Wednesday, October 16, 2013

My One Year Blogiversary!

A year ago last night, I wrote my first blog post and officially began to share my life as Light Skinned Mother with the rest of the world. 

It took a little while for me to get the courage to do it. That's surprising since at the time, I would have stood on my rooftoop and shouted my story to the world. The only reason I didn't, was because on my one-street subdivision, I am the only non-spanish speaking Latina and we are the only family that does not pop out to the neighbor's driveway to celebrate every holiday, including Fridays.(That is totally Mr. LSM's fault. With a sitter, I would SO be out there dancing and drinking it up with the best of them. ) So, the neighbors already think I'm weird enough.

I reached out to Chelsea from Adventures with my Enemy Melanoma a few times before starting,and she encouraged me to share my story, even if I never inteded for anyone to read it.  Then one night, I read a post from Timna at Respect the Rays. I sat in my bathroom crying and feeling angry because I identified SO much with her story. That's when I went to my computer, tears still in my eyes, and wrote my first post

Within a month, I had made so many new friends through Facebook and my blog. These new friends understood me. They "got" me. So I became more confident in sharing my experiences and my honest feelings, no matter how ugly they may have seemed.

I've ben all over the place emotionally since my diagnosis in June of 2012. Life, as good as it is, continues to put me wherever it wants, and I am learning to appreciate that. 

- At times, I am terrified of being in the sun. Other times, I dare to expose my SPF-covered arms and legs, refusing to let melanoma be in control.

- At times I love how beautiful my pale face is. Other times I hate how white and shiny my legs are, and I am tempted to reach out for some self-tanner.

- At times I try to keep my kids inside as much as possible to protect them. Other times, I do my best not to obsess and allow them to be the children they deserve to be.

- At times I feel guilty for being a big, whiny baby when SO many of my new friends have been to Hell and back while fighting this disease, and I only had to experience a surgery. Other times, I am pissed that I even know what mlanoma is and I cry at the most random moments and places when I am reminded that this beast will always be my enemy, and I am no more special than any of the angels who were taken by this monster. 

These crazy, mixed up feelings remind me that I am still alive. That I am still here to feel, to love, to hate, to be happy, to be sad, to be angry. I am learning to appreciate them and every opportunity I am given to learn more. 

My original goals of changing the world and erasing melanoma as LSM are still there. I just haven't been able to do as much as I would like, because life can get in the way. And I am SO happy for that.  So right now, I am still trying to educate. Still trying to spread the word whenever I can. Though a day doesn't go by when I don't look at my fellow melanoma fighters and am TRULY AMAZED at their efforts to raise money, raise awareness, and make CHANGES in laws and behavior. Sometimes, it can make me feel like what I am doing is not much of anything. But I've realized, we all do what we are good at and what we can. Maybe right now, my constant talking and harping is making a difference. I know for a fact in the last year I have heard from many friends who went to the dermatologist for the first time EVER and from friends who had suspicious moles checked out on their children's skin as well. That, my friends, makes me truly happy.

I thank you all for being a part of my journey. I thank you for your love, your encouragement, your prayers, and your understanding. I couldn't have made it this far without you. I plan on sticking around for a long, long time, and  keeping you all right here with me.

As always, thank you for reading and practice safe sun!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

More than Melanoma

Again, it’s been a while since I’ve posted. I knew the summer would be busy for me, because well, it’s the busiest time of the year for an online teacher, but I thought I would be able to post once in a while.  Melanoma is still VERY important to me, but as someone who has only been a warrior for a year, I had to realize that life is more than melanoma.

In June, I had CT scans of my head, neck, chest, etc.  and I waited for the results. I spent 2 hours in the waiting room at the office of my former surgeon. In that time, I looked around and starting feeling sorry for myself. Here I was, this youngish woman with two young kids, sitting there in a waiting room with people who are all over 70, discussing their experiences and treatments with cancer. Why me? Why now? The longer I waited, the more nervous I became about my results. Would I make it a year cancer free?  They finally called me back to the office after the receptionists had all left for the day. I sat once again in the big patient chair waiting for my results. Frustrated and sick to my stomach from fear, I checked my Facebook for the 100th time that afternoon and saw that a former student of mine, a young, kind hearted, intelligent, father of two very young children and former serviceman had taken his life the day before. I later found out he was suffering from PTSD.   I took a deep breath. Then my doctor walked in. My scans looked great. I exhaled in relief, sent a few celebratory texts, and then walked out thinking about my former student. I wanted to blog about my scan results, the fear that appeared out of nowhere in the waiting room, how proud I was that I had finally ran outside while the sun was out, like I used to, but I had other things on my mind. After all, life is more than melanoma.

In July, I planned to finally take a 12 day vacation from my job. I didn’t have any travel plans, I just wanted to be able to focus on my kids, post in my blog, and celebrate the anniversary of being one year cancer free. On my second day off, my sister-in-law passed away due to emphysema. Her funeral was held on July 13, exactly one year from the day they removed all evidence of melanoma from my body. I wanted to celebrate a year free of the beast. I wanted to write about the changes I’ve been through, about the things I’ve learned in the last year, about the friends I’ve made. I wanted to write, but instead I was putting together her obituary for the newspaper and the program for her funeral.   After all, life is more than melanoma.

At the beginning of August, I made a trip to Indianapolis to pick up my daughter from her internship. The change in scenery and weather raised my spirits after a rough few months of work. I could feel myself coming into the home stretch. Summer would be over. Work would settle back to normal. Soon there would be Pumpkin Lattes, Pumpkin Loaf, and Pumpkin Patches. I returned from my three-day trip, ready to give it my all for the rest of the month so I could “live” again and start a new and improved work schedule. On my first day back, I got the news that after 5 years of service they were letting me go due to budget cuts.  That same week, beautiful little Addison passed away. There I was, a teacher who needed a job a week before the school year started. Again, I wanted to talk to you about my struggles being out in the sun, my first visit to the beach since my diagnosis, how horrible I felt about the passing of such a strong, beautiful angel like Addison, but still,  life is more than melanoma.

Tomorrow is my birthday. Exactly a year ago at this time, I was truly appreciating the opportunity to grow a year older for the first time since turning 21.  I swore I would start living. I would start doing all the things I had been talking about doing for years. But I didn’t. Instead, I spent my days like I have spent most of my days for the last 5 years. I made sure my kids were fed. I made sure they were safe. I worked.  I wore sunscreen. Those were my priorities and about all I could write down at the end of most days.

I plan to still be a warrior, an educator, a fighter and cheerleader in this lifelong battle of ours. But I do need to remember that life is more than melanoma, a LOT more than melanoma. I haven’t stopped for many of the good things.  Oh, I will stop and reach out to the girlfriend and mother of my former student to offer my love and support after he was gone. But how often did I write him to ask him how he was doing?  I will stop to write an obituary and put together a beautiful program for my sister-in-law. But how many times did I bother to return her calls when she was alive? I will work and work to make sure I contribute to my family, but how often did I make time to play with my kids this year, or read them a book?

Life is more than melanoma. Life is more than (insert your word here). It’s so much more. Good and bad. I plan on venturing to the other side of life, the good side.  I plan to celebrate each day, even if for only a moment, being NED.  I plan to call my family and friends who I haven’t spoken to, and talk to them more. I plan to let people know, every chance I get, how much I love them. How much I enjoy having them in my life. Even if it just means a quick note on Facebook or a text to say, “Hi. I was just thinking about you.” I want to live, and I want to do so with as little regrets as possible. I want to stop for the good things, not just the bad.

I am a year, a month, and 7 days without evidence of melanoma in my body. Tomorrow, I start another year of this gift God has given me-my life.  Life is more than melanoma. Life is good.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Follow Me on Bloglovin

Hey there everyone! How would you like to receive daily updates via email on all the new posts from your favorite bloggers? I am super excited, because so often prior to using Bloglovin, I would miss many of my favorite bloggers' posts. Then I'd feel awful when I commented on how AWESOME it was - 10 days later!  Now I can keep up with them daily and stay in the loop. You can follow me and all your other favorite bloggers by clicking the link to the right above my picture and signing up!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

It's Not Always Dad's Fault (not about melanoma)

This one is not about melanoma. I wrote this 8 years ago, about a month before my dad passed away, for a writing class I was taking. I have been meaning to share it with others for years, and felt that today it would make a nice tribute and share a great lesson for anyone who is a daughter, a father or mother to a daughter, or plans to be a father or a mother.

My dad was livid.

He was yelling. I was yelling.

I had just broken the antenna on our brand new cordless phone. I couldn’t believe this was happening, not on this night, not over a stupid phone. I stormed into my bedroom.

Later, my dad knocked on the door. I expected it. My dad always apologized and said, “I love you” after arguing with one of us.  But on this night, the night of my thirteenth birthday, my dad began to cry as he spoke to me. He said, “I’m sorry I yelled at you. It’s just that you’re thirteen now, and I am having a hard time dealing with it.”  He paused, and then added, “I’m sad that my little girl is growing up.”

Today, I am a 30-year-old daughter. I don’t have any children yet, but my fiancé does. His daughter is 13 and, like my dad and I, those two go back and forth over many issues. The biggest issue is boys. She likes them. He prefers she doesn’t. Not now anyways.  My first impulse is to intervene on her behalf. I tell him that he’s being unreasonable. I argue, “She’s growing up, and you can’t stop her,” but, similar to arguing with my dad as a teen, I get nowhere.

Recently, while listening to one of their arguments, I heard my fiancé tell his daughter,  “I miss the days when you were younger and you loved your dad. We used to have a great time together. Now you’re embarrassed to be seen with me.”  I immediately pictured my dad sitting in my room on my thirteenth birthday. I realized he was trying to reach out to me that night. How long had it been since I enjoyed our time together? How long had I been embarrassed to be seen with him?

My eyes were suddenly opened to my dad’s point of view. I began to reflect on our moments together. It occurred to me that he longed for a closer relationship, but was unsure of how to achieve it. Both of us were. I talked to my dad about everyday things like school and my job, but I never discussed my deepest feelings or fears with him. I never told him how much it hurt when my first love broke up with me. I never told him that I felt guilty for not visiting my grandpa just before he died. I never told him how I hated myself for not following my dream of being a dancer.  I never told him that I struggled to trust me after my last boyfriend made so many empty promises.  Telling wasn’t my only problem. I never asked either. I never asked him what it felt like to lose his dad. I never asked him how he handled not following his dream of being a pilot. I never asked him how he knew my mom was the one, or how he felt when he asked her to marry him. It was always my mother with whom I shared the intimate details of my life. Why was I so uncomfortable talking about those things with my dad? Did I think because he’s a man, he wouldn’t open up? Or was it because I felt I would disappoint him if he knew too much about me?

As a result of my reflection, I’ve begun to share more with my dad, but it’s under different circumstances. A year ago, my father had a heart attack. He lost oxygen to his brain and went into a coma. He doesn’t talk or react much when I see him, but many of the nurses have told us, “Hearing is the last thing to go.” So I take advantage and tell him more about me and my life than I ever have. Only now I will never have the chance to know the answers to so many questions I have bout his life.

Now, when I hear my fiancé and his daughter arguing, I want to intervene on his behalf. I want to shout, “Get to know your dad. Ask him about his feelings and experiences. Share your feelings and experiences with him. Help him to deal with his little girl growing up. Forget the boys for a while longer and appreciate the man you already have in your life. Do it now before it’s too late! No other man will ever love you as much. No other man will ever love you the same.”

My daddy 

  My dad would come home on his lunch breaks to feed me.

 My high school graduation

Friday, June 14, 2013

Knowing What to Change and When to Change

Last year June 14 fell on a Thursday.   I know this, not because that day was particularly memorable ,but because the day after was the scariest day of my life (And then there was Melanoma)

I imagine that Thursday, June 14th, 2012 was like most Thursdays:

  • I was tired (because I was up late grading the night before AND because, even though my kids start out sleeping in their own beds, they always end up sleeping next to or on top of me.)
  •  I had coffee (at least 2 cups, but most likely 3).
  • I was stressed because of all the work I had to do (summer is busiest for my job).
  • I was angry several times during the day because of how hot it gets in June.
  • I was feeling guilty because I wasn’t spending as much time as I would like with my kids.
  • I was feeling guilty because I hadn’t weeks most likely.
  • I was going to start eating healthier and exercising more come Monday.
  • I was looking forward to the weekend and rushing the day away.
  • The only time I had spoken to God that day was to yell “Oh Lord!” or  ask “Lord help me,” when I was surprised or stressed. 

I know all of this happened, not because I have the highly superior auto-biographical memory of Marilu Henner, but because that is pretty much how most of my days were spent.  The one thing I am MOST certain of is that:

 I was not worried about death or cancer. I was not thinking about death or cancer. And I had very little idea what melanoma was...just that it didn't sound like a good thing to have.

Ah. The difference a day makes. 

So I looked back at my personal Facebook page to see what I was whining posting about to compare. These are some other things that occurred that day, but I didn’t remember.

FB Post
Love seeing my little girl shake her little tush to the Bubble Guppies theme song.  Now if I could just get her to stop standing on the couch while she does it.

FB Post 
 ALWAYS thinking about my daddy.
(That one makes sense, just a few days before Father's Day and missing him.)

My next post this pic of my son at his first hip- hop class - A day I had been waiting for before I even had him!!!

Last FB Post
Had a great time at cooking class making ravioli and eating happy gummy bears.

I did have a lot of fun that night!! I went to a cooking class held by Mr. LSM's company for team building. A friend of ours brought in some alcohol soaked gummy bears as a snack while we were cooking. I also wore a pair of shoes that I had been saving for some time. Within 30 minutes of them getting wet from the Central Florida afternoon showers, the heels fell entirely off. Yes, while I was at the class. I ended up wearing just the tops around. They were barely slippers. I laughed a lot that night. I was glad to be reminded.

What bothers me is not so much that I didn't remember all these things happened on that  date. I mean, I had the memories of them, so who cares what the date is. I am not even bothered by the fact that I think more about death and cancer than the average person.  What bothered me are the things I was so SURE that did happen,  because they were all too common in my life. The joy, the love, the things that make me happy.

Since then, I have made many changes. I am more careful about being out in the sun. I apply sunscreen to all exposed parts of my body even if I am just going to be in the sun while walking to and from my car. I am more aware of changes in my skin and in the skin of others.  I am more vocal about sun safety.  All of these happened because of my diagnosis. The reason I am doing them? So I can live longer, but am I living? Did I make ALL the right changes?

In my last post I spoke about the fear and worry all of us warriors face on a daily basis, and how we need to fight past it and live. That message was to my fellow warriors. This message is to everyone. Those with melanoma and those without.  After all, melanoma isn't the only thing that can kill us. So why not live life more purposefully?

Today, just one day before it will be a year since I was diagnosed with melanoma, I am challenging myself and challenging you. I know I won't remember every detail or be able to submerge myself into every minute of every day, but I can live better than I have been.

When I look back a year from now or tomorrow or a week from now, I want to be SURE these things happened above everything else:

  • I was thankful for waking up and expressed that.
  • I exercised and stayed as active as possible because I wanted to enjoy all that my body is capable of doing.
  • My kids saw in my eyes and knew from my actions, how much I loved them and how happy I am to be with them.
  • I danced at least once that day.
  • I laughed every chance I got…and made people laugh just as often.
  • Everyone I love KNOWS that I love him/her.
  • I did my best to smile at everyone I saw that day, even if I didn’t feel like it.
  • I treated my body like the temple it is and not a garbage receptacle. I used food for my for fuel and to keep my body beautiful. 
  • I didn’t stress about my looks.  I just smiled if I wasn't feeling pretty. 

So from now until July 13th, I am going to read this list to myself every morning and do my best to follow it. I expect you to hold me accountable. :)

What do you want to change? When do you want to change? I encourage you to make a list and share it with me.   

As always, thank you for reading and practice safe sun.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Something Wicked This Way Comes

I've always liked that movie, especially the beginning where you see how autumn has taken over the town and leaves are blowing everywhere. Growing up in Florida, I pretty much can only dream of days like that, since autumn is my favorite season.  Even still, there are signs every year that let me know that my favorite season is beginning  and my least favorite is coming to an end- the sound of high school bands practicing, Starbucks bringing out their Pumpkin Latte, Back to School commercials, whistles blowing at football games.  If you think about it, every season or memorable event has some signs to let you know that the time is about to approach again.  So it should be of no surprise to me that as I near a year from the date of my melanoma diagnosis, I am seeing signs all around me.

First it was my visit to MD Anderson for a chest x-ray last week.  Upon my first visit a year ago this month, I saw fish bowls filled with ribbons of different colors for different cancers  decorating the reception desk. I walked around it, amazed at all the different types of this horrible disease, and found my color- black.  Yes, at first I was a tad bit disappointed because it was rather morbid and I wanted to have positive thoughts, but then I decided that black is exactly what it should be- so glad someone had already come to this conclusion. When I went back on the next visit, I wanted to show my sister, but they were gone. Apparently, they must bring them out in June. 

Then I did my annual volunteering at a local library for their Summer Reading Kick–Off party. Last year, I spent the morning rushing around to make sure I had a proper sized bandage to cover the excision my derm had just made for some “abnormal cells” she detected. I didn’t want to scare the little ones away as I was signing them up for the reading program.  It’s laughable now, to think I thought that was a pretty big scar.

This was the caption I put next to the photo when I was showing my friends.
"Much bigger than I expected, but still not a ugly as the second head I had growing there for the last year, lol" If only I knew.

Both of these events brought back the sights, smells, and feelings of  the awful month of limbo from June 15th to July 13th  2012, when I went from hardly knowing the word melanoma to the reality that my life may not be as long as I expected.  As much as I would like to not have these reminders, wishing them away would be pointless.  They are a part of me now. And it doesn’t even have to be June in order for me find those awful feelings and memories.  They can happen any time of any day.  I am reminded each time one of my wonderful new friends and fellow warriors shares test results that didn’t come back as we had all hoped.  I am reminded all too often when I come across a random article or post, like this one from one of my favorite people, Respect the Rays


I clicked on the comments link right away to participate, but before I typed, I read everyone else’s responses. The  last one made me take a long, hard pause while a storm began brewing inside of my stomach.  “…on his back in 09, clear nodes. Metastasized to his brain 3 yrs later."

  Mine was on my neck, which is closer to your brain than your back. I, too, had clear nodes.

For about 5 seconds, I actually had the nerve be upset that she shared so much information. I thought, “Really? Did we need to know all that?” Yes. Can you believe it? For 5 seconds I was a total ass. Then I realized she is just doing what my friend asked- sharing the location. She wasn't trying to terrify me. Then I thought of all the pain she must have experienced.  I could no longer comment at that point.  I put my phone down and walked away.

Just like the terrifying traveling carnival crept up on that unsuspecting town in Ray Bradbury’s tale, melanoma can show up in our thoughts, our fears, our bodies, when we least suspect it.

It’s because of this  that I say, allow yourself :
-to feel nauseous
-to be aware of what could happen
- to feel your feelings
- to hear your thoughts
- to face your fears

But just for a few minutes. Then move away -far away- from those things and focus on the good, your blessings right now. You’re alive right now. Focus on your life, your future. Appreciate that maybe, just maybe, all of this fear  has  or will help us to live better, more honest, more full lives. Lives that we would not have lived had we not met with the beast.

Then make sure you go out and live that life.

As always, thank you for reading and practice safe sun!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Some Things, No Matter How Stressful, Are Worth the Effort


I am about to share with you, one of my many short comings of being a parent.  Let's just say I was definitely a much better mom in theory, than reality.  I spent so many years around teenagers, I began to believe the little ones would be a piece of cake.

My kids love to brush their teeth.  They would brush their teeth 3, 4, 5 times a day if I let them. But most days, I allow them to brush them once, maybe twice on a really good day, and on a bad one…well, let’s just say, there have been times when I send them to bed with all that sugar on their teeth and regret it later.  I know what most of you are thinking,  Many parents have to fight their kids to brush their teeth. I should consider myself fortunate. I know. I know.  But let me explain.

When my 3- and 4 -year old decide they want to brush their teeth,  they first of all, must do it together. They both go into the bathroom, and my son, the 4 year old who is tall for his age, will reach over the sink and grab his Spiderman toothbrush and then hand his sister her Hello Kitty toothbrush. My son then turns the water on and reaches for his toothpaste. I will reach over to grab my daughter’s My Little Pony toothpaste, the one for “training” so she doesn’t swallow a ton of fluoride, and the argument begins.

"No. I want the Cars toothpaste.""No, this is your toothpaste.""No. '(whining commences)"Don’t you want Pony toothpaste? Aw look, pony is sad. Don't make pony sad.""No. I want Cars." (she's got a cold heart, like her dad. )"But you aren’t ready for Cars toothpaste and mommy bought the Pony one for you.""I want Cars."

This goes on for several minutes until I finally give in and ask her brother to hand me the Cars toothpaste. He is just finishing putting the paste on his brush, and I realize the water has been running all this time, thus negating all of my efforts to pay back the environment for my use of Aqua Net Hairspray in the 80s.

My son then begins to brush his teeth like a good little guy, as my daughter insists on putting the toothpaste on the brush herself,  which she cannot do. She tries for what in reality is about 15 seconds but feels like 15 minutes, then turns to me and asks me to do it. I do and she puts the entire glob of paste in her mouth, just behind her lip and in front of her teeth, and then asks for more on her brush.  Knowing that if I don’t do this, another 10 minute argument will ensue, only this time there will be toothpaste spit all over the bathroom floor, I go ahead and put a little bit more saying, “Ok. But that’s it.”  Then she turns the brush the wrong way and the paste glob falls on the floor. Now she starts to cry, but I quickly put some more paste on the brush. That’s just about the time when my 4 year old, who you all, by now, are probably thinking is the poster child for dental health, grabs his cup and fills it with water to rinse his mouth.  He swishes it around while looking at his cute little reflection in the mirror and SPLAT! With all his might, he spits the water across the sink onto the mirror and all over the back of my sink. He does this every single time. 


So I yell at him, because by this time all patience has left my body. My daughter reaches for her cup as my son decides he now needs to wash his hands. (Note: My son washes his hands like he is preparing for surgery. Soap all the way up to his elbows.) I am trying to stop him from his extreme washing when my daughter, who is tired of waiting for me to fill her cup with water, climbs on the toilet to reach the sink.  I reach over to grab her down, while my son dries his hands by shaking the remaining water onto the mirror and surrounding walls, just in case everything wasn’t covered the first time.  We do have towels.  I swear we do!  He runs out before I can yell again, and I stay in to lift my daughter up and down to rinse her mouth and then yell at her to not swallow the water and paste.

So now you see why I really don't like for my kids to brush their teeth. But of course, I know it is important to their oral health and the health of their entire bodies. We know this because since elementary school we heard about it. We saw the cute little tooth brushes and teeth cartoon characters and were told it is what we need to do.  And if that wasn't convincing enough, we saw examples of why we should do it.  One of my favorite movies as a little girl was  Pete’s Dragon.  Even then, I knew something wasn’t right about the Gogans’ dental hygiene.

So, I  man up and go in the bathroom with those two angels from God who were sent here to make me pay for everything I ever did to my mom and dad, and go through the routine. Because one day, it won’t be so hard. And every day, it will be worth it.   

That’s what I remind myself of every time I think about what a pain the rear it is to not only put on my own sunscreen, but to put it on my kids as well. The experience is much like the tooth brushing one. My son doing what is expected until he gets bored and catching me occupied elsewhere, pours the sunscreen all over the place, including the clean outfit I just put on. My daughter, still wanting to be independent, wants it on her hands and even though I beg her to just rub her arms, not her face, she goes straight to the face, so she can then yell, “Mommy, you got it in my eyes!”

Yep. It can be a pain to put on sunscreen. It can be thick. It can be sticky. It can be messy. Had I not had my experience with melanoma, and the fear of it coming back, or even worse, the idea that may children can get it, I would probably walk out of the house 9 out of 10 times saying,

 “We won’t be out for long.”
“We’ll be in the car most of the time.”
“I’ll put it on later.”

Don’t wait until Melanoma strikes you to get the urge to fight off a little bit of extra time in your prep to leave the house. I can definitely understand the struggle to do anything with children, but remember, most things in life that are good for us, aren’t easy. Just think about how many of you like to exercise or eat broccoli. 

 Maybe one day we will read something like this, but with the words I've added. 

"But research is unearthing evidence that says that skipping mouth (skin) care is a dangerous strategy because what begins quietly at the gum line (outer layer of skin) can later set off a chain of events that can lead to heart attack, memory loss, stroke and miscarriage (skin damage, scarring, surgery, cancer, and death). And of all the measures we know of that can avert a potentially life-threatening disease, oral care(using sunscreen) is probably one the most effortless activities one can do."

Thanks for reading. Until next time, practice safe sun.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Happy "No Fry Day"

Hello all. :)

Long time no write.  It appears that I am a GREAT seasonal blogger, though I am not sure those truly exist. :) Fall and Winter are great for me. Spring and Summer I can't seem to get a minute to myself that doesn't involve the bathroom or falling asleep. Unfortunately,  I have this irresistible urge to take care of my children and make sure I contribute to the financial situation in my home. Just wait until I win that Power Ball. You guys will hear from me all the time. 

Today, the Friday before Memorial Day is known as Don't Fry Day.  (One of the things you can go through life NOT knowing until you are diagnosed with skin cancer.) It's a day to remind everyone to protect their skin while outdoors and to not go out and fry yourself  while enjoying your Memorial Day weekend. Therefore, I figured this would be the perfect time to finally share something with you that I've been withholding for a while. 

Surprised? Your thinking Miss TMI actually has some stuff she hasn't shared with me? 

Oh I got lots of "stuff." I am just not sure you can handle it all, so I share it wisely. 

What I've been keeping to myself is the picture of me below. Well the double picture of me. It was taken in my early 20's to show me the underlying skin damage that had already occurred, but was not yet visible. It was also done for free during a promotion for a skin care line at a former dermatologist's office.  The picture on the left is what I looked like to the naked eye. The picture on the right showed all of the lovely damage done to my skin from the wonderful Florida sun. 

It's not so much the sun damage that I am embarrassed of, it's more of my expression. I mean, you stick your head in this dark box and cover the back with a black curtain. It's not exactly the situation I would smile for. It's like having your driver's license picture taken. You want to smile, but you know if you do, you will just look like a doofus. (If you don't believe me, watch this smiling girl go inside the UV box.)  So you give the camera that mug shot look instead. There really should be some facial expression protocol for things like this. 

But back to the purpose of the photo, to reveal sun damage that was not visible to the naked eye. Remember, this was taken in my early 20's. Also remember, from my Tanning Come Full Circle post, that I would usually cover my face when laying out or wear hats while out on the boat because I didn't want more freckles.  So most of this damage occurred during my normal, everyday activities. 

At the time this picture was taken, my biggest concern was getting rid of my childhood acne which was making it's way into my new found adulthood and resulting in kids drawing pictures of their math teacher with spots all over her face. (Naturally, this happened when they were upset with me.) I had no idea that ten years later, after the birth of my children, some of those "hidden" dark spots would be visible. Today, my bare face is somewhere in the middle of those two pics. And let me tell you, ladies (and men), no matter what you pay for products that promise to erase your dark marks, those mofos aren't going anywhere. Sure, they'll fade a tad and as soon as a single ray of sunshine ricochets off the gear shift in your car, onto your face, the color will come right back.  

So today, I am taking a break from telling you how awful it is to get melanoma, how you don't ever want it, and how it is something that you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy. Ok, I am sort of taking a break.  Today, I am appealing to your vanity.

 Let's be honest.  Until something happens to us, it is VERY hard to think seriously that it will happen to us. But we all want to look good, and if we are lucky, none of us will escape the aging process.  What most of us think as "natural aging" is actually a result of sun damage from our daily lives. Protecting your skin when outdoors and refraining from burning or tanning can make all the difference between looking old for your age and looking good for your age. 

So this Memorial Day weekend (and the rest of your life) while you are enjoying the official kick-off of summer, have fun in the sun, but please follow the following tips on sun safety from WebMD.

How Can I Protect Skin From the Sun?

Nothing can completely undo sun damage, although the skin can sometimes repair itself. So, it's never too late to begin protecting yourself from the sun. Follow these tips to help prevent sun-related skin problems: 
  • Apply sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or greater at least 30 minutes before sun exposure and then every few hours thereafter
  • Select cosmetic products and contact lenses that offer UV protection
  • Wear sunglasses with total UV protection
  • Wear wide-brimmed hats, long sleeved shirts, and pants
  • Avoid direct sun exposure as much as possible during peak UV radiation hours between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m.
  • Perform skin self-exams regularly to become familiar with existing growths and to notice any changes or new growths
  • Eighty percent of a person's lifetime sun exposure is acquired before age 18. As a parent, be a good role model and foster skin cancer prevention habits in your child
  • Avoid tanning beds

As always, thank you for reading and practice safe sun!!!

Monday, April 1, 2013

When Life Hands You Scars

That was me, a year ago from last night. I was in New York City- my favorite place in the entire world. That was before my diagnosis and the after effects of realizing that death may be closer than I expected. Wow, I am always amazed at how big my nostrils are. 

I entered a raffle for Oprah’s Life Class and received two tickets to see Oprah and Tony Robbins live at Radio City Music Hall. Yes, the place where I should have spent my early 20’s dancing if I hadn’t been short-changed in the height category ,thus keeping me from forever becoming a Rockette. ( I am still wondering if I have a valid discrimination case. Anyone know a good lawyer? )  My husband and I both like Tony Robbins and, of course, who DOESN’T like Oprah?  I had to be very careful to keep Mr. LSM away from Ms. Winfrey, though. She is the one woman he would leave me for in a heartbeat, even more than Janet Jackson. His words.  He values money over looks. Guess he wasn’t very focused when he chose me. ;)

It was a very short, but very wonderful trip. I was given two free flights from a former student of mine and good family friend, who now works for Southwest. Also, one of my childhood best friends has a condo in the city. She happened to be out of town, so we got to stay there. This trip was the second thing I had done since having my son in 2008, that was totally and selfishly all about me.  The first was me taking my big pregnant self to a Maxwell concert. Otherwise, everything else I had done in the last 4 years was always about someone else or for someone or something else.

When I had my son I went from working long hours at a high school, constant interaction with students, parents, teachers to working from home, all alone with only a baby to talk to and a tired husband who came home to a very needy wife. I am sure there were days when he wished he could physically remove his ears. Becoming a mom was a huge change for me, especially when I had spent the last 10 years taking care of myself.  I am sure all moms can identify. Of course,  it is totally worth the sacrifice, but I found myself missing some of the spunkiness of the me “BK”- Before Kids. The real me. The me who loves adventure and new places and things. The me who would travel to NYC at least once a year just to sit in Central Park for hours watching the leaves fall or the snow fall. The me, who spent every waking moment dreaming of all the exciting things I still have left to do and accomplish in this life.   I found her that night, on the cab ride from the airport to my friend’s apartment and then walking around Fairway Market where I took that picture of me wearing the most amazing smile.

When I returned home 3 days later, I was grateful to see my little ones and immediately went right back to me in the role of mom and wife and everything was back to the “new normal.” Only that normal was soon to disappear as well. Two months later I was diagnosed with malignant melanoma, and for about a month, I was a numb shell of my former self, so very far away from who I really am.

 I had my surgery and spent the next month being the most grateful person on this earth. I was so thankful and relieved and ready to change the world and change myself. I was going to give back and stop wasting time and do big, no HUGE things.  But there wasn’t enough time for that. I still had to take care of my kids (which I adore). There was no recent lottery win, so I still had to work a full time job.  So now, I wasn’t just a busy mom who had little time to take care of herself, I was a busy, amazingly lucky/blessed mom who was given a second shot of life but would be doing very little to pay back that amazing gift and live life to its fullest.

That’s when crazy set in. I began to question every choice I have ever made. I was certain that this was just a short lived chance at life and pretty much, I was near the end.  I wanted to be selfish. I wanted to be happy.  I wanted to live life and do what I wanted to do because after all, life is short. That’s what everyone always says, but you don’t believe it until someone tells you that you have an incurable disease. Suddenly life really is short, short as hell.  Everything and everyone in my life had gone back to normal, like nothing had ever happened, like nothing had changed. There I was living right beside them, in the same home, in the same town, but I was anything but normal. I would forever be changed and no one could see it. The scar on my neck was healing nicely and quickly, but everything inside of me was still raw and fresh and wounded.

Fortunately, the love I have for my husband and my children, kept crazy from lasting too long, but now I am just living in a funk. I am scared to do things I used to do. I can’t run outside. I can’t walk out among the trees to feel closer to God, because the sun is out there, just beyond the trees.  Every day that I get caught up in the craziness of life, I feel guilty for not taking care of myself- for not eating as good as I should, for not exercising, because Lord knows, if anyone should be exercising it’s someone who has the chance of cancer recurrence. I feel bad for not writing in my blog as much, because most days I am either too busy or too down. I feel like a failure for not reaching my goals- goals of getting in shape, starting my own business, spreading awareness to young people by doing presentations at local schools, spending quality time with my husband and kids, taking care of my mom. So many goals, and each day I can just muster the time and strength the get most of my work done, feed my family and my dog, like a few statuses and pictures on Facebook, envy others for feeling like they are still just a tad bit immortal, and think about what may happen if I don’t take care of myself.

It's been a very long time since I have felt normal. Not "normal" by society's standards, I have never EVER been, but normal for me. 

I know this funk won’t last forever. At least, I really hope it won’t. I definitely don't want this to turn into my "normal."  Melanoma warriors often talk about our scars. When we do, it's usually the ones we get from our surgeries and our biopsies. It’s really amazing how quickly those physical scars heal and begin to blend into the new you. But no one really talks about the other scars, the ones that tear us up inside and still feel fresh months and, I imagine, years after. We can’t urge one another to rub some vitamin E oil on those. 

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

Monday, March 18, 2013

Did You Miss Me?

It’s been just a little over a month since my last post. This is the longest I have been away since starting this blog in October. I haven’t been away because I’ve lost my passion. I haven’t been away because I stopped spending my days thinking about millions of things I want to share with all of you. The reason I’ve been away is basically, life got out of control for me.

There have been so many things happening in the last month. My job, for instance, started it’s “busiest time” which is usually in the summer, 4 months earlier.  Every time I turned around something was breaking, someone was needing help, something was needed to be done at the very last minute and everything else had to be dropped. Then my mom got very ill. Within a matter of weeks, my mom was experiencing awful pain in her stomach and legs, lost 15 lbs, and aged about 10 years.  It took her to get really bad before she went to the ER- twice. Each time, they told her to see a back doctor and sent her home. It wasn’t until she passed out twice and we convinced her to go see her primary doctor, that it was discovered her diabetes was the reason for all of it. They hospitalized her immediately.  My mom doesn’t keep up with her doctors. She doesn’t always keep up with eating well, and she can’t always afford her meds.  She is home now, but still feeling very weak. The doctors said it’s possible some of this may not be reversible. She stands and her blood pressure drops. I have hope she is going to get better, but I tell ya , growing up can definitely suck sometimes.  You MUST stay on top of your health.  As my fellow melanoma warriors and I are always trying to say:

Then I had my 3 month scans. That’s right- scanxiety time again! I usually am not too nervous about it, until the day of my results appointment. That’s how it was this time around. I was also nervous because I was meeting the doctor  who was replacing my wonderful head and neck surgeon. He went on to bigger opportunities, and I felt like I lost the one person who was able (and did) look out for me the most.  The new surgeon is nice, but I am still waiting to see how much she looks out for me.

After an hour and a half of waiting, I was relieved to hear my scans were “good.”  It’s amazing how familiar this is with the doctors. I was told they looked good almost as a second thought.  That was all I was waiting to hear.  I think they should come in with a huge sign that says YES- You are grossly unremarkable!  That is what some of the results will read when they see nothing to worry about.  And to think all my life I wanted to be anything BUT unremarkable, and now that’s all I desire.
This time my results read:

Yes, it was good news. News I am extremely grateful for, but when my oncologist told me I would be getting my scan again in 3 months(which I already knew) because of the location of where my melanoma was (my neck) requires them to be very compulsive about the checking, especially for the first 2 years.  I then went to my meet the doctor taking over for my surgeon, and after feeling around my neck a bit, she said, “I still need a copy of the original pathology report. Also, you should be getting a chest x-ray once a year. You were right on the edge between a T2 and a T3, so we need to be on top of you.”  The T’s refer to the thickness of the tumor which helps to categorize the staging of the melanoma. So great news, but still , a huge reminder of how serious and scary this all is. How after a surgery, skin cancer is not just removed and then you are “cured” left to walk away and never to have to think about or worry about cancer again. 

It's SO not worth it!

But don’t be mistaken- I am still counting my blessings and appreciating my clear scans, and of course, hoping and praying this is how it will always be. But at the same time, I have my days when I can't help but fear the worst and want to kick myself for not knowing better.

I am still very much on a mission to prevent others from dealing with this fear, and that is why I am still here and will continue to be here, no matter how crazy my life gets. The message is just too important.

I'll be back, much sooner this time. 

As always, thanks for reading. Remember to always practice safe sun!