I was thinking today about how different my life would be if I had never been diagnosed with melanoma.
It AMAZED me.
First of all, I would not have bought the camera I had wanted for as long as I can remember, and started my photography business. I would still be wondering if I should do it. Spending that much money for me as a single Mom was just not something that I ever could do. Even if I had had the money, the guilt would have tore me apart. By having melanoma, it made me reach out and pursue that dream of being a professional photographer. ( Along with my fiance's support!) I love it more today than I did yesterday! I am grateful that I can see the dream begin to take shape. It is a lot of work, with my day job, but I love it and wouldn't stop for anything! I am learning and growing as a photographer every day.
Second, I would not have met some of the most amazing and generous, warm and caring people, that I have the privilege of calling my friends. Fellow warriors. I have met some in person and some I just know via social media! It is really awesome to actually meet someone in person and be able to give then a huge hug though! I can't imagine not knowing each and every one of them today. And I wouldn't if I had not been diagnosed with melanoma. Some of them have become such big parts of my life. That makes me kinda of sad. I am grateful for each of these friendships.
The most important thing is that my fair skinned, 17 year old daughter, would have started tanning a year and a half ago and would possibly be the one with the huge scar and fear of dying from melanoma, instead of me. Maybe she would have been stage 3, or stage 4. Going through trials, chemo, radiation, surgeries. It makes me sick to think that I was going to buy her a tanning package for her 16th birthday. What a great present. Thank God, not long afterward, I found my mole. Kind of ironic that my surgery was originally supposed to be scheduled on her 16th birthday. ( I made the surgeon wait a week! There was no way I was going to have it on her big day!) It could have been her. She wanted to be just like me ever since she was little. I was not setting a good example at all, but had no idea. I am forever grateful that it was me.
Having my daughter look up to me and tell me that she is proud of me for sharing my scar and my story, when she was calling me a sun Nazi a few months after my diagnosis when I caught her sunbathing....means the world to me. I went on TV and told my story for everyone to hear, and I was not scared. I did it to prevent other teens from tanning. Every talk I have had with her about melanoma, I did to prevent her from tanning. To make her understand how serious it is. She didn't understand in the beginning at all. She said I had over done it (tanning), and that it wasn't fair that she could never tan because I got melanoma. I understood her frustration. We had long talks. I showed her pictures and I showed her my friends. I told her about them. I cried with her when one of my friends would get bad news, or pass away. She gets it now. It took time, but she gets it. She has seen some of the worst melanoma can hand out. I didn't sugar coat anything. I know she has told her friends, and they don't tan. I know that she will never allow her own children to tan. I have become a better mother because of my melanoma. I have started setting a good example and it will be passed down through generations. Because of MY melanoma, I have educated others, my daughter included, against the dangers of tanning and melanoma.
I also would not know as much about myself as I do now. I would not
know how strong I am. I would not know how important each and every day
is. I would not appreciate everything I have. I would not know how
wonderful my life is. I know it seems weird, but I am grateful for the
journey. I am grateful for all that I have gained and been able to take
from this horrible experience. I have not let my melanoma define me. I
have defined my melanoma.
So in a way I am glad that I had this experience. It has changed me for the better in a lot of ways. I almost let it destroy me. I made the choice to use my story for good.
If I had never gotten melanoma, I don't really know what I would be doing right now, but I think having it has made me live rather than just exist.
I still have my moments, and I get really scared about my future. I get freaked out about a new looking spot, or a new symptom that I am sure means my melanoma is still there. I am learning to live with all of that. Melanoma may have taken away my immortality, but it can't take away my story.
And I will tell it. Over. And over. And over.