Monday, January 9, 2012

Tanning-The Addict

I will admit it.  I was an addict.  I have recently thought a lot about my tanning past.  Mostly the "WHY".  Why did I ever start?  Why did I think I looked better with a tan than without? 

I can remember my family laying out.  My Mom, my cousins, one of my aunts.  As a kid, I was outside a lot and I tended to be tanned throughout the summer.  I didn't think anything of it as a kid.  We didn't wear sunscreen daily.  Only if we were going to the zoo or the beach so we wouldn't burn.   But, as a teen, I had acne and with acne, comes flawed skin.  I started laying out and liked the way a tan, or even a burn, would cover up my bad teen complexion.  I lived in Michigan though and had to "soak it up" in the summer as much as possible.  My best friend had a pool.  We used to drown in tanning oil, (yes OIL!) and float around the pool all day.  We got dark.  We loved it.  I never used a tanning bed as a teen.  But, if I had been allowed to, or had access to one, I would have.  I am so glad I didn't.  I would probably not be here today.  When my kids were little I didn't have time to tan like I did when I was a teen.  I missed the days of floating in my best friends pool!  I hated being pale!  I was thin and tall so I always thought I looked sick.  People would always comment about my paleness.  I could never wait until summer! 

I decided in January 2010 (age 39) to start doing something for myself.  I was overworked, over stressed, and felt like I needed something to relax, something just for me!  I was scared, but I went to a local tanning salon and talked to the young (I mean YOUNG!  She looked like a teenager, and probably actually was!)  She told me how great it was and if I liked to tan I would LOVE tanning beds.  It was quicker and had better results.  The owner was a lady probably about my age.  She talked me into the biggest package.  For $129.00 a month you got unlimited use in all their beds.  AND you could get 3 spray tans, AND a water massage too!  (This was a really cool thing, a bed that massages you with water!)  I was excited and anxious to start.  I was TERRIFIED when I shut the top on the bed for the first time!  It was like being in a coffin.  I don't like small spaces at all!  So I just closed my eyes and before I know it I started to relax and then my time was up.  I was addicted after the first visit.  I went the next day and upped my time each visit.   At the end of the first week I was seeing a difference and I was at the max 12 minutes.  The young tanned receptionist suggested I try the stand up and I went for the full time and got burned.  I lied to her the next time I went and said I hadn't gotten burned.  It wasn't that bad and I had had worse!  I was going 4 times a week.  I had to get my money's worth!  I remember my fiance when I told him about it.  He was not happy at all.  Everyday he would ask me if I went tanning.  I would lie to him.  He never knew how often I was going.  My 15 year old daughter wanted to go too, at first.  Then the darker I got she would tell me she thought I was going too much.  It felt like they just didn't want me to have my relaxation time.  They were trying to rain on my parade!  I renewed for another month.  I tried every bed.  I never did the spray tan that I had 3 free ones, because I didn't think I would like it, and I hardly needed it!  I took my daughter finally to get a spray tan, her first, before a school dance.  She got the lightest one, because she didn't want to look orange, she just wanted a natural looking tan.  She wasn't thrilled with it, she thought it was too light.  I agreed, and the next school dance a few months later, we got her a spray tan with the medium shade and it looked great!  She didn't like that it was a cold spray and that it didn't last.  She really wanted a membership for tanning and asked for one for her 16th birthday.  She asked for months and I would always say, "I don't know, you are kinda young to start tanning", or "maybe when you are 16."  I thought about it, then I decided I would do it, but didn't tell her.

That is about the same time I noticed the mole on the back of my thigh when I was putting on lotion to get in the tanning bed.  It seemed raised.  I told myself it was nothing and tanned that day anyway.  I would check on it every couple days, when I would think about it.  I thought maybe I had knicked it and it had bled.  That must be why it was swollen.  I stopped tanning because it wasn't going away.  It was November.  I had tanned all of January, February, March, April and May.  I stopped in the summer, because I could just lay out.  I started back in September, but only got the limited plan.  I went 2-3 times a week, but always for the maximum time.  12 minutes.  It was enough.  I looked up skin cancer on line and the first picture I saw of melanoma I knew.  I knew I had melanoma.  I was absolutely astounded by what I learned.  It could kill you.  I always thought that if I ever got skin cancer, it would be when I was old and they would just cut off the little area, no big deal.  I was in the medical field and I had no idea about melanoma.  I waited from November to February before I finally said something about the mole to my fiance.  He wanted me to go to the dermatologist immediately.  I was still in denial in a way.  I stopped looking up info on the internet and thought I had time.  I needed to get things in order first.  I reinstated a cancer policy I had and that took almost 2 months.  But, I thought if I didn't it would be bad if this mole was going to cause me to have surgeries and chemo.  I would need to have the insurance.  Once it was finally in place,  I went to my primary care doctor for a physical the very next day.  I showed it to her and she referred me to a dermatologist.  Luckily, I got an appointment with him the next day.  It was April 1st, 2011.  The PA removed the nasty little mole and also another spot on my chest that just never seemed to heal.  It was pinkish and would bleed.  I felt much better having those areas removed.  I told my fiance that I knew they were both cancer.  I was glad to have it off me!!  I never realized how it would feel actually having cancer.  My fiance went with me to the follow up appointment for results.  I was not surprised when he told me it was melanoma.  My fiance was obviously surprised.  I was strong for him.  The little spot on my chest was basal cell carcinoma.  He wasn't as worried about that spot and said we could take care of it later. I didn't hear what stage the melanoma was and I didn't hear a lot of what he was saying.  I kept things light.  I laughed and joked.  I thought it must be really hard as a doctor to tell someone they have cancer.  I was glad that there was a plan. I was being referred to a surgical oncologist and would need to have surgery and a lymph node biopsy.  I met with him and surgery was set.  The closer it got the more terrified I was.  I will leave the details of the surgery and recovery for later, but let me just say, it is much more than having a little spot cut off!  It was the worst experience of my life! 

I have read several things about tanning being addictive.  It most certainly is! I know what an addiction is.  I was a smoker for 20 years.  It was definitely an addiction.  I felt so good when I was tanning.  When I stopped I could feel it.  My energy level decreased and I became moody.  I was going through withdraw. It makes me so sad when I see young teens tan.  Some are way too tan, like I was.  I assume their parents do not know the dangers.  Like me.  I speak up to prevent this from happening to others.  I want to march in front of the tanning salon I went to and show them my scar.  I want to put them right out of business.  I know that someday they will be out of business.  I think more people are becoming smart about their skin.  I am going to scream it until the day I die. Tanning = skin cancer and skin cancer is cancer!  Melanoma is not a diagnosis you want, or that you want your child to have.  All from tanning.  Your life is not worth a tan. 

Friday, January 6, 2012

Meet the Real Me

So, today I got the idea to introduce myself to all of my friends and blog followers!  If you read my post from yesterday Finding Myself, this a little follow up from that.  Every one of us are made up of "things" that all together make us who we are.  They define us.   Here are my stats....

I am Melissa Ann Collins.  I was born in Michigan.  I hate having my birthday in December.  I have 1 brother, 1 sister and 1 step-sister. I am a child of divorce.  I am quiet.   I am shy.   I am a fan of Duran Duran.  I thought I was going to marry Simon LeBon when I grew up.  I am unwealthy.   I am an 80's child at heart.  I am a mother.  I am a divorcee.  I am a good friend.  I am a good listener.  I give good advice.  I am passionate about what I believe in.  I am caring.  I am honest.  I am short-tempered.  I love to laugh.  I love my kids and my family.  I love hugs.  I care about what others think too much.  I hate to make people cry.  I love music.  I would rather be taking pictures than most anything else in the world. I hate my job as a medical assistant.  I dislike my father.  I am very dependent.  I yell a lot.  I am very frustrated by things I can't change.  I hate being sick.  I have stage 2 melanoma.  I have 9 scars on my body.  I don't like to talk on the phone.  I hate rude people.  I love to travel.  I love Michigan.  I love lighthouses.  I am going gray.  I am vain.  I am not materialistic.  I love the sound of my children laughing.  I love puppies.  I love smores.  I am a chocoholic.  I miss smoking.  I am a very sound sleeper.  I hate mornings.  I am mostly happy with my life.  I am out-spoken.  I cheer for the under-dog.  I was teased as a kid.  I think I am fat.  I hate my curly hair.  I believe in marriage.  I love to shop.  I love to give to others.  I am impossible at times.  I like heavy metal, pop, rock, rap and some country music.  I play the violin.  I love to write.  I love to read.  I am addicted to facebook.  I want to be a photographer when I grow up.  I worry about world affairs.  I love the sun.  I am afraid of the sun.  I am afraid of dying.  I am very religious.  I believe in heaven, hell and ghosts.  I love to eat.  I hate to cook.  I clean when I am mad.  I am an aggressive driver.  I forgive easily.  I am very trustworthy.  I am a hard worker.  I adore my family.  I want to grow very old.  I love pedicures.  I love to dress up.  I love to wear high heels.  I love turtles and frogs.  I lived in Germany, California and New Mexico.  I want to go to Hawaii on vacation.  I am sad a lot.  I want to see a cure for cancer before I die. 

Just a few things about me. 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Finding Myself...The Melanoma Me

Today was a strange kind of day.  You know the kind I am talking about.  When everything is just "off" all day long.  One of my patients was late coming in for her appointment and she told me about a bad accident that was causing a lot of back ups on the main highway in our area.  She said she heard a man was hit and killed while changing a tire early this morning.  Not only was he hit by one car, but he was hit multiple times.  My heart sank.  I immediately grabbed my cell phone and texted my fiance to tell him, since he drives that way to work.  I waited to get a reply and was so relieved when I got a text back, because then I knew it wasn't him.  I know that sounds weird, but I am always worried about him driving.  I don't know what I would do if I was the wife that got that call.  My heart goes out to her and his children.  He was a firefighter for 17 years.  A good guy.  Seems so senseless.  On the news tonight, they gave tips on what to do and not to do when you have a flat tire on the expressway.  I realized that he helped a lot of other people, because the word is getting out about how dangerous it is.  I had two high school friends die the same way within the last 3 years.  Something good from something horrible. I wonder how many people he has helped in his career and now how many he is helping in his death.

Ever since I was diagnosed with melanoma, I have wanted to help others NOT go through what I am going through.  What I will go through for the rest of my life.  I have spent hours researching melanoma and the dangers of tanning.  Posting videos,information, pictures, etc. on here and on my facebook pages.  I have several future projects in the works as well.  I feel like it is what I am meant to do.  I honestly didn't know what tanning could do to me.  I know there are many that don't know either.   I hate that young teen girls (and guys) are tanning because they think they look better with a tan.  The damage is being done every single time they go, even though you don't SEE it, there IS damage.  One of the doctors I work with went to Cancun on vacation for 10 days and he came back with a tan.  One of his patients said, "You look like you got a tan."  He replied, "Yeah, but it will only last for 5 days or so!"  "Yeah, but the damage will last a LIFETIME", ran through my head.  The damage will last a lifetime, if it doesn't kill you first.  I see patients come in with tans and some of them are even being treated for skin cancer and STILL continue to tan.  I don't say anything, I am just there.  Keeping my thoughts to myself.  Wishing that the world would understand how bad  it is.  I don't feel comfortable saying anything at work to patients because I am too passionate about skin cancer prevention.  If I started, I am afraid I wouldn't stop and I would hurt people's feelings. It makes me sick and angry that people tan.  I try to remind myself that they don't know it can kill them.  Just like me.  I didn't know.  I learned first hand. I just hope they don't learn like I did.

Then, something else occurred to me.  If I don't say something, then who will?  I work so hard to spread the word on the web, but i haven't done much in my public life to educate people. Most people don't know the "MELANOMA ME".   Most people know me as their co-worker, a Mom, a friend, a customer.  They don't know the work I do for melanoma awareness. Not even my family.  Most of my posts are only viewed by fellow melanoma warriors.  It was kind of a sad realization.  I even keep my personal facebook and melanoma page separate because, I felt like I was losing friends and upsetting people.  No one would comment or repost anything.  No one was viewing my blog or liking my facebook page.  No one wanted to hear it,  not even my relatives and close friends. So  I started hiding the "MELANOMA ME" and pretending melanoma never even existed in a way.  I did it to protect myself from being hurt by people. I am just so passionate about it that I don't want anyone to make me feel bad about it.  But, if they don't know the "MELANOMA ME"  they don't know the REAL me.  Melanoma affected me like nothing I could have ever imaged, or prepared myself for.  It rocked my world to be told I have melanoma and that I would have to have surgery.  That I could possibly have more surgeries and treatments that may not cure me. That I may die from this.  I was fortunate that it was Stage 2a and required no further treatment.  That was great news, but bad news at the same time.  No scans to make sure it wasn't in there?  No radiation to make sure if it was, that it will be treated? Nope.  Just watch and wait.  I think about it every day.  It has become part of me.  I should not have to hide it.  I will not hide it.  No one should have to hide part of them to make others feel comfortable. 

Cancer makes you stronger than you ever knew you could be.  And I am forever grateful for it, because it has taught me so much about life.  Melanoma gave me strength, and it helped me find myself.   I wasn't living before the cancer but, I sure as hell am living now.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Out with the Old, In with the New~Things I Have Learned in 2011

On this first day of the New Year, I can't help but reflect on 2011.  It was a rough year.  One full of huge up's and down's, and many life changes and transformations in myself.   I was diagnosed with melanoma in April 2011, had surgery, had a huge lifestyle change and realization that, I was not invincible, but human.  I gained a new voice through my experience with melanoma.  I am very open about my views on tanning and I am spreading awareness through many outlets.  This is something I am very passionate about.  I have many things that I will be doing in the new year to spread awareness.  Some very personal projects that have been on the back burner of my mind. I feel like I found purpose this year and that is a great feeling!

  I learned a lot in 2011.  I learned that I have the most wonderful fiance, children, family, and friends that a person could ask for.  Without all of them I would not be the strong women I am today and I would not have gotten through this last year.  The caring words, the cards, messages, texts, phone calls, visits, flowers, prayers,hugs,love, etc....  I learned that life is short and time is precious.  I was in pretty bad shape after my surgery.  I couldn't take care of my kids, or anything, not even myself.  My wonderful fiance, Kevin, stepped up like a true man and took care of me, the kids, the house and everything.  He is my hero.  He saw things that no one should ever have to see their loved one go through.  He held me when I cried and he showed me what I have to live for.  He went through his own hell with melanoma.  He never complained.  He really showed me how important I am to him. Thank you honey,  I am forever grateful for you.  My kids even took care of me, even though they didn't know it.   I am supposed to be the strong one, taking care of everyone, especially them. When I was laying in bed, waiting for the path results, thinking I was going to die because they sent it to San Francisco for a second opinion, (and it was going on 2 weeks!), they gave me strength to keep fighting. The smiles, the hugs, the sadness in their eyes gave me strength to not give up! They needed me and they showed me they needed me.   I realized how strong my kids are.  What good people they were becoming. They were scared and they were strong for me.  I could not be a more proud Momma.

Another blessing of 2011 was that I realized I needed to make my dreams reality.  I bought my digital camera that I have always wanted and made my dream of  being a photographer a reality after so many years. Being a single Mom, I could never afford to buy the camera.  Food and other necessities were more important.  Without Kevin, this dream would still have been out of reach.  He told me to just do it and not think so much about it.  I have not regretted it once!   I know this is the beginning of a great career.  It is the greatest thing in the world to do something you LOVE.  I am very passionate about photography and it is what I was meant to do.  I can't even describe the feeling I get when I am shooting pictures.  It is just what I am supposed to do.  And what great therapy for me.  It is getting me through the darkest of times that cancer can bring. 

Another thing I gained in 2011 was new friends, who are understanding of what I am going through with melanoma, because they have been touched by it also.  I have a whole support system a click away and I wouldn't trade any of them for the world!  We are all dealing with it in different ways.  It is amazing the bond I have with these fellow warriors.  They are  kindred spirits, each unique in their own journey with the beast.  I know they are there to give me strength, support and an understanding like no one that has not been through this can give.  I have learned that I am not alone.

I have learned to love more, forgive more, live more.  I will not be another statistic, not without one hell of a fight anyway!  I realized how strong I am.  How important I am.  I realized and learned a lot this year, through pain and suffering.  Through taking a chance here and there.  Through not being too scared to try something. I am looking forward to 2012.  I am going to make the most of it, through the up's and the down's.  So out with the Old and in with the New!  Happy New Year to all of you!!!  May it be full of happiness and blessings!!