April Fools

jester

Just a quick jog here and hope it make some sun sense to you! Many of us are sun worshippers and hooray, here comes the sun again! We love the tan, we love the warmth, the beach or boat or outdoor adventure- our happy place. Plants grow and it’s proven that light makes us happy. All good, right?

Yes, it is, even for metastatic melanoma patients like myself. I’d like to help you avoid the medical scene that is now incorporated into our lives. Yes, we absolutely live our lives with hope, courage, and the inspiration that each breaking dawn brings. How happy I am to be here!

Inside Joke

Mistakes were made no doubt, though I also will give those of us that are older sun cancer patients the excuse that we didn’t know better. I also know many people don’t realize that skin cancer can be deadly. Yes, it’s not always as simple as removing a basal cell. I feel a bit foolish in hindsight to think of how little I knew…until I had to learn a lot in order to live. Don’t choose to ignore today’s knowledge.

Sun damage holds its history in the folds of your skin; those searing burns  where your nose was always peeling, it hurt to put on a bra, or you had blisters from a trip to warmer climes and intense sun are all stored history. Remember the Coppertone logo with the white butt baby with tan skin in the very brown container? We all craved that tan and now we have that potential melanoma history, both of us.

april fool 2

For years, sunscreen was not even a viable option; sunscreen was non-existent for many of us. Over time, I did use it on my nose which had seen so much burning and used it on my kids moderately. As years went by, I wore hats, covered up after a certain amount of sun time, and I felt good about the protection. After all, we all looked better tan and healthy, right?

Did you use tanning beds to give you that healthy tan OR as I use to do, tan before a warm weather trip? My logic was that I would use tanning beds so I wouldn’t burn on the trip…a base tan so that I would be able to be out and soaking up the sun on our vacation adventures. I truly was careful with non-excessive tanning and believed it was the safest way to not burn when traveling about. It now sounds so UNreasonable and whatever your reason it’s time to reconsider because next time it could be a radiation table as part of  adjuvant treatment.

The Joke’s On You (Or Pay Attention To Medical Information)

Knowledge about all cancers is developing faster than we can imagine. Is there a cure-all? No, but today, in relation to melanoma, the medical cancer research is finding more options for surgery, radiation, infusion, and each step is one closer to cure. Melanoma patients have a chance to live longer where at one time it was a certain death sentence. Those of us with metastatic melanoma now walk a tight rope, finding balance in our lives and hope in our cancer treatment.

a fool

I consider all that I’ve learned about this disease to be necessary to my life and truth be told, I would not have paid attention because it wasn’t relevant to me. Now, it stares me in the face every time I look in the mirror, my freckle face, pale and cancer free (we hope). I also have facial scars, I no longer remember how many, 6 perhaps, that serve as a road map to the land of the living. Never ashamed of those lines, I simply consider them my road to healing.

Practical (Joking Aside)

Beyond the medical knowledge that keeps me alive, is the desire to create a new culture of sun safety. I’m not going to be hiding inside and here are some sensible things to do as the warmer days come along:

  1.  Stay away from tanning beds-super dangerous
  2. Wear sunscreen
  3. Wear SPF clothing or layers
  4. Bring and wear the sunglasses
  5. Create shade areas whether at the beach or at home-use them
  6. Limit your time in deep sun
  7. Check the UV ratings every day
  8. Use umbrellas and sun tents some, glare from water and sand add to your sun exposure
  9. Create a list of your sun gear and have it at the ready so when the next sun adventure happens you can be ready
  10. Adventure after dark
  11. Promote this sun culture with others, sign up, and share my blog;)
  12. Have #sunsmarts fun, be practical, andlaugh neon light signage turned on

No Joke

The sun is strong this time of year and stronger yet to come. For winter adventures, sun screen matters and so it does now, RIGHT NOW! Cloudy days, it matters. Think your dark skin means you won’t get melanoma, talk to me about the people of all colors in the melanoma waiting room at Dana Farber Melanoma Center.  Create habits, remind loved ones, and develop a culture of sun safety.

Every single one of us has the possibility of melanoma in our skin history,right this moment. We also have options to be #sunsmart365 right this moment. We need to change the culture of what beauty is, how to love and enjoy our sun time, and to spread the word on how we can avoid being #AprilFools .    #melanomatheskin   #naturalskinrocks #MondayMorning  #sunsmarts #melanoma

ducks
Happy April Fool’s Day! “Make Way for Ducklings” in their Spring bonnets! Remember to learn from your mistakes and carry the knowledge of today with you (while wearing a hat, of course! xo

We can-cer vive!

Janis

 

 

“Becoming”, by Michelle Obama…And Our Becoming

hands

Let It Be

Whoa! Amazing how time gets away from us. I’ve known I wanted to post in my blog, that I needed time to just let it be, and that other priorities had precedence. Not making excuses as it’s just the way it is! I find that I am always doing something so what the heck? Time can be such a game player!

Time seems to run from us, doesn’t it? And here I am, working on my melanoma and keeping stress to a minimum, part of a personal plan to keep life in balance while on a clinical trial drug called Yervoy. Creating space to improve my medical status has left me more challenged with time than when I raised my children, worked, and continued my education…all at the same time!

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Becoming

Becoming takes on different meanings for all of us but truly brings us all to a place for vision, action, reflection, and hopefully life growth through the process. It reminds me a bit of literacy grants and projects where ideas are born, nurtured and loved, to one day take flight while we evaluate the success (and failures) of such work. I’ve applied this a bit to life as it is now….becoming.

So, have you read Becoming by Michelle Obama? I am a stickler with reviews because, well, some books just don’t do it for me! However, Becoming is a book I love. In a time when life seems hard (not written to be a bummer at all, but really there are some awful things happening around the globe), this book gave me hope and was a very enjoyable read!

becoming

Divided into three parts, the reader learns first about Michelle growing up, then as a forward thinking career woman who is a wife and mother, and lastly, as the First Lady who puts all she’s got into doing everything to the best of her ability.  She is so real and so honest in her depiction that at times I cringed to think about obstacles she had to overcome and the hard work she has put in to her life.

Neither stuck in the politics or the travesties in life, this book speaks about all of us, about our dreams, about our hard work. Hope does spring eternal and this is the perfect time to be reminded of this.

Love, education, and determination are three of the dominant themes that I found throughout Becoming. Fascination with this book really set in when I realized that these are the same things are central to my life, to most of our lives. I’ve read several books lately (when I should have been blogging!), but this book has stayed with me because of the hope that gets us through and beyond challenges of life.

Be-autiful

Cancer is there. Even if cured, we cancer patients will always wonder, ever so slightly about that one rogue cell. For many of us, we wonder if treatment is harder than the disease!  Reading positive books might just be another variation of meditation that leads to inspiration. What books have inspired you lately? Let me know in the comments! I’m always looking for more great reads!

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Life is about becoming, the process does not end. Above is a worn piece of paper, a quote that long ago helped me through a tough time. It’s place was on the fridge and ironically, I stumbled upon it the other day buried in a bureau drawer, a beautiful reminder of earlier lessons learned. I’m not religious but it never hurts to recognize how far we’ve come. Becoming: it’s for me, it’s for you, it’s for all of us. We’re doing just fine! #becoming #bookreview #melanomatheskin #cancer #melanoma #naturalskinrocks #skincancer #wecancervive

We can-cervive!

Janis

 

6 Suggestions for Giving Tuesday

AWOL

I know, I’ve been absent for a while…longer than I want to consider

colorful costume monster mask
Melting down around 5 pm every day!

It’s been a tough run with Yervoy for the clinical trial I’m on. For whatever reason, my energy levels, which are not good, are less than non-existent. I’m putting up a great front though feel like the melting witch on the inside!

Immunotherapy would make me believe I have a super immune system, charging those T-cells to the infinite degree. I guess not because I’m coming down with a cold. Totally was hoping I was invincible, but hey, it’s good to know I’m still human even with all these chemicals racing to catch and kill cancer cells.

Upcycling Life

Enough of that. I’ve always been big on giving back, paying forward, or upcycling life. There, does that cover all the current lingo?!!!! Caring about others needs to be part of our lives every day. Kindness rules and with the crazy, scary world we live in, I truly believe that our goodness and love can win out. So do it every day, every way.

thank you heart text
Doing good for others brings joy to our lives.

Today is Giving Tuesday. Being the draggy person I am, I’m thinking about my donation giving for the holidays but might not get to it today. That’s okay. If you are able, do it! I actually give to two groups for our Moms; you see our Moms don’t need a lot and are incredibly hard to shop for anyway. THE Moms love donations that we make to either Camp Sunshine or the Children’s Literacy Foundation. Vicariously, they too, are paying it forward.

I’ve created a small list of organizations that are near and dear to me. I have connections with each of them so feel free to ask me about them if you want to hear from a person on what they do. I love your comments! I share this with you as I’m not working much these days and hope that you might just find one that works for you. My favs include:

  1. Camp Sunshine -an amazing retreat for families with terminally ill children offering smiles and love
  2. Children’s Literacy Foundation -an amazing literacy foundation that encourages the love of reading with children
  3. Dana Farber Cancer Institute -a world class medical facility that also cares for children with cancer
  4. Hope Lodge, Burlington, VT -one of many Hope Lodge housing options around the U.S. for cancer patients
  5. Hospitality Homes -a Boston-based program that offers housing to those requiring medical treatment
  6. Your local library -what a great way to keep on giving when you donate to your library and ask that it be used for books…it keeps on giving!

And please do ask about my connection with each of these worthy organizations!

Giving Life, An Attitude of Gratitude

If you are thinking about donating money or time somewhere, hooray to you! Money may seem a cold, callous gift but it’s not when you consider how costly medical situations can be. Cancer patients hold their heads high, but whoa, the financial strain is tough! Let me know of your favorite places to volunteer or donate money. Positive begets positive in this life! Inspiration comes in giving!

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We all do what we can. If your Giving Tuesday is as simple as opening a door, calling a friend, or smiling as you walk past a stranger, it’s all important to making this world a better place. And then make it a Giving Week which leads to a Giving Month which leads to a Giving Life. #melanoma #cancer #GivingTuesday #melanomatheskin #GivingLife #Wecancervive #volunteer #upcycling #LoveTrumpsHate

We can-cer vive!

Janis

Melanoma and Self-Deceit Among Us

beach

Warning! Content is Meant to Scare YOU!

Skin cancer is no big deal, right? I believed this as I continued to love beach days, boat days, and time outside from the moment I was born until a few years ago. I truly thought that I would never have skin cancer and if I did, it could just be removed in the doctor office and back to the beach we go!

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Another melanoma excision, May 2017.

Metastatic melanoma is deadly; more than that, the things we cancer patients go through should be enough to scare everyone out of the sun. Multiple surgeries, embarrassing spot checks with a group of dermatologists, knowledgeable oncologists recommending radiation to live, and choosing to be part of a clinical trial as there is no known cure for this disease. Does any of that freak you out?

Ignorance is Bliss

I’m hoping it does! It’s not me wishing you any of what’s become my norm, NONE OF IT! What I’ve noticed is that ignorance is bliss when it comes to melanoma. There is some sort of selective hearing; mostly, I find the family and friends can’t deal. I never preach, I never tell others what to do. I think I might be the poster child for what can go wrong and  people don’t want to be reminded.

bliss

I still go to the beach, I still love the beach. Sanctuary, balance, and peace are found listening to the surf, watching the waves. I do it differently now. Beyond the usual sunscreen,  I wear SPF clothing. If sitting, I keep moving position even though I’m under an umbrella. Yes, I even have a shade tent. I PACK…for the beach.

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Still my happy place but with modifications.

Sounds a bit much?  This is life with melanoma. I tend to go to the beach for walks now versus the day. Cloudy days are my favorite. I check the UV index often, not out of paranoia but I consider it knowledge for my day. My love of boating is painfully not fulfilled any more. Spot checks and clinical trial fatigue are the norm.

finger to rightMelanoma, Normal-No-Morefinger to left

Does this sound extreme?  This is nothing compared to what I and others been through at Dana Farber Cancer Institute. This is my life, no complaints as I’m so very happy to be here! Whether patient like Kevin S. Anderson who believed his melanoma was one and done, or me learning to live differently with the hope of many more years, lessons about skin cancer are costly.

Life changing forever, melanoma is now part of me. While I am disease free (YES!), cancer brings a whole new mind set and melanoma a whole new lifestyle. Please consider what you can do to incorporate sun safety into your life.  Sensible measures may save you from life altering melanoma.

Read about melanoma. Educate yourself about melanoma. Be afraid, be sun shy. Stay alive! And thanks for signing up to follow my blog! I love to hear from you in the comments!

We can-cer vive!

Janis

#melanomatheskin   #cancer  #sunsmart  #sunsavvy365 #melanoma

Vote Early, Vote Often

***I’ve decided to post this again. Infusion last week, fatigue this week. Please vote, whatever you believe in! It’s how democracy works! Elections matter!

Feeling the Blow

I’m already breaking a political promise; I vowed this blog wouldn’t get into my political beliefs. So like all those running for office, not all promises are kept! You see sometimes life changes our platforms, whether we approve or not! I’ve voted and hope you participate on November 6th if not before. I’d love to hear your thoughts on politics, voting, or cancer. Comments are encouraged and discussion most welcome!

boxer

After years of great health, I was dealt the first melanoma blow in 2015.  Determined not to have it be a knock out, I came back fighting. Until things didn’t feel right to me again, a facial excision left an area tender; my old boxing injury I joked. Except  something wasn’t right and I needed to believe in myself, to fight.

The Main Event (Round Two)

ring 2

Doctors didn’t believe me and so time went by; we cancer patients have a love-hate relationship with time. (We want more of it, though hate it when it means waiting on test results). Finally, I requested a biopsy; metastatic melanoma again and recommendations that we now go to the medical epi-center of Boston, Dana Farber Cancer Institute being our choice. I was in the big ring now.

I’ve mentioned my cancer before and will again, but not in the context of politics. I could be the poster child for pre-existing conditions. My skin, like yours, holds onto its history; its damage, whether it be sun or other sources is pre-existing. My metastatic melanoma could have happened as a child, or just a few years ago. It’s been two hard punches to the left side of my face.

So, my pre-existing condition just may have been lurking for years, waiting for the optimum conditions to let cancer, medical diagnosis, doctors and dermatologists, become the new normal in my life. I’ve always listened to my physical being, but we cancer patients feel we’re caught cold when going another round. Pre-existing, why yes I am!

boxing 1

Saved By The Bell

Think pre-existing conditions aren’t relevant to you? Yes, I gratefully thought that previous to 2015. I agree that we want to cultivate hope and inspiration, not worry about the what-ifs that can drag us down with a one-two punch.  And any given day, you may be in a bout for your life, for your medical treatment.

Insurance discussion is a constant in our home, at our table now. I’m the lucky one because we have insurance to cover my clinical trial drug for now. At some point, we are going to make a decision on insurance expenses and/or treatment. Decisions are regularly made by people who can’t afford insurance premiums. Long before my health issues, I was deeply affected by those I love making tough life choices based on medical expense.

We Are The Champions

So, yeah! Vote early, vote often, but whatever you do vote! We’ve all fallen to the canvas a few times, all taken a few sucker punches. Life is like that. However you vote, at least you’re making a decision to participate, to get up and fight for what you believe in. An outcome, the decision, will be heard; if you vote, you’ve put it out there, given it your best shot!

Contenders, all of us, with our concerns and passions. Believe in yourself, have courage, and stay in the ring. There has never been a more important time to fill out a ballot. Voting is super easy and vitally important. I’ve taken to voting absentee; bringing the ballot home to research the questions and candidates more closely. Vote, vote, vote for what matters to you on November 6th (and wear your sunscreen;).

Next time, I promise not to talk politics. “And if you believe that, I’ve got a bridge…”!

#melanomatheskin #vote #melanoma #cancer #sunsavvy365 #Tuesdaythoughts #election

We can-cer vive!

Janis

What’s In Your…Backpack?

Just a quick note as I prepare for my next infusion…that alone is an assumption! There will be blood tests, spot checking, scans, and evaluations. It’s a time of mixed emotions; I always hope that I pass with flying colors and get the immunotherapy that may be saving my life, I also feel the anxiety of what might not be okay.

I’d really love comments from others on what you do when faced with challenges ahead. Do you take that nervous energy and just go out and have fun? Or do you take on a project to keep your mind and body busy, expending dark energy? Do you get lost in your worry?

And That’s Why It’s Called a Nervous “WRECK”!

A few days out from the process and it’s a rainy day. The beach walk I thought I’d squish in this morning was given a literal “rain check”. Travel bags are now packed, some small projects completed, and next up will be the cats! Wow, to the World Series but it also means no more Red Sox to keep me inspired. I prefer to have bills paid and administrative duties completed. Clean sheets are always a good thing. Diversion, good! Nervous? Hell, yes!DSC01632

All of this seems silly but in having things in order for now, I expend some tension. Doing that leaves more room for things I will need while at Dana Farber Cancer Institute; it’s my emotional backpack. We all have them and when cancer treatment is imminent,  it’s important to NOT fill my emotional backpack with negativity, nervousness, and worry.

Get Ready (by The Temptations)

Here’s a brief list of what I will put in my emotional backpack:

  • belief in a tomorrow
  • courage
  • hope
  • inspiration
  • integrity
  • love

Hokey as hell but in putting in positive feelings, there is less room for the emotions that drag one down. Sure, they are there (those scary thoughts), and yes, when I walk into the medical facility there is a pit in my stomach. Metastatic melanoma, stage III, is one deadly disease. I’m well versed in what I’m up against.

Choosing to bring all those positive emotions and desires with me gives me strength, strength to get through a long day.  I put a positive spin on something I never thought would be a part of my life; I believe that I’m part of something bigger and that satisfies my soul. Cancer research is imperative and clinical trials matter.

Balancing Act

Balance will be skewed on my medical day, no doubt. There is no way to discount the possibility of a questionable scan, bloodwork values, or other concerns. This is how those cancer cells are found, this is the chance we cancer patients have. Packing the positives in my emotional bag become the bulwark for whatever this trip brings.

Exhausting, the Yervoy infusion is only one part of the depleting feeling of cancer treatment. Finding your emotional infusion may take time, but look high and low; positive emotion may just be the reserve you need to pack. Take the time to discover what it is for you and how to pack it up for when you need it!

selective focus photography of balance rock
Balance is a building process!

We all need to have emotional reserves for challenges in life. I’d love to hear what works for you. Please share in the comments as we all will benefit from learning what to pack in life’s emotional bag! What works for you?

We can-cervive!

Janis

#melanomatheskin #wecancervive #cancer #worldserieschamps #cancer #melanoma #TuesdayThoughts

Scary Masks

Radiation mask 2017
Radiation mask 2017

And Other Melanoma Frights

This blog idea has been a long time coming. There are hard parts with cancer treatment; there are parts that are nearly as tough as our mind makes them! It’s that balance idea and also, I’ve learned to not suppose, guess, or imagine how things will be.

This is written not to frighten, but to inform. It’s a brief description of my radiation experience in 2017. It’s taken some time to process this part of the healing. I’ve kept my mask in the basement, stumbling on it every now and then reminds me of how challenging this was and hopefully, how life saving it is. The pictures were taken the other day, just to show what the mask looks like. If you are considering radiation, remember each experience is unique. Ask me a question if you’d like!

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Words of encouragement found on my fridge magnet from Dana Farber Cancer Institute.

Learning takes on many forms, and this treatment taught me that I don’t always know how I will react, that I am human, and that I am braver than I think. One piece of my metastatic melanoma treatment was radiation. After multiple excisions and healing, the time came for radiation. Conferring with radiation oncologists at Dana Farber, a local team was most sensible as treatment is Monday through Friday.

Mask Making

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As a Mom and librarian, I’ve always enjoyed projects with children and teens. Mask making was a favorite, whether paper mache or natural construction. I’d never really thought I’d have my own face sculpted, much less my own personal mask!

This took place at yet another location; the measurements, the warm towels, the casting of my mask. Precision and professional knowledge are key; the medical staff of two worked well together, and in no time at all the drape of some mesh, fishnet substance formed a likeness of me.

Well, not really. My mask fit me but there was little likeness to the flesh and bones person that was to wear it. The real me had another lesson ahead!

Lock Down

Mentioned earlier, there are parts of treatment that we cancer patients don’t quite anticipate. Questions are asked, caregivers take notes and listen hard, but no oncologist, medical person, counselors, or others are able to understand the human reaction, the emotional element. Humans are unique individuals!

assorted color metal keys

Claustrophobic tendencies are not me; I endure scans, MRIs, small closets, and tiny spaces with no concerns. On the first day with the local radiation team, more measurements were noted, the irradiation location exposed on the mask, and equations exchanged. No problem.

Turn of the Screw (by Henry James)

And then, while I lay on the platform they screwed my head to the table. I knew this was coming, I knew the process. Momentary, solitary panic only known to me ensued. Tense body parts, mind wondering how I could ever escape if need be, and a foreboding feeling in every inch of my body.

Fear was trying to drown me. to hold me down, so I pushed back with courage, the desire to heal, and hope beyond this damn radiation. The staff was professional, moving through their routines with more measurements, a warm blanket, and conversation to access my level of comfort.  What great acting I did! This was the greatest mask of a lifetime, the emotional one!

Radiation treatments to my left cheek continued for weeks, 5 times each week. A friend had mentioned that he had found waiting room comaraderie in his Boston radiation treatment; my more rural setting meant less of that, though two of us passed each other daily, bestowing sincere well wishes on each other, smiles robust with empathy.

That Healthy Glow

Ironically, my face, the same one that has had multiple melanoma excisions most likely do to sun damage, was brilliantly red after just a few treatments. This “hot spot” focused most of the controlled dose very specifically. My mask provided boundaries for the radiation staff, a way to zero in.

Risks are many when considering radiation. For me, the lack of alternatives meant this was the next step in my path to being disease free. Side effects vary depending on the course of radiation; each situation requires different radiation calculations.

Treatment left me exhausted as it has a cumulative effect. My face was, and still is, super sensitive to the sun. I also have dental trays made with my dentist. Radiation damages salivary glands which helps protect teeth so daily use of the trays with fluoride may protect my teeth. Hearing is questionable as something has changed in that regard.

Radiant, Just Like Wilbur!

Would I do it again? Absolutely! I’ve always been one to shy away from various drug solutions and to work through to a healthier me. Cancer is different and fights back with vengeance, learning new ways to work around medical treatment. This time I’ve chosen to try all options that make sense for my metastatic melanoma because I need to kick this thing called cancer.

radiant
RADIANT!

Radiation treatment was trickier for me than any other part of this process and I surprised myself with the emotional challenge of being so helpless (and literally stuck!) while the immobility was essential to safe treatment. Each day, each moment I knew it to be the right decision. I learned that each of us reacts differently and that I’m stronger than I think!

Inspiration came when treatment was over, my body whooped, my face fried, and my grandson gave me a hug. Sometimes that is why we go through the scary stuff.  It’s really ALL about the hug!

#melanomatheskin #cancer #melanoma #FlashbackFriday #Halloween #maskmaking #scarystuff

We can-cer vive!

Janis