Thursday, June 27, 2013

National Sunglasses Day!

Did you know that today is National Sunglasses Day?  Well, it is and when I heard, I knew I had the perfect photo to share with you!

You may not know, but I am a photographer here in Michigan.  I shoot mostly kids and families.  I recently had a photo shoot with the cutest little 10 month old girl, Hayley.  She made my job very easy!  She loves the camera and was full of smiles.  Get ready for some cuteness!!

You also may not know that you can get MELANOMA in your EYES.  Yes, that is right.  Thought it could only appear in a mole?  Nope, it can appear in your eyes. So be safe, wear sunscreen, protective clothing, hats, sunglasses, and be safe while you are having fun this summer! 

To read more about melanoma of the eye (Ocular Melanoma), visit the Melanoma Research Foundation

Sunday, June 16, 2013

There is always HOPE

Hope~to wish for something with expectation of its fulfillment. To have confidence; trust.
The word “hope” is an indication of certainty.

Hope has been a word that has stuck with me through my entire journey with melanoma.  I have hoped for many things.  I have been disappointed sometimes, but I have never given up hope.  Especially for a cure for melanoma.

 When I was first diagnosed with melanoma and went through my surgery, I thought a lot about getting something that symbolizes my journey.  I knew a tattoo was the way I wanted to express myself.  I went back and forth on the design and took 2 years to figure it all out.  I had an idea and I had to find the perfect person to design it.

I went to one tattoo parlor with a drawing that I had done with the word HOPE.  I tried to explain what I wanted to a heavily tattooed and pierced lady.  She didn't get it and I felt very uncomfortable, so I ended up waiting about 6 months longer.  It was May, Melanoma Awareness month.  I wanted to dye my hair black, but I decided not to since my hair is pretty fragile right now.  I was busy.  Way to much to do a lot of the things I wanted to do.  Then it hit me.  I was going to go get my tattoo. My daughter and I left and went to a different tattoo parlor.  One that I had researched and found to be the best in the area.  So, with my daughter for support, I went in with just the idea I had.  The guy drew out what would become my tattoo.  He asked me, "Do you like it?".  Near tears, I replied, "No.  I LOVE it.".  My daughter agreed.

An hour later, I had another mark on my body.  This time, it was one that I wanted put there.  Not another melanoma scar.  Not another battle wound to remind me of what could have been, or what could be.  Now I have a reminder to myself to never give up.

  There is always hope.  

Saturday, June 15, 2013

My Tanorexia Days

I had not heard the term "Tanorexia" until "Tan Mom"  Patricia Krentcil, made her debut for allegedly taking her 5 year old daughter into a tanning booth with her.  I started hearing more about tanorexia.  Tanorexic people don't think they are tan enough, and are always wanting to be tanner.  They tend to over tan.  Sometimes more than once a day.  Tanning makes them feel good and it is addictive.  They justify it and some even laugh in the face of death by saying, "At least I will know what I am dying of."  or  "At least I will look good when I am dead." It started making sense to me.  I had been tanorexic. I made excuses, and I felt like people were trying to take away something that gave me pleasure.  After a long day at work, it was my 12 minutes of relaxation.  I felt amazing after I walked out of the tanning salon.  I was sure I looked amazing, just like all the photos, and ads told me, because I was tanning!

Patricia Krentcil "Tan Mom"

I never thought or associated tanning with death.  I honestly thought that I would not get skin cancer. Dark hair and eyes, no family history, tanned, I signed my life away at the tanning salon because it said "risk of skin cancer."  It didn't say "in 1 year you will be diagnosed with something called Melanoma, and you will have surgery,pain,fear and guilt for the rest of your life.  You will make a lot of new friends and some of them will die.  Others you will watch fight and go through pure hell just to live.  Some are so young."  It never told me what I was REALLY signing up for.  So I signed and I tanned until I was a crispy shade of dark brown.  I was happy.

I have a ton of guilt for what I have done to myself, and for telling my daughter that she was too pale and she should start laying out to become tan.  (Mom of the year award there!)  So glad she didn't like to do it though.  (Whew!  Smart kid!)

My friend, Chelsea, said it best,

 "I try not to beat myself up too much because what is done is done, and all I can do is share my experience with others in hopes that they will make better decisions than I did, but I REALLY regret my tanning days on result day. Protect the skin you're in." 

 She posted this as she was going to get results of her latest scans. (Which showed NED by the way!  Yay!)

I also deeply regret my tanning days and can relate to her post so much.  We can't go back, so therefore we tell our stories, share photos, participate in trials, spread the word every chance we get, do interviews, see our dermatologist, bond and fight together and try not to go completely mad because we can't see what is going on inside our bodies.  We are helpless that it could come back when we are told we are NED.  It is all so not worth a tan. 

 I have been going through old photos for my daughter's upcoming grad party next month.  I have come across some photos that literally make my skin hurt!  This one in particular stood out.  It was taken on July 4, 2010.  6 months after I started using tanning beds, and had actually stopped for the summer for about 4 weeks.  It is embarrassing to me now. Back then, I am sure I thought I looked good.

Why?  Why was I so dark and crispy, and thought I looked good??  My kids look normal and I look so bad!   The words from my step dad echo in my head. "You are getting kinda dark."

I hated it when he would say that.  It wasn't the first time he had.  He knew not to come right out and tell me not to tan, because I would have gotten mad (and I still would have anyway!) Stubborn is my middle name! He would just tell me in a round about way because was worried about me.  Almost 2 years later, he went in for a check on a spot on his nose that kept bleeding.  He had a basal cell carcinoma removed from the bridge of his nose and it left an indent.  The man that used to slather on so much sunscreen to mow the lawn, he looked like Casper the ghost, was not invincible. He thinks it happened way before the days when he started taking care of his skin and using sunscreen.  (He was a life guard and used to race sailboats in his younger years.)  

 Here is another gem.  

  All I can say is WTF??  I remember talking to Kevin later and told him, "Wow, look how pale you are?"  He tried to tell me I was too dark.  How could he possibly love someone that looks like this?  SMH.  But he claims he does!  And I am grateful!

  • So there you have it.  My tanorexia days.  They were not my proudest.  It cost me a lot more than some bad pictures.  I have damaged skin and the fear EVERY DAY of a reoccurance, even though they say I am NED and caught it really early.  I have melanoma for the rest of my life. 
    I will now share the video of my interview last year for Melanoma Awareness month. 
     I really hope that more people realize that tanning is not pretty, it is damage, and it can cause skin cancer.  Melanoma. Fear.  Wrinkles.  Loss of elasticity of the skin. Premature Aging of the skin.  Fear.  Fear. And more Fear. 

                              It IS Cancer.

    Melanoma scar 2 days post op
    Melanoma scar almost 2 years post op
     So, please protect your skin and please protect your children's skin.  Trust me on this.  You do not want to deal with melanoma.  EVER.  Sharing in the hopes that you will listen. 

    Much Love,

    Melissa :)

Friday, June 7, 2013

Don't Stop Believin'!!!!!

I am still in shock here.  I just learned that Steve Perry, singer of 80's band, Journey, had melanoma removed recently.  He has had 2 surgeries to remove it, and they have told him that he shows no evidence of melanoma. 

Here is the link to his recent blog. 

"Don't Stop Believing" has always been a favorite song of mine.  It took on new meaning after my diagnosis of melanoma.  It has become an anthem for all of us fighting the melanoma beast. It is very surreal to me that Steve had his own encounter with melanoma. 

Best wishes to Steve on his recovery and my heart goes out to him for the loss of his beloved Kellie. 

Recent photo with former VJ Martha Quinn from Mtv
Don't Stop Believin'!!!!!!!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Busy Living

I have not posted in so long!  I have totally missed all of Melanoma Awareness Month, which is celebrated in May.  I also missed posting about Melanoma Monday.  The first Monday is May is dedicated to Melanoma Awareness.  I wore black almost every day and I spread as much awareness as I could.

I have not been posting very much lately because I have been very busy.  Busy living.  Something so easy, but something that I hadn't really been doing.

When I hit my 2 year cancerversary in April,  I realized that on my first cancerversary, I was so happy to make the one year and I wanted to scream it from the roof tops, along with "Wear sunscreen!"  "Don't tan!"  and "Protect your skin!"  I also wanted to celebrate BIG and we did.  I was fighting melanoma the only way I knew how.  By spending hours researching and educating.  I wanted everyone to know how bad melanoma is.  My world revolved around melanoma.  I was scared of it coming back.  I didn't want it to happen to anyone else.

As my 2 year cancerversary approached, I realized that I had changed.  I had seen and experienced some very painful losses and I had grown in many ways.  My family wanted to know what I wanted to do to celebrate.  I wanted something simple.  To spend a quiet night with them.  They got me a cute cake and we spent the best evening together.  I was celebrating just being alive, by living.

I realized that with everything that I had been doing to raise awareness, I was really forgetting the most important thing.  To live my life I was so blessed to have.   I was so busy working all day and night and in any free time (haha), I was educating about melanoma.  My kids were growing before my eyes and I was a little preoccupied.  My family had really jumped on board too and were also educating and were very proud to tell me what they had done to do so.  It had consumed me in the beginning, and slowly over the next 2 years, I relaxed a little and I started becoming a part of my life again. 

Losing my dear friend, Brianna, and before her, Jillian, made me realize how precious life it.  And that melanoma really does suck.  All Brianna ever did was live her life.  She didn't spend hours dwelling on her diagnosis.  She just lived her life and fought.  She never let melanoma control her.  She always had such a positive attitude and a huge smile.  If you asked her about her melanoma, she would respond with, "Oh it is just a stupid tumor.  No biggie."  Her nickname was Breezy, and it suited her. Jillian, I imagine just wanted to be a normal girl.  She tried not to be the girl with melanoma.  She lived her life to the fullest, even though there were laced with doctor appointments.  

I looked at my kids and realized how precious every single moment we have together really is. Once it is gone, you can't get it back.  I had not been spending enough time with them.  I had always spent time with them.  They are the most important people in my world.  They need me.  (They are 22 and 18 now.  Adults, technically, but still my babies!)  I was a single Mom for years and we were a team.   I had drifted into the world of melanoma and I had stopped living.  I felt overwhelmed with the responsibility of my normal world and had a hard time making decisions after my diagnosis.  My fiance and I hardly spent any time together.  I didn't do anything with friends.   I decided that I needed to make a huge change back to being myself and I have not been happier!  I am their Mom again and it is my first priority.

I also have really spent some quality time on my photography business and it has made a huge difference!  Anyone that knows me, knows that my passion is photography.  When I was diagnosed, I went out and bought my camera I had always wanted, and started my photography business.  I am happy to say that I am devoting more time to my business and it has really paid off!  Some day I want to make it my full time job.  Working hard to make it happen has made me extremely happy!

I am still passionate about melanoma awareness.   I will never stop educating about melanoma and I will never stop sharing my story.  It is definitely something that is very close to my heart.  I have just decided that I need to take a lot more time to live my life. I am still around and I am not planning on leaving.  I just might be a little harder to find.