Saturday, April 13, 2013

Melanoma Awareness by Bree

Just wanted to share this picture my 15 year old niece, Bree made after her friend passed away from melanoma yesterday.  She is hurting from the loss of a friend, and she is also angry at melanoma for taking her friend from her.  15 years old is too young to die.  My heart goes out to the family and friends.  I hope that someday this will not be happening at all.

Thank you Bree for always being supportive and for standing up and speaking out about the dangers of tanning and melanoma.  I am proud of you and I love you!!  Never be afraid to be yourself and to speak out.  You can change the world and save lives.  I am proud to have you in my corner!

XOXO  Aunt M

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Dear Teens

Let's face it.  We all feel more confident when we are looking our best.  As a society, we go to great lengths and spend a lot of money to look good.  We wax things, get our nails and hair done, buy the newest clothes and shoes, drive the coolest cars and a lot of you strive for the perfect tan.

Tanning salons make it very easy to get the perfect tan!  Cheap packages, with unlimited tanning, targeted at teens.  Sexy advertisements of young, beautiful people in their swim attire, looking perfectly bronzed.  The lotions are to die for.  Cute bottles, great smelling and leaves your skin so soft.   The relaxing time that you spend in the bed, laying back, listening to your favorite tunes while you get that perfect bronzed and attractive tan.  Because, tan people are prettier, hotter, sexier.

Something that is not pretty, hot or sexy is melanoma.

I was just like you.  I started tanning outdoors at age 15.  I hated my skin.  It was pale and it was not glowing and pretty.  I had acne and I hated the way I looked.  I loved the way I looked after I got a little sun on my face.  That progressed to tanning all summer as much as I could.  It was so much fun to go to the beach with friends and soak up the rays all day, with my bikini and tanning oil!  Laying on the beach or floating in the pool all day, being lazy.  It was the life!

My tanning bed use started when I was 39.  I didn't have time to lay outside all day getting the dark tan I wanted anymore.  I tanned for one year off and on and one day while I was putting on lotion to get in the stand up tanning machine, I felt something on the back of my leg, above my knee.  I looked and it was a mole I had for as long as I could remember, and it was raised.  I didn't think cancer, I thought "I probably scratched it or something."  I went tanning that day because, I couldn't miss tanning and I couldn't get melanoma.  I kept an eye on it and I took this picture.

after 2 months of watching it.  It continued to get a little bigger, so I started googling skin cancer.  What I found was Melanoma.  And the picture of melanoma, looked exactly like my mole.

Wait...what?  I can't have melanoma.  That's cancer.  I have dark hair, dark eyes and I tan pretty easily.  I can't get melanoma!

I went to my dermatologist and sure enough, it came back melanoma stage 1b.  What does that mean?
Well, I had to have surgery.  They had to go about 3 inches deep and they went about 7 inches long by 2 inches wide.  I had a huge chunk taken out of my leg and I had over 20 stitches on the outside and more on the inside.

It took me about 3 months to completely heal.  I still, 2 years later, have a lot of numbness around the scar.   They also had taken some lymph nodes out of my groin area to test for melanoma.  I had to wait a long 2 1/2 weeks for the results. Those came back negative.  If they would have been positive, I would have advanced to a higher stage and would have had to have treatments such as chemo, or radiation, or more surgery.   It was the longest, most depressing time of my life waiting to hear my prognosis.  My family was living around me, going to work and school, and I was possibly dying because, I wanted to be pretty.

The hardest part aside from waiting, was telling my kids who were 15 and 19.  Could you imagine losing your Mom just because she wanted to be tan?  I felt a lot of guilt for not taking better care of myself for them.  They still needed me and I couldn't leave them like this.

My daughter wanted to be just like me.  She is very fair skinned and she saw me tanning in the beds, ( she hated laying out because she didn't like getting all sweaty and gross!) and she wanted to do it too.  At 15, I felt she was too young to tan in tanning beds and told her that for her 16th birthday I would consider it.  I was going to surprise her with a tanning membership and I was ironically enough, diagnosed about 20 days before her 16th birthday.

She had a very hard time with it.  There is a lot of pressure to look good, and a tan is part of the package.  She was teased by her friends, and team mates because she is so pale.  She is now almost 18, and a Senior.  She has seen what melanoma can do and she has learned that she has a very high risk of developing melanoma just because I have it.  She is very careful and she actually loves her skin now.

I know that prom, spring break, summer bathing suit time is coming up, but trust me when I say, it is NOT worth the risk you take when you lay in a tanning bed, or tan outdoors, or even worse burn.  The damage you do to your skin could literally kill you.  Not a quick death, like being run over by a mack truck, but a slow and painful one.  If it doesn't kill you, it will leave you with scars and with fear.

The fear is because melanoma can come back at anytime.  Once you have it, you have it forever.  Melanoma likes to travel to the brain,lungs,liver and other organs.  It can present on the soles of the feet, between your fingers, under nails, in your private parts, or on your scalp hidden.

Did you know that Bob Marley died from melanoma?  Yep.  It started in his big toe.  He was, as many of you know, a very dark skinned man.  It can happen to anyone.  I lost my best friend to melanoma.  She was only 27 years young when she passed away.  She battled melanoma for 6 years.  She got married in May of 2011, and she is not here to celebrate her first anniversary. I miss her every single day.  She only tanned 3 times in her whole life.

Unfortunately, there is no sure cure for melanoma.  Melanoma in it's early stages can be treatable with surgery, but it can always present later at a higher stage and sometimes,by then, it is too late.

If you choose to still tan, after hearing my story, it is your choice, or probably your parents choice depending on your age, and what state you live in.  But, I hope that you really hear my story and that you really take it to heart.  No one is trying to stop you from doing what you want.  You have the choice to stop or not.  You have the information now and it is up to each of you.

Watch this video and remember that real people are diagnosed with melanoma and one of those real people die from melanoma every hour.

Do you want to risk it?

Spring Break~ Tan Free!

My daughter is a Senior this year and it has been such a busy/crazy year!  She will be turning 18 in a few short weeks (!) and is working at a veterinarian's office.  She is busy planning out her future (she wants to be a child psychologist!). She just got back from Spring Break in Myrtle Beach, which she paid for all by herself.  I was hesitant about her going to a place known for partying, drinking, craziness without parents, and of course tanning everywhere.  Isn't that what you go on Spring break to places like MB for?  To tan and be on the beach in your bikini?  She assured me that she would not be drinking, partying, or tanning.  She just wanted to get away and have some fun.

 I was nervous about letting her go, not so much about her being away from home (well, maybe a little!), but because I knew how hard it would be for her to not lay on the beach turning into a crispy critter like all the other kids going on spring break.  In other words, I wouldn't be there to watch her.  So, after I agreed that she could go, I bought her a ton of sunscreen and kept telling her how to reapply every 2 hours, and to avoid the beach between 10-4 and that sunscreen is not waterproof, the sand reflects the suns rays, etc....  she just smiled at me and would say, "I know, Mom."

When I picked her up from the airport, I admit, the first thing I did was look to see if she was burned/tan at all.  And....she was not!  Not even a LITTLE color!  AND....she had a BLAST!  I was beaming with pride.  Her boyfriend was also not tan or burned at all.  I was relieved, and I was so happy to hear about all the fun that they had.  Think of all the time they could have wasted, laying on the beach, not to mention all the damage they would have done to their skin if they did!  Years ago, I would have bought her tanning lotion instead of sunscreen. I would have taken her for a "base tan" so she wouldn't get burned, I would have told her she was too pale....:(

So, I guess melanoma has made me a better mother by rearing it's ugly head and teaching us the hard way to protect ourselves.  It CAN happen to you.  Regardless of your age, skin color, gender, etc.  It doesn't care if you are graduating and have your whole life ahead of you.  It just doesn't care.

She has Prom coming up and she is so excited about it.  She has the dress, the shoes and the best accessory....her natural, beautiful, PALE skin!  She looks stunning in her dress and I admit that even though I tried not to cry when she put it on, I did.  I think of all that we have been through and all that we will go through together as a Mother and Daughter, and I am so grateful that we can.

 I am very proud of my daughter for not being afraid to stick up for herself and to be herself.  She admitted that she has been teased by other girls about her pale skin.  It used to bother her after I was first diagnosed, even though she was never a tanner, but now she said she doesn't care what others think.   She said that they are the ones that have a problem with her skin color, not her. I think they really have a problem with themselves. She wasn't given a choice about tanning, and she doesn't like to be told what to do (like her Momma!).  Once I was diagnosed, she was told she will NEVER tan. It was had for her to accept that she could not be like the other girls.

She had to be extra careful because of ME.  She blamed me for it at first.  She and I have had so many conversations about melanoma and tanning.  She also had to say goodbye to a good friend of ours that fought melanoma for years.  She saw what melanoma could do first hand.  I didn't sugar coat anything.   She could have so easily been the one that was diagnosed with melanoma.  I thank God every day that it was me and not her.

I look at my daughter and I know that she will never lay in a tanning bed, and her children will never lay in a tanning bed, and their children and on and on and on.....That will be my legacy.  I changed that for us.  And that makes it all worth it.  Even though I won't be around to see it all, I will know that she will see to it that the cycle continues on.

So, melanoma, you will not win.  You can't have me and you can't have my family. I think about how I was going to buy my daughter a tanning package for her 16th birthday almost 2 years ago.  It is pretty ironic that the surgeon wanted to schedule my wide excision biopsy on her 16th birthday.

And 2 years later, she is tan free, melanoma free, and happier than ever.

So, for anyone that is reading this that may want to go on Spring Break to get a tan and probably get a sunburn and possibly get melanoma, or skin cancer to boot.  Consider that life long damage that you are doing.  Not only is there a strong possibility that you are causing cancer, you are also causing premature wrinkling and ugly age spots and other skin damage that will make you look way older than you are.  Why would you want to do that to yourself?  A tan fades, and the damage stays.  Forever. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Hearing That I Have Melanoma~My 2 Year Journey

It has been 2 years since I heard the news, " You have melanoma."   Time stood still.  My life has been a roller coaster of emotions ever since. 

It was April's Fools Day 2011 when I had my mole removed.  I had done the research and I was sure that it was indeed melanoma.  I had been preparing myself for weeks.  I got my life insurance in place and other things.  I had decided what I would do depending on how bad it was.  I had called my tanning salon and told them I would not be back, EVER.  I had spent HOURS upon HOURS online researching everything I could about melanoma. 

I thought I was prepared to hear the words.  I thought I was ready and that I could ask the right questions and that I would hear the answers, but it was all a blur.

How can you be prepared to hear that you have cancer?  Melanoma has the reputation of being sneaky and spreading fast.  A cancer with no cure. 

I remember the doctor (dermatologist)  was jet lagged from a trip back from some tropical destination.  He wasn't tan though.  I remember wondering if HE had skin cancer, who would remove it from him?  Would he just do it himself? 

I remember Kevin tensing up when the doctor said the words, "You have melanoma."  I had my hand on his back.  His breathing changed and he slumped down a little.  I felt such a great amount of guilt at that moment.  He had told me to stop tanning.  He had told me I was beautiful without the tan.  He tried to convince me, and I ignored and hid my tanning from him.

I remember hearing that we could pick our hospital and they gave me the info.  We were going to get a call to set up an appointment for a surgical oncologist.

My head was spinning.  I had met Kevin there, so we checked out and gave each other a hug.  He said that everything was going to be alright.  We drove home.  All I could think about was, "How am I going to tell my kids, my parents..??" and  "Am I going to die?"  I was so scared.  I cried on that drive.  I had known that I had melanoma,but I did NOT know what it felt like to be told you have it.

I didn't realize how much my life was going to change. 

Telling my kids was harder than I thought.  I don't really even remember what I said or how I said it.  I just remember the looks on their faces.  The fear in their eyes.  The concern.  I felt like I was weak.  I hated being weak in front of my kids.  I had to be the strong one.  I couldn't get melanoma.  I didn't have time for that!  I needed to be healthy and to be able to be a Mom to them.  I feared leaving them and for them to see me sick.

The first time I said, "I have melanoma", was the next morning when I called into work.  I thought I was okay the night before.  I was being really strong, by holding it in.  When I woke up in the morning, it kind of all hit me.  Like a Mac truck!  I couldn't stop shaking and crying.  I had cancer and I had to have surgery to see if I was going to live or if I was going to die.  I called into work and I told my office manager.  She seemed annoyed, but whatever.  I did let it get to me then, but now I just know that is the way she is.  I was crying when I called and she didn't really even say anything to me that was comforting at all. 

I had my family and I had my friends.  That is what got me through. 

I had my appointment with the surgical oncologist the next week and he explained the surgery.  It was scary, but we picked a date.  He said, "April 20th."  I shook my head. He looked confused.  I said,"Any day but the 20th.  That is my daughter's 16th birthday.  I can't do that to her."  He said, "Ok, well then April 27th then, I don't want to wait much longer."  I agreed.  It was my sister and brother-in-law anniversary.  It was a great day when they got married, may it would bring me some good luck.

The last 2 years, I have grown and changed a lot.  I can't even remember what it was like to be the old me.  I only know the Melanoma Me. It almost changed me for the worst.  I have learned to not let it control me or define me.  I am using my diagnosis to educate people and to change people's views on tanning. 

It isn't always easy to stand up for what you believe in.  I have had a lot of negativity and people that do not agree.  I used to let it really get to me, but not now.  I have grown some tough skin along with my pale skin.  And I will never stop.