May is melanoma and skin cancer awareness and prevention month. The melanoma community is working to do some wonderful things for education and awareness. Last year I was blessed to have many people honor me by wearing black on melanoma Monday and it felt so good. This November at the annual local melanoma walk I had a large team of family, friends and co-workers supporting Team Mela-NO-mas. I feel like after almost five years of this journey, people are understanding melanoma better. They know it’s not “just” skin cancer. It first invaded a mole, then my lymph nodes, then my lungs and even my brain.
At this point, I am healthier than I have been in years and have real hope that I have a long future dealing with melanoma in more of a chronic disease relationship than a fatal disease. BUT that does not mean that I haven’t narrowly avoided a death sentence and may very well end up fighting for my life again. This fight has changed me in ways I never thought it would. I’m not sure if I will ever be able to communicate them. Daniel and I joke that I am “past my expiration date.” And boy am I thankful for that!
But this journey has left me restless. I am still frustrated that people close to me don’t “get it.” I see friends who have walked this journey at my side not wear sunscreen or complain to me about tan lines. It’s pretty obvious when I go to the park with them and they put sunscreen on their kids (just because I’m there) none of them are in the habit of applying it daily. Celebrating tans or complaining about tan lines developed on vacation is like rubbing salt in my wounds. And while I try to find peace with their choice, to be honest, it feels belittling to my journey. There ARE things they can do to protect themselves and their children from this disease and when they don’t take those steps, it’s tough not to take it personally.
For all my frustrations, there are people getting the message. I do have friends who diligently slather sunscreen on their kids and themselves daily. I have friends who have stopped tanning because of my story. I have friends who have had skin checks and avoided a late stage diagnosis like mine.
This month there are some wonderful campaigns going on. There are clever slogans and moving videos. I will be sharing many of those. Many of my fellow warriors are sharing their own stories. But this year, I’m not asking you to wear black for me. I’m asking you to learn from my journey to hell and back. Change your habits. Protect yourself from the sun. Check your skin. Check your kids. Make a derm appointment. Work to change your perception of a healthy glow to undamaged and protected skin. Try a new sunscreen to make it easier to wear. Do one thing for YOU and your family. I’ll wear black for me. If you wear black, do it for you, but don’t make that the only thing you do.