues with one-click purchasing and shopping online during this time of year, but I did break down and purchase my very first eBook.  Well, the first eBook for my Kindle. My first  and only eBook before this one was 50 Shades of Grey on my IPOD. Yep, I was curious and it was just before my diagnosis, so I had PLENTY of free time and space for some extra “crazy” in  my life.

My first Kindle book was Pale Girl Speaks by  Hillary Fogelson.  

What else would you expect a girl who blogs about melanoma and accepting her "paleness" to read?

Pale Girl Speaks is the memoir of Hillary Fogelson, a wife and mother of young girls,  and a three time melanoma survivor. She was first diagnosed at the age of 25.

I am only about 50 pages in, but already I LOVE HER and love the book! In just a few short sections (I'll call them sections, because they aren't very long like your usual chapters), she has taken me through the story of my first two months after being diagnosed. Sure, the people are different, the location of her melanoma is different, but still it feels like the SAME story.

I fell in love with Hillary when she shared that her nurse told her no deodorant before her surgery and then said “ so on top of everything else, I can smell like ass when I get out of surgery.”  Not only does she share my plight, but we share love for the same vocabulary.

 I could have easily read the entire thing in one sitting if there weren’t other things to do like cook dinner, put my little ones to bed, find time to blog, dig my clean laundry out of the basket it's been in for weeks, rewash the same load of laundry 3 times because I keep forgetting about it, oh, and work. I will finish it soon though, that I know, even if it means losing more precious sleep. It is just too good.

Just as misery loves company,  psychoticness loves psychoticness. It is SO relieving to hear or read that I am not the only person doing crazy things. It is also comforting to know that I wasn't the only one who had to stare down the face of this disease. I wouldn’t WISH melanoma on anyone else, but I am sure glad to have fellow warriors to assure me that I am not as crazy or paranoid as I think I am, or as crazy as my friends and family think I am.   

Today, my nephew asked me to look at a freckle on his foot that he just discovered. So naturally, my family got to talking about what to look for and showing off all of the odd moles or spots on our bodies. He then brought up that the mother of his friend of his had breast cancer years ago. Her son bought her a pink ribbon for her car last year, and she told him to get rid of it. He said she won't talk about and doesn't want to be reminded of it. I can certainly identify with that.
I’ve mentioned many times how I would not own the cancer. Nope. I would say this same statement to everyone, "I had a mole removed and they found melanoma."The mole had melanoma NOT me.  The mole, that ugly pink, “second head” I joked about on my neck, yeah, it had “the cancer.” I was good.  

Over the last few months, I have gotten more comfortable with owning that I  ONCE had cancer. I can say I  and cancer in the same sentence. I owe most of that to the fact that I made the decision to open up and allow myself to be vulnerable, first with my family, then my friends, then my personal Facebook page, then melanoma warriors I found online, and finally, here on my this blog.

I didn’t want to talk about it in the beginning. Truth is, I did want to talk about it, but I was afraid once I started, I wouldn’t be able to stop. I remember I stopped calling family for a few weeks. I knew if I just sat on the phone and talked about whatever came to mind like I usually do, IT was going to come up. I couldn’t let the dam break.  Shortly after, I started to feel like I was going crazy. That’s a story for another post, but just trust me, holding it all in, not talking to others, it will lead you to crazy town. I've been there, and still visit often.

So what's your point, Anjannette?

My point is that no matter what you are struggling with, be it disease, stress, loneliness, abuse, it is important and necessary to make a connection somehow. You can only hold in so much before you burst. 

Read a book about someone who has gone through what you are going through.
Find a support group.
Reach out online if you aren’t comfortable meeting in a group situation.
Have lunch with a friend who you know has been through a similar situation.

I did all of those things, but the support group. The very FIRST thing I did, after sharing the news with my family and close friends, was to have lunch with a friend who has been cancer free for 16 years. She was diagnosed with breast cancer when her youngest child was 2.  She decided at that moment that she was sticking around to see her grandchildren get married. Well, she is expecting her second grandchild in May and her youngest just went off to college. My dear friend Colleen was my first source of inspiration.  Because of her, I am determined to be around for MY grandchildren’s weddings!

You don't have to be alone with whatever you are going through. Even if it means just hanging with your eReader, you can find a connection somewhere.

Check out Pale Girl Speaks! I am certain this won’t be the last time I talk about it (though I am certainly NO book reviewer).

Thank you for reading. Until next time, practice safe sun!!!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

My First Interview!

I know I have been bragging a LOT lately about my wonderful new friends in the melanoma community. I am sure you are starting to get just a bit sick of hearing it. Well, I’d stop -if I could, but I just can’t do it! If there is one thing melanoma has brought me, it’s the realization that in my lifetime I have made some pretty amazing friends and there are still more amazing friends to be made.

I met my new friend, Katie from Pretty In Pale, on Twitter.  I believe the first time I commented to her was not about melanoma. Nope. It was about Starbucks.  (Those who know me well are SO not surprised at this.) She checked in at Starbucks and mentioned that she didn’t like eggnog, but loved eggnog lattes. I quickly chimed in that I, too, am not crazy about eggnog, but love eggnog lattes, shakes, and Nips candies. Which reminds me, I need to find out if Katie has tried the shake yet.  We quickly “clicked” and both of us felt as though we had found our long lost twin. I just came out of the womb quite a few years before she did.

Katie is a beautiful young lady who, after using tanning beds in her teens, was diagnosed with melanoma in her early 20’s. Hard to believe isn’t it? She was fortunate, like myself. We both got to walk away from our surgeries with no chemo, no radiation, and all of our lymph nodes. We both also felt it was our mission to blog about it and share what we’ve gone through with others.  Even more, we both had self-esteem issues growing up and are on a mission to help others to avoid the same mistakes we made. I cannot get over how much we have in common.

Hard to believe this gorgeous lady had an issue with self-esteem. 

When Katie asked if she could interview me for her blog, I felt like Oprah had FINALLY heard about me, and I was worthy of being shared with the world.  I quickly said yes!!! While she isn’t quite at Oprah status, I know one day, she will have accomplished a lot of amazing things and make a difference in this world.

Our interview took place virtually, as most of my life does, but I do hope to meet Katie face to face soon. 

So, my dear readers,  I introduce you to Katie Wilkes at Pretty in Pale, as she introduces her readers to me. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

By Any Other Name, Would it Sound as Sweet?

The tweet above is from my new friend and fellow melanoma warrior, Chelsea Price, check out her AWESOME blog here.  This made me think of a post I wrote a few weeks before I started this blog. I suppose you could call it my “practice” stage, but clearly, this entire process has been nothing but practice.  Here is a portion of that never to be seen post.

I was referred to as a “survivor” today. It was done by a friend, who was truly happy for me and proud to give me that title, but it is one I am having difficulty embracing.  As a matter of fact, I may even fear it a bit. You see, to me, a survivor is someone who comes away from a plane crash  alive.  Someone who is a hostage in a bank robbery, but walks out unharmed. A survivor has very little chance of the same life threatening situation occurring again.
To me, saying that I survived melanoma, is like saying I defeated an evil queen, who is now dead and can never return. It is to not acknowledge how awful this disease is. It can come back. It does come back, for many people. Sometimes inside of them, where they can’t see and don’t notice until it is too far along. So I don’t feel like a survivor, because each day I worry about it returning. I feel weak in comparison to the UV rays that I am exposed to while outside, when driving, when walking near a window in my house. I bounce back and forth between obsessing over sun protection and checking my body for moles and lumps to trying to block out as many thoughts as possible, just in order to live a “normal” life again. The life I lived before this disease.

 I am not a superstitious person. I don’t mind walking under ladders. I won’t freak out if I see someone opening an umbrella inside. I even owned and loved a completely black cat for a few years.  I have friends who have told me that it’s bad luck to put a hat on a bed or to walk around a table more than once. I don’t have a problem doing any of those things either.   I do, however, have an issue with being “jinxed” or with someone “putting the mouth on me.”  That was a common term from my upbringing.  If something was wished on someone else around me, and it ended up happening to me- they put the mouth on me.  If someone said, “Everything is going to be ok, “ and then it wasn’t- that person put the mouth on me.

I am going to give you one, particularly personal and embarrassing situation of when I am certain this happened to me.  

My mom, like any mom, would get terribly frustrated whenever anyone treated any of her children wrong. When this occurred, she was always very vocal about how frustrated she was. Then she would end her barrage of insults with, “I hope her butt itches.” Yep. You read that right. She didn’t wish them dead. She didn’t wish they got hurt. She is definitely not an evil person, but she did very much wish that these people would have a constant itch in their behind so they were pretty much uncomfortable for the rest of their lives. I would always laugh at first ( I mean how can you not?), and then tell her how awful it was and that it was going to come back on her if she kept saying that. Boy, was I wrong. In my early 20’s I got a tiny mole on my bottom, that mole itched like crazy!  I went to a dermatologist to have it removed as soon as possible. So basically, I was the one who ended up with an itchy butt. Thankfully, it was short lived.

Yes, my own mother put the mouth on me.

So calling myself a survivor scares me. When I see t-shirts like, I Kicked Cancer’s Ass, or Melanoma Survivor shirts, I am too afraid to wear them, because what if I am proven wrong?  What if, by calling myself a cancer surviving ass kicker, I am putting the mouth on myself?
 Cool Melanoma Survivor T-shirts

As I mentioned above, when I think of the word survivor I think  someone who-
Survived a train crash
Survived being struck by lightening
Survived getting shot

These are all incidents that MOST likely WON’T occur again.  So these people can safely claim “survivorship”

But what about someone who is going out to face the same circumstances EVERY day? Like a soldier, whose likelihood of engaging in battle is always high? Do we call them survivors or something different- like warriors, fighters, troopers, contenders, battlers, attackers, challengers?

Now, I want to be clear on this- I am not making judgments about other people who proudly call themselves survivors.  They DESERVE it!

Many people have fought much harder and much longer than I have at this point. I certainly think they deserve to call themselves whatever they want. I am just stating my personal issues with being able to call myself a survivor. I really want that to change. 

I am working on it. My new vision of a survivor is  someone who walks away from a life threatening event and continues on with life, no matter how difficult it may be, or someone right in the middle of this awful disease and surviving each and every second, turning into minutes, days, months, and years.  I've met a lot of those people in the last 5 months. Survivors, who I can now also call friends. So maybe I agree with my friend Chelsea. I know I would buy any of my new friends "Survivor" shirts.  Maybe one day, I will be able to proudly wear my own. Until then, I know one thing for sure. 

We are all fighters!!

What are your thoughts on being a "survivor" or a "warrior"? I would love to hear.

Thank you for reading. Until next time, practice safe sun. 

Friday, November 23, 2012

Another Type of Black Friday

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving. I definitely did. I spent the day at my mom’s with my family as usual. The only thing different about this year was I didn’t get to look at all the Black Friday sales flyers.  I usually like to carefully examine each one. Circle everything that I want (this comes from my days as a child circling practically everything in that huge Sears catalog).  Then determine my plan of attack- how I will get to 10 different stores for 10 different things all between 4 and 5am.  Of course, then I go home with my belly stuffed, set my alarm, go to sleep and decide at 3am that I really don’t need to spend my money on all that stuff anyway!

This has been working VERY well for me for the last 10 years.  Feel free to use my method any time!

I definitely enjoy shopping, but not with a lot of people around me and certainly not in ANY kind of rush. It takes me at least 20 minutes to decide if I am going to buy Jiffy or Peter Pan Peanut Butter. You can only imagine how long I ponder serious purchases, like black or brown boots, the purple or red sweater, or the orange or red sparkly nail polish.  So I do my best to shop on days when most people are at work or from the comfort of my laptop, online. Of course then, I end up with a ton of things that are too small, too big, or just don’t look right. Ah, women problems.

The more I thought about Black Friday, I naturally kept thinking about wearing black for melanoma.  Then I thought about all the wonderful products I’ve wanted to buy to promote melanoma awareness. Many of the products are made by fellow warriors or caregivers, with all or a portion of the proceeds going towards research or education.

I thought skin cancer awareness deserved its own Black Friday ad, so small that it may be, since I couldn’t find one online, I made one for you. 

PracticeSafeSun with UV Beads - Friendship bracelets with UV beads. The colors of the beads are activated when exposed to UV rays.
PracticeSafeSun with UV Beads

A necklace from Respect the Rays-  They are even willing to do custom designs.

Respect the Rays

There's everything from t-shirts to wine charms at the shop for the Melanoma Education Initiative.

Melanoma Education Initiative

If you are particularly fond of the SPF shirt I am modeling in the picture below, check out Melanoma Girl's site.  I think this is a great way to show you are loving the skin you're in, and also to show young girls pale is beautiful. 

Melanoma Girl's SPF t-shirt

Then there is the beautiful baby Addison, who is fighting melanoma. 

 Both mother and daughter, Briana and Addison, were diagnosed with Metastasized Malignant Melanoma. Briana, who was 33 years old, passed away February 12th, 2012. Addison is now 16 months old. This is the first known case of the transfer of Cancer from mother to daughter during pregnancy in AZ, and ninth worldwide. 
You can make a purchase from Origami Owl to benefit Addison's Army Against Melanoma. Act quick on this one! There is only a little over a week left to help her with this fundraiser.

Finally, there is the St. Jude's gift shop, where proceeds go to help children  with cancer and other catastrophic diseases making sure families never have to worry about paying a dime. 

This is just a handful of the wonderful people I have met who are doing great things to help others with melanoma and cancer. I hope they don't mind me "borrowing" their pictures to advertise for them.  There's a lot more out there, if you are willing to look.  

Happy shopping today and for the remainder of the season! If you're going to give a gift, why not make it a gift to more than one person?

As usual, thank you for reading. Until next time, practice safe sun!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

There is Always Something to be Thankful About

What kind of blogger would I be if I didn't share what I am thankful for on the day before Thanksgiving? 

I am sure most of you can imagine what I am thankful for, since many of us are thankful for the same things- God, family, friends, a home, and our health. Well, today I am being thankful with a bit of a twist.  Last week, I had an “I hate Melanoma” session on my notepad after a particularly rough day. That post hasn’t been published- yet. But today, I want to talk about all the things I am thankful for that, without melanoma, I may have never experienced. It’s tough to be grateful to something as awful as “the beast”, but even the worst of things have a little good.

Since being diagnosed with melanoma, I am thankful for:

-The texts, instant messages, tweets, calls, and emails from family, friends, and acquaintances throughout the last five months.

-The moment, during the days right after my diagnosis, where for the first time in my life, I felt absolutely certain that I, with all my imperfections, am truly loved by God.

-The pauses I now take while playing, laughing, and rolling on the floor with my kids, in order to take in and appreciate the moment.

-The people, near and dear to me daily, who wouldn’t allow me to be anything BUT strong since my diagnosis.

-The appreciation I now have for the fact that I have very little alone time. It is only in those moments, that I allow this beast to get to my very soul and break me down.

-The scar on my neck that I was certain I would take every effort to hide. I am thankful that instead, I love it and wear it as a badge of honor.

-The opportunity to have seen and felt how much I am loved. Most people don’t show this much concern or affection for others until that person has passed from this life. I get to see it while I am still here.

-The fact that so far, I have been lucky with this awful disease. I had surgery and that was the end of my treatment. So many wonderful people young and old, have faced more surgery and very unpleasant treatment.

-It is now MUCH easier for me to tell someone other than my family- I love you, I care about you.   You are special to me.  Why not?

-My realization that life, even mine, really and truly is precious.

-I have even more drive to spread the word to younger people to love themselves for who they already are and stop trying to change.

-My introduction to an amazing community of strong, inspirational, and supportive action takers.  The melanoma community. 

-A great job with GREAT insurance. Below is a picture from the monthly statements I receive.  99% of the total under Amount Billed was incurred in the last 5 months. Take a look at my savings so far. I didn't even have any radiation or chemo.  Thank God for insurance.

-The Starbucks and Einstein Bagels near the MD Anderson Center/ORMC. This way I am able to give myself a treat on each and every visit. Unfortunately, these visits are NOT covered by the great insurance I was speaking about. I am working on it. :)

-I feel like I am making progress in my long going journey to find my voice and place in this life.

Finally- I am grateful for what happened at my ultrasound appointment today.  I did not have to have a biopsy. According to the lady performing the ultrasound, after showing the pictures to the radiology dudes, the area is 3mm wide and too small to be biopsied, so we will have to wait and watch. The last time this area was measured it was over a centimeter wide, which was the reason for concern. It is now 7mm smaller.  I sure hope I am understanding this correctly. As you can see from my use of great medical terminology above- radiology dudes- there is a chance for some miscomprehension.  Unless I hear different, there are three more months until my next CT scan.

As always, thank you for taking time to read.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving!

Until next time, practice safe sun!!!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Because I Can

As most of you know by now, I attended the AIM for a Cure Melanoma Walk in Charlotte, NC this weekend. What you probably don’t know is that I hadn’t officially decided until about 7am Friday morning. I kept second guessing myself. I knew it would cost quite a bit of money to rent a car, stay at the hotel, and pay for gas. I thought maybe I was being selfish and should just donate that money instead. But I wanted to go, because I learned about fellow bloggers and tweeters that were going. People who have encouraged, inspired, and supported me in these last 2 months without even knowing me.

When I woke up Friday morning, I was exhausted and still doubting whether I should go. Everyone else was telling me I should, but they didn’t have to do this trip in less than 2 days, driving 8 hours there and then back. So, while in the shower, I spoke to God.  This is where I normally do it, since I never have quiet time to myself. I asked Him to give me a feeling of certainty either way. Then I said, “Tell me why I should go.”  And, in my own voice I heard, “Because you can.”

That was it. Because I can. Because two weeks ago I was afraid I would be recovering from a neck dissection at this time and wouldn’t be able to walk. Because I can. Because there are many warriors who are undergoing treatment and couldn’t physically make it through the walk. Because I can. Because I was able to meet and walk with a mom who lost her daughter in April to melanoma. Her daughter couldn’t walk, but I could.

So without any more thoughts, I proceeded to go pick up my rental car, pick up my mom, and of course, make a Starbucks trip before we left.  

When we arrived at 8:30 pm, we were tired and hungry. I was not in the mood to venture out again, so we ordered some room service. Then I got in touch with one of my favorite tweeters, Tara, who lost her husband to melanoma and her wonderful boyfriend,Tim, who also lost his sister to melanoma. These are two great people with a great love story. 

Then we met up with the beautiful Chelsea, her sister Cara, and her mom and step-dad.  Her mom was walking out of the bar with a Kahlua and coffee, so I knew immediately that these were good people.  Chelsea is somewhat of a “celebrity” in the melanoma community. She is “25, a want-to-be Carrie Bradshaw, (and) a Stage III Melanoma Diva.”  Chelsea hasn’t let melanoma destroy her life. Instead, she is doing her best to destroy melanoma.

 Me, Tara, and Chelsea

 Tara F., Chelsea, Donna, me, Tara W.

I met quite a few melanoma warriors and caregivers. I must tell you, SO many of them are just wonderful people!! It’s been a long time since I’ve met people that I clicked with instantly and with whom I hope to stay lifelong friends.

At 8am on Saturday, I joined hundreds of people at the very beautiful Freedom Park. It was 35 degrees, with the wind-chill making it feel like 29, but this Florida girl bundled up and got a move on. The walk began with wonderful tributes to people who have passed away due to melanoma. It was definitely sad to listen to, but as I looked around I saw many different groups of people, wearing shirts they made, and it encouraged me. We are fighting this. I am not in this alone.

 My mom and I

 The duck pond we walked around in Freedom Park

Me, Jean Schlipmann, and Timna from Respect the Rays

 My mom and I again in front of my favorite tree in the park!

 The family of Mary Moxham Soffera with their LOL shirts that stand for Lots of Love

More supportive shirts- I run for my Mommy

 We wrapped up the walk with some bagels, Starbucks coffee, and lots of info about skin cancer. I even bought my kids some SPF umbrella hats from UV Skinz, which they love! 

It was truly a great weekend, and not even a speeding ticket on the way home could make me regret going.  I spent the drive home thinking about all the wonderful things I would like to do locally and in my home town to spread melanoma awareness. I thought of many more blog ideas to share with all of you. I also thought about all the trips I will be planning in the future to walk with my friends- new and old.

As always, I also learned a lot about myself and life from this trip. So I thought I’d share some insights with you ;):

I don’t like driving in new places at night, because I can never see the street signs to find their names.
There are no left turn signals when you take exit at 5 on 77 in South Carolina. So be ready to wait. For. A .While.
It’s very important to read how many miles to drive before getting off at the exit (just because it’s exit 5, doesn’t mean it’s the RIGHT exit 5)
I CANNOT listen to any Luke songs while trying to find my way back to the highway. Two of them came on in the 20 minutes I was lost, and my stress meter rose. Ludacris and Dr. Dre, on the other hand, were quite calming. Don’t Uncle Luke and drive. It’s not good.
I shouldn’t get caught speeding with my mom. She’s my mom. She WILL try to tell the cop why he shouldn’t be pulling me over.
There are many beautiful people in the melanoma awareness community. Not just gorgeous on the outside, but so beautiful from the inside.
          It’s never too late in life to make great friends.
Fried pickle spears are GOOOOOOOOOD.
Charlotte is a pretty gorgeous place.

When driving a Mustang in GA- DO THE SPEED LIMIT.
Finally, when you want to do something in life, DO IT! No excuses. No fear. Do it!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Looking at Life Through UV Protected Sun Glasses

There was a time when I would drive down the street and notice people walking or jogging and think things like:

  •   Hmm..that is what I need to be doing.
  •  Are they crazy? Can’t they feel how hot it is outside?
  •       She has a nice shape. I wish I had a butt like that.  Know why she has a nice butt? Because she is running Anjannette, and you are sitting on yours and driving.
  •        It’s good that I don’t run every day. I mean, what if I injured one of my knees and then the Rockettes suddenly change their height requirement and upped their age limit? I would never forgive myself.

But thanks to melanoma, now when I drive down the street and notice people walking or jogging, I think things like:

  • Um, do they know that between 10am and 4pm is the worst time to be out in the sun?

  • OMG! Her entire back is exposed to the sun. I wonder if she put on sunscreen.

  • I KNOW they don’t have their kids walking around in this hot sun!                         

  • That’s it! I am going to buy a ton of sunscreen and just start passing it out on the streets. This is craziness!

So yes, I basically went from butt coveter to sunscreen enforcer in a matter of months. Melanoma will do that to you. (Although, after I think about the sunscreen, there are occasions when there’s still some butt envy going on. If you have any great butt exercises, send them to me!)

That’s what being diagnosed with melanoma, and I imagine other diseases, does to you. It changes your entire way of thinking. Your focus is altered.  The lady working at Publix, who annoys you when she talks over the loud speaker, is now the lady who has a pink bubble on her forehead and you wonder whether you should ask if she’s had it checked.  The playground down the street is no longer a place that makes you smile at the kids having fun. Instead, you shake your head in disbelief that anyone would have a playground without a cover in Florida.  Part of me is thankful that I am so much more conscientious about the sun and other people’s safety, but another part of me curses the day I ever learned about it, and far more, the day I was diagnosed.

As with anything in life, you have to take the good and the bad. If someone had found a way around that by now, I am certain it would have been discovered by one of my former teenage students and he/she would have shared it with their favorite teacher.
Until that day, I am doing my best to take a bad situation and make it better. One of the ways I am trying to do that is to show you the world through my UV protected sun glasses.   This way, when you are walking/running down the street, other people can drive by and make all the judgments they want. Whether they are evaluating their own exercise habits, debating if you have a nicer tush than them, or wondering if you have done all you can to protect yourself from increasing your risk for skin cancer, you will know you have the last one under control. 

Check out these Action Steps for Sun Safety from
Each one is explained in detail on their page. You can download their SunWise action steps.

  1. ·         Do Not Burn
  2. ·         Avoid Sun Tanning and Tanning Beds
  3. ·         Generously Apply Sunscreen
  4. ·         Wear Protective Clothing
  5. ·         Seek Shade
  6. ·         Use Extra Caution Near Water, Snow and Sand
  7. ·         Check the UV Index
  8. ·         Get Vitamin D Safely

Until next time, practice safe sun (and send me all your great glute exercises ;0)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Safe Sun Can Start With Self-Esteem

Today I am going a little off topic and combining the two issues I am most passionate about these days, melanoma awareness and support and encouragement for the younger people in our lives.  I dedicate this post to Rosemarie Oldhoff, who I believe is one of the many angels watching over me.  

I always thought I would end up being an advocate for diabetes research and prevention and eventually, become a life coach to help young teens, especially females, to find their strength and self-confidence.  These were the two things I wanted to see improve in my lifetime more than anything else. I still do, but I have added a few more to my list.  I never expected that I would end up feeling so passionately about skin cancer, but of course, like most things, I never knew I would end up with it.

I found this picture of me the other day. I was about 4 or 5 years old. The first thing I noticed, was my sassy little look and huge smile. Clearly, this girl had it together. She knew she was something special and she wasn’t afraid to hide it.

Something happened to that girl between that picture and now. Life, childhood teasing, developing a curvy figure WAY too early, not having the newest clothes or a lot of money, family issues- all of these things contributed to a lot of self-doubt and self-hate. I struggled with self-esteem issues for the majority of my life. I wasn’t proud of my natural skin color. I wasn’t proud of much that I was given.

My feelings about my looks are the reason I spent so much time trying to get a tan. Besides comments about my weight, my nose, my clothes, I got comments like, “Oh my God! You look like a ghost.”  Or, “You look sick. You need some sun.”  I started to believe that being darker would allow me to be beautiful. I figured having a tan would give me a chance to look like all those models and celebrities I adored. Also, it was a pretty easy thing to do when you consider all you have to do is lay around to get some sun.  My father ALWAYS got on me about getting too much sun. He told me it was bad. He told me I was fine just the way I was, but I didn’t believe him. I wanted to be beautiful, more than I wanted to be smart.  I wanted to be beautiful more than I wanted to be popular.  I wanted to be beautiful more than I wanted to be healthy and alive.  

As a teen, I didn’t have any teachers or coaches that took an interest in me, or that I felt comfortable talking to about things that I struggled with. That is why, when I was a teacher in the classroom, I wanted so badly to be the type of adult role model I would want my children to talk to, when they felt they couldn’t talk to me.  

Knowing logically that I can’t save every kid, but emotionally wanting to save them all, I did my best. But there were some I failed.

My biggest failure was my beautiful, beautiful Rose.  She was on the dance team that I coached. She was an angel walking on this earth. Her outside beauty was almost unbelievable and her inside beauty was even greater.  If you didn’t know her, you wouldn’t believe it was possible for anyone to be that kind and sweet. I don’t think she had any idea of how special she really was. Rose was the kind of beautiful I always wanted to be.  No amount of tanning or dieting could have ever made me that beautiful.  

Me and the beautiful Rosemarie.

Rose’s mother was killed by an old boyfriend while I was coaching her. I had no idea how to help or support anyone going through that, but I tried. I even offered for her to live with me if she needed, but she moved from Orlando to go live with her father in another state.  I lost touch with her after that. I got married and instantly had my own teenage daughter to look out for. Then I had two babies within 4 years.  During that time, I got on Facebook and my sweet Rosie found me. She sent me a message telling me how proud I would be of her (I was always proud of her) and how well she was doing. We spoke about her coming to visit me the next time she was in Orlando, and one night at a concert, she actually walked right past me, but I couldn’t catch up to her in the crowd. I wish I had tried harder, because that was the last time I saw her.

Two years ago today, Rose left this earth to be a real angel.  She was struggling with far more than I could have imagined. I had no ideas. Her words gave a totally different story.  I didn’t keep an eye on her. I didn’t reach out to her like I should have. I didn’t try hard enough. Maybe, just maybe, if I had been more involved, if I had been there for her, just maybe things would be different.  At least that is what I keep telling myself.

Fortunately, as a teen when I got desperate thoughts, I felt that I had to stay around for my family, because they needed me more than I needed myself. Most of the “right” things I did were because I didn’t want to disappoint anyone or cause my family any more grief than what they were already going through. As a young adult, I was able to find some great mentors. Wonderful ladies who I met while working. They were always there to help me to get my head right and see what I really had going for me.  But even with that support from my friends and family, it was still a struggle to truly believe it.

There are young people out there right now, boys and girls, young men and young women, who are going through FAR more than you will ever see in their face or hear in their words. Please remember that no matter who you are, your words and actions can have a tremendous effect on them.  Thinking of them and letting them know that you are “there” could mean SO much.

To all the moms reading this, we need to set an example ourselves by first showing that who we are and what we look like is ENOUGH- more than enough, so our daughters will see firsthand what it is like to accept their looks, their natural skin tone. We need to teach them that no matter what we face in this life, we are here because we are special, because we have a purpose. We need to support them in their confidence and in their beliefs about their worth.  

Let’s teach anyone younger or older than us, that there are things far more special about us than our looks. Let’s remind everyone that we love them and need them here, with us. We all have a purpose to fulfill. Let’s not interfere with our purpose by doing unhealthy things or thinking unhealthy thoughts.

And PLEASE encourage everyone to practice safe sun!!!

Thank you for reading this even though I went a little off topic today.  

Friday, November 9, 2012

Brooke Burke- Same Scar, Different Cancer

Yesterday celebrity Brooke Burke-Charvet came out with the news that she has thyroid cancer.

As her twitter follower and a longtime envier of her abs, I learned of the new as soon as it came out. I read the article and then watched the video posted on her Modernmom Blog

Two things from the article were immediately stuck in my mind.  The first was her mentioning   “I am going to have a nice big scar, right here, across my neck.” 

You mean like me, Brooke? 

Beautiful, flat abed, gorgeous on the inside and outside, Brooke Burke-Charvet is going to have a big scar across her neck like me?

Now if you read my post about my surgery, you know that I was worried about my scar prior to my surgery. I was certain that I would now have ample opportunity to wear the many scarves I have collected over the years, since there are so few opportunities to wear them due to cold weather in Florida.  I joked about the stories I would tell about my scar - the "wild" knife fight I'd had, and my personal favorite, I was attacked by zombies and won.  But the minute I took my dressing off, I didn’t want to cover it anymore. My scar became my medal of honor. It was my mark confirming that I was here for a reason. That God is not done with me yet.  That I have so much more to do. It is my mark of love from my maker.

 So, as it has always been with me, my first reaction was to reach out.  So I did. I sent her a “tweet.”  Well, more than one tweet, because clearly I am way too wordy to get my feelings out in 140 characters or less.  

It was two of many, but I am glad I did it, even though I am sure it was lost in the sea of well wishes.

The other statement that stuck with me was when she said her doctors boasted her cancer is “a good kind of cancer to have.”

It took me back to the first time I spoke with a doctor after my diagnosis. The first thing he said to me was, “Melanoma is not a good cancer to have.”  This completely blew my mind. What cancer IS good to have?  When I mentioned that in one of my blog posts, a friend of mine, who had thyroid cancer, posted this

Loved your comment about the cancer reminded me of when I was meeting with my Endocrinologist. He said that if you were going to get to choose your cancer, thyroid cancer was the one you wanted.

I guess some people are just…lucky? Would that be the word?

Fact is, I think ALL cancer SUCKS

Brooke’s story backs what I've been urging all along. It is important to get regular physicals. It is important to get regular skin exams.  I am sure Brooke will do as she promised, and “make a positive out of this negative thing.”  In the meantime, I am going to continue to nag you.  

 Know your body. Know what to look for to catch different types of cancer.  Don’t be afraid to press and squeeze and know every lump and bump you own. Know when a new lump or bump appears, so it can be checked immediately. Know what moles and marks you have on your skin. Make sure that YOU are self-aware.

You can detect something wrong far earlier than any doctor will.

  Finding out you have cancer definitely makes for a rough time.  I can only imagine how tough it must be to go through this with the eyes of the public on you. It took me months before I could say the word cancer when referring to my melanoma.  I pray that all goes well for the beautiful Brooke Burke-Charvet and her lovely family. There is no doubt in my mind that she will do fine in surgery, quickly recover, and come out of this looking even more beautiful than she does now.  I am very sorry that she is going through this-that anyone has to go through this. 

However,  I must admit, if people start coming up to me in a few months asking, “Do you know you look JUST like Brooke Burke-Charvet?”  there won’t be one bone in my body that will regret saying, “Oh, I get that ALL the time!”

A girl can dream, right?