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!