Thursday, May 1, 2014

Getting Naked

As I was looking through my phone last night, trying to find a specific picture I took of one of my kids, I realized Man…do I have a LOT of naked selfies on my phone!!!

Now, not meaning to disappoint, I must add that my “naked” selfies are not what I imagine the typical naked selfies to be. There’s lots of skin, lots of body parts, but none of them all together in one picture.  So a Playboy centerfold they would not make. :)  But if I were to allow you to browse through my phone’s photo gallery, you’d see that just like the average woman/mom,  there are tons of pictures of my kids and pictures of myself in different outfits, smiling, frowning, and looking for wrinkles (Oh wait. Am I the only one that does that?). Just add in a bunch of scars, stitches, moles, marks, bumps, and anything else I find on my body.

               Hmmm.  I just realized that maybe if I flipped through my photo gallery
               really fast, it would all come together like an old school, flip page cartoon
               and I’d have  a dirty movie on my hands!  Note to self: Delete all these
                pictures off your phone IMMEDIATELY!

My phone didn’t always look like that. I have pictures in there beginning from December 2011. The skin pictures didn’t begin until June 2012, when I was diagnosed with melanoma.
Since then it has been a job of mine to stay on top of my skin and any changes I see. Having these pictures helps me to notice if anything is growing or changing and if there’s anything new on my body. I suggest those of you who aren’t warriors do the same. Maybe not to the extent I do, but know your skin. What it looks like, what’s there - even in the places you CAN’T see.  Get your hair stylist involved.  Ask family and friends to help. This may even add some extra spice to your love life if you can get your significant other involved. ;) That’s what the Melanoma Research Foundation’s campaign GET NAKED is all about. You have to be proactive. You have to strip down and look, because you are the best person to catch it early and save your life.

I put together a collage of photos from my phone, all taken in the last 2 years. I wanted you to see what Warrior selfies look like and why it is SO important to #GETNAKED. I would love to see other warrior selfies as well.

Thanks for reading. Practice safe sun!

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!