Thursday, March 13, 2014

Worth it?

Yesterday it was so windy that when Avery and I tried to walk Ivy, she physically couldn't walk straight. Bless her 2 pound heart but I just couldn't be inside! The crisp breeze was just warm enough to give me visions of summer days spent on the lake. It's so close I can smell the sunscreen! Of course, today, I'm back in a bedazzled sweater because this weather just can't make up it's mind but I promise, warm days are here to stay soon... all the ads in my inbox for bikini sales aren't letting me forget! 

Speaking of bikinis... or in my case these days... tankinis.... remember when I wrote a post about how I'm seriously considering buy a long sleeve, Duggar Family style, Lands End because I'm apparently now middle age, swim top? Well, I wasn't kidding. My new found affection for not getting cancer...again... made me think of a friend of mine who is passionate about this very subject! 

I met Cayce through my husband who worked some with her husband doing computer things that I don't understand but I DO know what they ate for lunch. You've heard of ladies who lunch? Well they are men who lunch... on wings and other man food. Cayce is a blond, curly headed, avid runner and cyclist so we're pretty much the same person.... except completely opposite... but we have 3 major things in common. We love God, our families and are cancer survivors. I asked Cayce to share her story because, frankly, we all need this reminder with warm, sunny days ahead... and because a friend told me she went to the tanning bed the other day... you know who you are!!!! 
I’ve always had a penchant for talking no matter the subject.  I enjoy a good debate because I love going head to head with an opponent in a good, hearty argument.  But it wasn’t until the last 8 years that I truly began to feel like I had a platform from which I could share, and share passionately, about a cause in which I truly believe.

I spent the first 5 years of my life in Orlando, FL.  We all but lived on the water doing everything water related; swimming, fishing, sunbathing, etc.  When I wasn’t on a boat, I was running around the yard in a bathing suit, or shorts and tank top.  I have blond hair, blue eyes, and very fair skin.  I barely remember a time that I wasn’t “sun kissed.”  I very clearly recall many blistering sunburns, the pain they caused, and my mother rubbing me down with aloe from our very own aloe plant. 

As a young teenager, my sister and I would slather on baby oil and lay in the sun for HOURS!!  She always walked away feeling satisfied with her bronzed skin; I walked away hopeful that after the blisters appeared and my skin itched and peeled, that I would have at least a tiny little something to show for all the misery that I knew would surely come. 

When I got my driver’s license, the first thing on my agenda was to visit the tanning bed.  All of my friends were going and had a base tan that seemed to help them in a couple of ways.  First of all, it seemed to help their popularity status.  Considering I was average and often overlooked (I wasn’t an athlete, I wasn’t exceptionally smart or good looking), I firmly believed that getting that elusive tan would help me get noticed.  Secondly, their base tan seemed to helped them get even MORE tan when they laid out in the sun.  That was it!  I was going to be popular AND tan.  I could hardly wait.  I started small; I laid in the tanning bed once a week for just a few minutes, but increased my time with each visit.  It didn’t take long to see results, but it wasn’t exactly the effect I was going for.  Instead of a golden glow, I looked more like a strawberry.  Once the redness faded, I was just as white as before.  Most people would have given it up, but not me.  I was determined!  I kept going to the tanning bed and worked my way up to the full 20 minute time limit.  Sadly, the end result was the same.  I stayed a nice shade of red for longer than I can remember, and never acquired that infamous base tan I’d heard my friends brag about.  When I wasn’t laying in the tanning bed I was still slathering on the baby oil and laying out in the yard.  I can very distinctly remember driving to my aunt’s house, pulling out a big quilt and an AM/FM radio, and laying out with her for hours just singing our hearts out and getting baked.  Good times.

In November 2004, I was engaged to be married, and was at David’s Bridal trying on a wedding dress.  As I turned around to check out the back and the train, I noticed a dark spot about the size of a pencil eraser right in the middle of my back.  My biggest concern came more from vanity than health.  I made an appointment with a dermatologist, and he didn’t seem too worried about it.  In fact, he was just going to leave it.  At my request he went ahead and removed the spot and sent it off for a biopsy.  His parting words to me were, “No news is good news.”  Less than two weeks later, he called to tell me that my biopsy results were back.  Melanoma.  Cancer.  My world stopped.  I couldn’t breathe.  I had no idea what it all meant, but I knew cancer wasn’t good.  I turned to my trusty friend Google.  I don’t recommend that, by the way.  Ultimately, I was very lucky.  I had surgery to remove all of the tissue around the tumor site and a handful of lymph nodes removed.  My melanoma was caught early.  A few years later, the matriarch of my family, my Granny, wouldn’t be so fortunate.

In December 2008, Granny went to the doctor for what appeared to be an infected wound on the bottom of her foot.  After a series of antibiotics, antifungal medications and debridement treatments failed to work, she had a biopsy.  When the results came back, we were floored.  Melanoma.  She underwent a relatively new procedure at Duke University Hospital in May 2009 and we felt like she was on her way to recovering, but by September she just wasn’t feeling very well.  Her doctor admitted her to the hospital and on the morning of Thursday, September 17th she was taken down for a PET scan to determine if her cancer had spread and how far.  That evening her oncologist delivered unimaginable news.  The melanoma had metastasized throughout her body.  He said the PET scan lit up like a Christmas tree.  Granny, 78 years young, had just weeks to live.  On September 27, 2009 at 3:15 AM, the strongest woman I knew took her last breath. 

Somewhere in the course of my grief, I knew that I couldn’t be silent anymore.  If you spend enough time around me, you quickly learn that my passion is Melanoma Awareness.  It is the most preventable cancer.  According to, just one indoor tanning session increases a users’ chances of developing melanoma by 20%, and each additional session during the same year boosts the risk almost another 2%.  People who first use a tanning bed before age 35 increase their risk for melanoma by a whopping 75%!

On average, one person dies of melanoma every 57 minutes.  Survivors of melanoma are about nine times as likely as the general population to develop a new melanoma.  A person’s risk for melanoma doubles if he or she has had more than five sunburns, and one or more blistering sunburns in childhood or adolescence more than double a person’s chance of developing melanoma later in life.

I visit the dermatologist every 6 months, and likely will continue to do so for the rest of my life.  My doctor knows me by name now.  I have had more biopsies than I can count.  I was recently diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma and underwent a procedure to remove all of that cancerous tissue.  This is my life, for the REST of my life.

I read an article recently that was written by a young woman who is dying from melanoma.  In her story she matter-of-factly stated that she paid to be in the position she’s in.  That really resonated with me.  I paid for this.  I paid to hear the words “You have melanoma.”  I will leave you with this final thought:

Would you pay for breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, or colon cancer?  No.  So why pay for melanoma?  Protect the skin you’re in.  It’s the only skin you get.


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