Veteran’s Day and Military Brats

Yes, I’m one of those military brats. Lots of memories I could share but mostly today is a day to remember the veterans. My father, a young World War II vet rarely spoke of his years overseas. I believe it to be a wild time for a young aircrewman, as well as a life-threatening time for a well-trained partner to the pilot in two-seater. He and his pilot, an intricate team, working closely both physically and mentally to carry out missions, to come out alive.

Sounds of Silence Or What I Missed in the Quiet

Yikes! Dad was a gunner in that war. I don’t remember when I first learned of this but I know it confused me. How could this sweet, funny, social, loving father have fought in the war, any war? My father rarely spoke of his years overseas so it took me a long time to understand.

You see, being a military brat for me was just:

  • moving ( a lot)
  • learning how to make friends and build community
  • knowing that Dad traveled often and around the globe
  • thinking of my father as a teacher; he taught air radio technology and navigation to young recruits and “weekend warriors”
  • realizing weekends with my Dad were rare and special

These were all things that happened AFTER his war years. For a long time, I didn’t even realize that my Dad was an unsung American war hero. Communication was not his strong suit and somehow, being a Navy brat meant going to strange Christmas parties on base, emphasis on NOT living on base, and wondering if Dad was on board the plane that flew so low and made the house shake.  I had little toys I packed in his suitcase so he would find my treasures when away. Wars were not part of my childhood understanding.

Lose Lips Sink Ships

You see I was a peace loving child of the 60’s, distraught to grow beyond the naivety of childhood and being to understand the atrocities of war through the black and white body bags of tv and Vietnam. Is this when I began to question what my father did in the war? Honestly, I have no recollection when I saw glimmers of what my father had sacrificed. Perhaps it was just the knowledge that her rarely spoke of his years overseas that said so very, very much.

I remember the carrier reunions of my youth, wild with conversation between the vets and more than a few drinks consumed, we kids ran wild, missing an opportunity to learn from the war discussions. I never learned anything at these parties, excepting perhaps that these veterans had much joy and sorrow shared, relationships like no other.

Over the years, my father began to share snippets about his active duty stints on the Essex, the Ranger, and the Randolph. Choosing never to climb the ranks, this veteran was in the cockpit, proud to be one of the best aircrew “white hats”. Different ships meant different pilots, training and building the comaraderie that would last a life time, the brotherhood of naval aviators.

My father felt life aboard the wartime carriers was “pretty good”.  As an enlisted aircrew, he didn’t have to stand watch, was paid $60-$90 extra a month for hazardous duty (in 1942), and was primarily off-duty when not on a mission. This all assuming you survived the rigors of war.

Heroes Among Us

My father was one of the lucky ones and fifty years after the war, he was recognized, along with 400 other vets and their wives, as the Yorktown dedicated an Enlisted Combat Aircrew Roll of Honor. This is not just enlisted crew from one war, but from several. If you are an American history buff, a visit to Patriot Point is well advised.

My siblings and I were included in this week of celebration, along with our parents, wartime friends of my father, and the one pilot of his that was still living. My father walked with a cane and oxygen down that aisle to see his engraved name along with others on the honor roll, tears streaming down his cheeks. Many of his buddies never lived for such an honor.

I know where my bravery and courage comes from and this pivotal moment with my father,  I understood. I truly understood. Yes, I’m still a peace-nic and believe in avoiding war at all costs. But in those silent tears, I felt the patriotism, the sorrow, the pain, the loss that was rarely mentioned.

My father protected our country, our rights, our freedoms. In humbly doing what he felt was right, my father quietly protected his family from the atrocities of war. My father believed we didn’t need to know the horror he lived with. At the ceremony, a fellow crewman,  Retired Captain Schultz stated the often heard phrase “Freedom is not free”.  I finally understood.

A plethora of medals, including two Distinguished Flying Crosses, were no longer hidden in his bureau. His flight logs and training maneuvers are kept at my brother’s, who has embraced my father’s military history. My brother recently revisited the Yorktown, a smaller display over the years, but a reminder of what our veterans sacrifice. Much of our father’s history went with him when he passed but we thank him for always protecting US.

Thank you all and may peace be with us all.

#VeteransDay #ThankYouVeterans #melanomatheskin #Freedomisnotfree

We can-cer vive,

Janis

PS The librarian in me just wants to mention a book that includes my father in it and is a strong depiction of airstrikes in the Pacific during World War II, Crommelin’s Thunderbirds by Lt. Cdr. Roy W. Bruce and Lt. Cdr. Charles R. Leonard

 

6 Things You May Not Know About Melanoma

Breaking News

Some of you may remember a time when breaking news meant something intensely serious was happening. When J.F.K. died I was watching some morning show while my Mother ironed (another concept that dates many of us!). I remember it vaguely as I was young; my mother was crying and that felt like breaking news, like something had broken because it had.

Breaking news today, well that’s an occurrence that we no longer pay attention to as it has lost it’s earnestness. Breaking news is everywhere, everyday and no longer has any significant value. That leaves each of us to determine what to watch, what not. Like the friend who is never quite honest, I’ve tired with the uncertainty of the news and the shortage of information, and the lunacy is abundant.

BUT…

Melanoma_Awareness_Ribbon_alternative
Watch for spots

There are things you may not know about metastatic melanoma, a type of skin cancer, and I feel it is breaking news to inform you with a few short hits on what we know at this point. I save the most interesting for last so keep reading! There are many misconceptions about melanoma, so here’s a basic list of health information:

  1. Melanoma is deadly so be sure to be aware of the abcde’s of melanoma. Do skin checks and be #sunsmart.
  2.  Basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma are considered non-melanoma skin cancers. Read about them here at Web MD. While they are skin cancers, they do not turn into melanoma.
  3. Cancer resources for skin related disease can be found in online resources such as the American Academy of Dermatology Association. The photos may help but don’t let that be your guide. Like the shirt that you bought online that turned out to be a completely different color, your skin cancer may not look like digital photos.Be wise and see a dermatologist in person.
  4.  Depending on the staging, melanoma is not a quick surgical removal. Possibilities include excision, plastic surgery, nuclear dyes (the most painful thing ever) to find lymph node drainage, radiation, and a plethora of scans and tests.
  5. Pay attention to the UV Index – the sun is powerful!

And Here It Is…The REAL Breaking News!

   6. Melanoma does NOT react positively in chemo treatment.

Yeah, that’s the big news. it may be used to relieve symptoms of this aggressive disease, most commonly for Stage IV patients. Cancer treatment is equated to chemotherapy and guess what? That’s not always true! I’ve had people say things like:

  • “Wow! You must be getting a light dose. You haven’t lost your hair”
  • “You look really healthy compared to other people I know who’ve been on chemo”
  • “Why are you fatigued if you’re not receiving chemotherapy?”

My cancer-related fatigue is from a clinical trial that I participate in and I receive the drug Yervoy. The study compares Yervoy to other drugs such as Keytruda used for metastatic melanoma. At this time, there is no cure for melanoma and I hope that in participating in this immunotherapy research, that someday there will be a drug or series of drugs that can reduce the death rate for others, and not be filled with risks and side effects.

Visually, I do look like myself and I believe I will heal. Fatigue is intense at times; not that I need to nap but I feel like the a horse pulling thousand pound weights most days. Aches are challenging me more over time, and I’ve been offered steroids to alleviate the pain. I’m not ready to put more drugs into this soupy/saucy mix but I’m close.

Every day is a great day. I only mention some of the melanoma cancer tips because there are many misconceptions. There’s a lot going on inside some of us though it may not show! I’ve learned to not judge a book by it’s cover in a medical sense now that I have medical turmoil within. Inspiration also comes from within, so look beyond all the cancer craziness, find your courage, and bring that to the surface and let it shine! #melanomatheskin #getnaked #melanoma #cancer #yervoy

Thanks for signing up and please do share your thoughts as this is how we learn, grow, and find hope!

We can-cer vive!

Janis

 

 

Seeing Spots

In the Beginning

Start, stop, start, stop. I began this blog post two months ago and basically, haven’t been able to get past the title. Melanoma is a game changer for sure. All types of skin cancer are formidable foes, and how do you do skin checks without letting it rule your life and your mind? I’m delving in to a bit of my cancer history here…the beginning and a tougher place to bring myself than I realized.

My first diagnosis was in 2015, after noticing and watching an area on my left cheek for a few months. It didn’t look particularly “stand-out, hey I’m different” and comparing my spot with online photos, well, don’t bother is my advice. Use your sunsmarts and get screened for anything worrisome; digital diagnosis is virtual, not real.

Another day, I’ll talk more about surgeries, treatments, radiation, clinical trials, and all that “fun” that is how we live now.  Today’s blog is about looking for unusual spots. That little area on my cheek wasn’t all that different than all the other spots. I mean, we all have our spots, right?

For me, the area felt different to the touch, an internal hmmmm that left me wondering “IF” something was going on. Going for a routine physical, I mentioned it to my doctor.  She felt it was nothing but worthy of a biopsy, so off to the local dermatologist I went.

X Marks the Spot

The call, the one we never want to get, never ever…came less than two weeks after the punch biopsy. The doctor, grave and concerned, informed me of the melanoma and that he could set up appointments with an oncologist and surgeon.

Yes, that was the start of my journey with cancer. We cancer patients all have our stories, our moment of truth, that one conversation.  The c-word that turns so many of our worlds upside down. Health information came from all directions. Phone calls and appointments were quickly scheduled. The dreaded health insurance queries ensued.

A lifetime of sun was now encapsulated in a tiny spot in my left cheek or possibly racing through my body; the belief that I would never have skin cancer stared me down in the mirror every day with a small,  purplish spot. Grateful that the carcinoma was right there staring at me, I wonder if I would have found it if it had been in a less obvious place?

Learning the Alphabet

A basic guideline, the Melanoma Research Foundation lists the ABCDE’s of melanoma with photos. Again, I would note this is not the gospel of diagnosis.  My spot looked nothing like these photos and only minor areas of note in the listing of ABCDE’s:

abcs.jpg

I do think the guideline is just that, a guide to start your understanding of skin cancer. Cancer tips can be sketchy so go with your gut. The one thing I would note is that my first spot was purple, just a faint purple color-enough so that I noticed it was not like the freckles, skin spots, or scars. So the letter C was relevant for me.

DSC00868
In hindsight, the letter C for Color and the letter E for Evolving were relevant with my first melanoma diagnosis. However, I wasn’t even aware of the guidelines.

The letter E, evolving, became present over time.  It was very slight but my spot was changing. I noticed it sometimes, again, a slight feeling in my cheek. Indescribable, something just felt different.

Blind Spot

Because I was always healthy and had no concerns. I was quite sure I didn’t have skin cancer; it really wasn’t possible. Until, it all was possible and not only did I have skin cancer, I had the deadly kind, melanoma. Courage came later.

Have a spot that looks different to you? Know that you have skin damage? Have you spent a lot of time outside? Get a skin check done by a dermatologist. Many people do this annually now. Don’t wait because melanoma is not just on the surface; it buries deeply into your tissue.  The deeper the cancer, the more challenging the treatment.

Spot On!

Ending on a positive note, a dear friend and another freckle face, was very concerned and supportive at my first diagnosis. As a retired nurse, it also turned out she was a bit concerned about her own bespeckled self. In talking one day, she confessed, “I’m looking at every friggin’ freckle and mole I have, thanks to you,  Janis. That’s a lot of work for a retired person!” Gotta love her!

DSC01598

Yes, give those spots due diligence and #getnaked.  Screening and early detection matter for all skin types. Leave paranoia behind and enjoy life sensibly. I’d love to hear how often you do skin checks and what you use as your guide? #melanoma #melanomatheskin #cancer

We can-cer vive!

Janis