The woman you’re meeting today is not the woman you met a few years ago. Thank God my husband loves us both. I relished my first, carefully planned, meticulous life with rules to obey, expectations to follow, risk reductions and certainties, but my second life is much more free! Since 2015, I’ve evolved 180 degrees from early bird to night owl, juice bars to happy hour, walking the beach to hiking mountains, long hair to short, county employee to entrepreneur and from choosing the smoothest pavement most taken to peeling right off the road. As trite as it sounds, I suppose the inciting event was a horrific break up. One that I just can’t shake.
The Sun is my oldest and dearest friend. She carries the wisdom of antiquity and strength to nurture all life as the epicenter of our universe. She was there for me as a toddler riding on the back of my mom’s fat bottomed tires down Daytona Beach, when I would race through the woods pretending my Schwinn was actually a horse named Wildfire, through every high school marching band practice, warmed my muscles while running stairs as a Predator cheerleader, glistened against my groom on our wedding day and illuminated the faces of our beautiful boys in the sandbox as babies or pitching from the clay as adolescents.
Before the time of adapters, energy drinks or Starbucks, She was my all natural, gratis afternoon re-charging station. After all nighters cramming for college finals, sleepless nights of nursing, exhausting days teaching high school, hectic rush hour carpools and 24/7 “momming,” She replenished my spirit and provided solace in her radiance. Even our pug puppy was smitten with her, curling up on the small of my back as we basked on our bellies.
Alas, the Sun is my newest and deadliest foe. Manifested as an infinitesimal black freckle, She obliterated my world. She now carries the power to ignite latent Melanoma lurking in my largest organ and She reminds me, daily, of her power to melt my full throttle active days into couch potato mush after having a chunk of lethal flesh removed. My ex-BFF awakens me every morning and taunts me throughout the day with swords disguised as rays of sunshine.
I used to throw on a tank top and shorts to dash out the door into Her welcoming arms. Now, I carefully slather on a base layer of sunscreen and swath myself in UPF fabric, grab my bag holding the daytime essentials: gloves, hat, umbrella and UV sunglasses before reaching the garage. I climb in behind the 3M tinted windshield to face her mischievous smile.
I used to wear bikinis and flip flops, watch kid’s games, pull weeds, mow the lawn, run for miles, walk the dogs, pick up groceries, drop off dry cleaning, meet friends for lunch, drive to work, take nieces and nephews to the playground, linger outside the gym or yoga studio with others for the latest fitness tips, wait for Uber, ride bicycles all day, have picnics in the park, go to theme parks, celebrate the Fourth of July on the beach and hold hands with my husband, outside. I had the normal every day stresses of parenting, work, family, bills, schedules and such, but I had peace of mind....as in, I wasn’t under imminent attack.
Now, every moment spent in the sunlight, whether from behind paned glass or under a reflective parasol, I choose to honor my enemy. I show Her respect when I wear jeans and boots, select the chair in the shade, politely shorten all day pool or ocean side outings to late afternoons, refrain from noon time full sun gatherings and anticipate having little bits of suspicious tissue punched out, quarterly. My husband jokes that it’s my “weight loss plan, one ounce at a time.” But every time a biopsy returns pre-cancerous, or benign, we celebrate that I’m ahead of it, that our efforts are being rewarded. Why surrender to the Sun this complete? Because, I’ve witnessed the ravages of chemotherapy and if faced with it, I plan to “opt out.”
All this change and mental anguish from the bitter betrayal of my best friend. Yet, I was a lucky one.
I caught a glimpse of the Sun’s blow while shaving my legs and noticed a brand new freckle. I called my dermatologist’s office and was notified they were running about three months out. I begged the receptionist to put me on the wait list. During our conversation, divine intervention joined in. “A cancellation just popped up on my screen. Can you be here tomorrow at 10:00 a.m?”
The next morning, Dr. Jerri Johnson, examined the spot under magnification and explained to her intern how even though it was a tiny mark, it demonstrated the classic ABCDEs of Melanoma. She also noted that when a patient notices a new mark, take it serious. We know our skin better than anyone. Thank God Dr. Johnson heeded my concerns. She conducted a biopsy and called me with the results that Sunday night and scheduled a major excision, followed by “Margins are clear,” one of the most jubilant phrases in the English language.
I neither suffered the ravages of chemo nor the daily pinprick of Interferon injections. I was not left disfigured or eulogized, yet the first year was psychological warfare. I searched for counselors, support groups and fellow survivors, but none existed.
Every conversation mirrored this one with my own Dad.
“Hmmm, my golfing buddy had Melanoma, years ago.”
“Really? Where was it? How is he?”
Awkward pause. “He’s dead....it killed him....pretty quick, now that I think about it.”
The Sun? Really? That was the trigger for my cancer?
A lung cancer survivor could avoid smoke.
An alcoholic could avoid booze.
A heart attack patient could avoid fatty foods.
Just cut it out? Remove the affected organ? I couldn’t be skinned alive.
How could I avoid the Sun?
How could a fish swim in water without getting wet?
How could a bird flap its wings without hitting air?
How could I rejoin normal outdoor life after learning the Sun poised herself to be my demise?
Solving this conundrum became my initial obsession, followed by clarity of purpose. I am ending Melanoma....one tail at a time.
I’m grateful the love of my life allowed me to cope the best I could and hung on tight with me through this diagnosis that upended our entire way of life. After all, it wasn’t just my diagnosis. It was ours.
Don’t let it be yours or your children’s diagnosis.
Please join me in my quest. Purchase sun safe clothing for yourself and loved ones. Wear it! Educate your kids, build sun safe habits with style and live life to the fullest, most of us only get one.