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

 

 

Melanoma Marathon

Now Racing Through My Mind…

is the appointments, no longer in the distance but hurdles to be jumped in the next few days. I honestly, don’t see a finish line in my melanoma path, primarily because beating cancer is now a way of life. This isn’t a knee scrape that we put a band aid on and all is good.

Bottom line, I’m alive and I’m in the care of world class doctors at Dana Farber, and I’m monitored on a regular basis.  Do I want to be under such scrutiny? Hell, yes! While I’d love to have no medical anything in life, I have a ginormous medical life. This is what is keeping me alive and that is how I look at it. This IS life now.

Not The Fast Track

My journey involves traveling. Weighing whether my Stage III metastatic melanoma was worthy of out-of-state cancer treatment with the recurrence, it was obvious that was the track we were on. Road trips add another layer of angst but once you get the routine down its okay.

DSC01634 (1)

A folder includes changes in medicines, printed schedules, and other loose paperwork. The notebook of questions, previous notes, and dates, etc. is essential. Identification and the dreaded health insurance cards are put in my “Maggie Bag”… a gift from a friend that keeps the small essentials together. There’s also a cribbage board in there, pens, chapstick, pain relievers, and special beads from the grandkids.

DSC01632All of this goes in the backpack, along with water bottles, snacks, and perhaps some knitting or reading.  I can’t do books on Dana Farber days as my mind wanders but a good magazine is easier on the brain.  Why the backpack? These days are beyond full so we bring what we need and usually don’t have to return to the parking garage until day’s end.  Wear comfortable walking shoes as procedures are not next door! What works for you on big medical days? I’d love to hear your tips! Please comment.

shoe

Having a caregiver, if possible, is very important. Driving, listening to medical professionals, helping to navigate floors, offices, and labs, taking notes, asking questions, and just offering support in a very anxious situation is incredibly helpful.

Start Up: A Marathon with Hurdles

Dermatologists will examine every dot and spot. Included in the day is: blood work, MRI and CT scans, skin cancer oncologists, and the infusion team if all goes well. Beyond grueling as woven in to this time of poking and prodding, is the nugget all cancer patients keep buried in the back of their thoughts…”will the tests come back clean?”.

Health information is exchanged. I let my medical team know of my fatigue challenges, what aches, any new areas in question. In return, I will get preliminary results from all the testing, and perhaps a green light for infusion of Yervoy (imilimumab), one of the drugs in the clinical trial that I started last Fall.

Train For The Hurdles

Like each day, I take the medical days moment by moment. Each appointment is important, and brings me one step closer to the end-of-the-day infusion that may be enhancing my immune system. Train your brain to seek the positive when possible. How you prepare for the next appointment matters.

training

Lead into your hurdles with hope and courage; it makes for a strong landing. Life is different for each of us, and we all have our challenges, our hurdles. Take each one as they come, and work toward a solid landing. Like the track and field runner, practice finding balance and positive head space. Where does your inspiration come from? #rootingforyou #cancer #melanomatheskin #melanoma #yippyforipi #inforthewin #Tuesdaythoughts

We can-cer vive!

Janis

 

Creepers and Stalkers and Trolls, Oh My!

troll-1916370_960_720.jpgWriting today is mostly therapeutic and I apologize in advance for my anxious thoughts. You see, I’m on a clinical trial for metastatic melanoma and due up for my next visit at Dana Farber Cancer Institute. I’ve done well to get on with life, take breaks as needed, and think like my pre-cancer self.

Without Exception

Today the thoughts creep in, a bit more than the usual cancer stuff. It’s always there, the c-word stuff, but I believe I’m exceptional! Exceptional at keeping thoughts at bay, exceptional at ignoring thoughts, and exceptionally exceptional at creating an aura of life is good. Other cancer patients can relate to this!

Three months without my melanoma team, free to push myself through fatigue heavy days and achy joint night. Samplings of joy, love, and life finely sift through my new colander of life. Every moment is rich, alive, and mine for the living.

Whither Shall I Wander?

Prisoner in my own mind, my desire to stay in-the-now wanders down the path of next up. Next up means scans, tests, appointments with oncologists, dermatologists, and the infusion staff. These thoughts are like stalkers in my mind, no longer allowing me the freedom to be.

Plans for the trip to Dana Farber unfold, questions to be asked are written in THE notebook, the medical backpack is unpacked and repacked. Stalker thoughts are unavoidable and while this is not the travel adventure we anticipate, having the blue print in place becomes the norm.

Lost in Thought

Inching closer to the big medical day, it’s more of a challenge to ensure that my health information is current, that all pieces are in place. Racing toward a date that I’d rather avoid, troll-like nasties invade my head space. Ugly, worrisome thoughts greedily take up residence, regardless of how I attempt to evict them.

weathervane
Stay the course!

Feelings of balance and ideas of inspiration are mislaid; moments of hope are obscured as medical melee overrules. The unknown of the next medical segment may leave us feeling lost and filled with fear. Forsake those feelings as best you can as solace comes from love and understanding.

In The Know

The best cancer tip I can offer is that being organized helps. It may not sound like much but a medical backpack, a notebook, a caregiver…any or all provide cancer support. Know your schedule and print it. You will learn how to find all the offices, labs, and treatment areas; though it sounds odd, there is comfort in having a routine for your cancer trips.

DSC01608
Words of encouragement found on my fridge magnet from Dana Farber Cancer Institute.

Days and hours leading up to your next appointments may be fraught with worry. Organize ahead of your appointments, shoo away thoughts of the unknown to make room for thoughts of courage. #braverthanyoubelieve  #melanomatheskin #melanoma #cancer

We can-cervive,

Janis

Heir Apparent

Battle Royal

Yes, I sometimes think in dark places.  I mean with metastatic melanoma, scars on my face from excisions, radiation treatment, and now a clinical trial, it’s not all that hard to find your mind go murky. At times, I feel like the next in my family, riddled with cancer, to wear the crown of cancer.

bird crane balearica regulorum royalty free

A person of our American royalty, former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt is the central figure to a fictional account of her life in the book, White Houses by Amy Bloom. I enjoyed reading this novel that imagines the life between Eleanor and Lorena Hickok though it blurred the lines for me between historical information and an invented story. I devoured the book knowing I prefer more factual portrayals of people of ER’s stature.

DSC01606
One of my favorite quotes by Eleanor Roosevelt hangs on my fridge!

 

Royal Treatment

Why mention White Houses? Author Amy Bloom uses a description about saplings in the woods (forgive me for not having the wording handy). In comparing shaded saplings to people, the author relates the smaller trees will be stunted by those towering trees that relish the canopy, thriving on the light well fought for by competing trees.

An analogy that works eloquently for those of us with skin cancer. Do we now hide in the recesses of  dingy corners of our world? Should we resign ourselves to a tenebrous existence far from the beckoning sun? Are we relegated to be lowly saplings who never benefit from the light?

Those that reach for the light grow!

Hell, no! Shadowy thoughts like that are the last thing we need. Acknowledge those cancer moments, grab your cancer crown (a large brimmed hat for me!) and sun screen, and seek the light, seek the positive.

Use sun-safe habits and your #sunsmarts. Enjoy the things you love and keep solar mindfulness with you at all times. Take your vitamin D and find the courage to get out there! Light is metaphorical for illuminating the positive and also offers physical improvement when sensibly enjoyed. That doesn’t mean ignore your doctors!

Some People are…Well…A Royal Pain

Where did the light come for this blog? I just read a blog post where the writer stated we need direct sun and that sun screen is not good for us. Really? I know that the sun is essential to life; I get that in a big way, but really, no sun safety? Yes, that statement angers me because I GO TO THE DOCTORS, I GO THROUGH THE PAIN, I FIGHT FOR MY LIFE. I commented on that blog! The response explained that melanoma is a blessing. Really? No words here.

landscape nature sun forest
Stand Tall!

Reach for the light every day. Open your mind, open your heart, and you will leave the gloomy thoughts and the darkness in the undergrowth. Don’t read trivial stuff. Do what you love and grow strong; become the tall tree.  #melanomatheskin #cancer #melanoma #readingmatters #becomethetalltree

We can-cer vive!

Janis

 

Sun Worship Part III

Time’s Up…We Know Better

Yeah, I’ve written about my childhood days in the sun and my days as a naive adult, too. But how did I manage to continue this sun worship until I became another cancer statistic? Those of you who are still sun junkies will want to read this I hope.This sun habit is no longer sensible. It kills.

sungl.jpg

With adult children with lives of their own, my time beyond work was…well, mine! A novel idea, I readily choose more warm weather vacations in the Spring, sought out time at the beach, and did a lot more mucking about with boats. For me, life has always been best when on, in, or near water.

My sun-safe habits were moderate. Because of sun damage at a young age, I applied sunscreen to my nose regularly. Super solar days, I’d put on a baseball cap and bring a long sleeve shirt for the end-of-the day sunburn. If at the beach, I’d turn my chair away from the late day sun. On a boat, I’d be sure to cover up my skin as the day floated along. I started wearing sun glasses more…I mean who had heard of ocular melamona?

Feel the Burn

For those warm weather Spring vacations, I did something that I felt was very smart. I went to tanning beds. Being a logical person, I wanted to not burn on vacation and be able to participate in whatever sand, sun, sea adventure that came along. By tanning, my skin had a base of tan allowing me to be out and about without worrying about frying. I wouldn’t call myself a frequent flyer for tanning, but felt better for going. Perhaps it was a vitamin D boost or perhaps it was feeling warm?

suns.png

Whatever my source of sun, mindfulness had a different spin. At the end of the day, using lotion to prevent sun damage was part of the routine. Some days, a soak in an oil bath rejuvenated my dry skin. Different home remedies might include using a vinegar soaked wash cloth or a cold compress for sunburn. What sunburn remedies do you know of? I’d like to include them in a future blog listing so let me know!

The BIG Burn

The result of my sun-safe habits?  Metastatic melanoma. Hear my sarcasm? I wasn’t protecting myself. For the most part, I was doing “after: sun damage care. In my lifetime, our culture had no fear of the sun. We worship tan bodies, warm heat, and the relaxation of the hazy, lazy days of summer. My logic on how to have that healthy glow was actually setting me up for the big burn, the burn of fighting for my life.

Are you thinking you won’t get skin cancer? Or that if you have a little area removed, that life is good so grab that beach chair? There are different types of skin cancer, all of them are scary and melanoma is deadly. You don’t want to hear this but neither did I when I got that biopsy result that changed my life. Please think again!

sunshy.jpg

Thanks for following me and please let me know how you are changing the sun worship culture in your life. #Sunsmarts are in! Love being outside and  being sun shy is where it is at now that we know better! Save a life-yours! Be practical and learn sun-safe habits. #melanoma #melanomatheskin #naturalskinrocks #cancer #mindfulness

We can-cer vive!

Janis

 

Red, White, and You

Red, White, and You!

The 4 B’s of Independence Day

Happy 4th of July! Celebrate your independence in breaking from the stereotype that a dark tan is healthy. Independence Day in the United States is a time for boating, barbecues, and beaches. Oh, yeah…it’s also a time for some of the best burns, sunburns that is.

Laughingly, in the past, I couldn’t understand why people went to the beach or barbecue if they wore all those clothes or hid under an umbrella. My sister and I called beach umbrellas “the impalers”, because of their potential to let loose and hurt someone (as well as those pale people sitting under them).

Open Minds, Open Umbrellas

abstract art background decoration

Now, I am one of those people. I even have a small umbrella that clips to my chair-perfect for those situations where there is no shade and I find myself caught in the sun. I keep it in the car. Sound extreme? Try having your head snapped down to a radiation table day after day to (hopefully) rid yourself of metastatic melanoma (to name just one treatment phase for melanoma cancer patients)…now that’s extreme. Suddenly, the idea of sun safety makes sense.

It’s great to be white, brown, or whatever your natural skin color is. In Victorian times, women wanted to whiten their skin as described on Women of the World’s site. The idea was that white skin indicated you were an aristocrat and not out working in the fields. While the extreme and unhealthy measures such as bathing in arsenic springs were prevalent, we know better now about whitening the skin. Today, we also know about reddening the skin and skin damage.

Burn Baby, Burn

Contemporary culture has given us more leisure. A less agrarian society (unfortunately), people enjoy free time. For generations, we’ve viewed darkening our skin as a sign of beauty. Media continues to depict tanned bodies as the beautiful, healthy look we crave. This needs to change because I’m just not craving my next immunotherapy. Are you?

#naturalskinrocks

#Naturalskinrocks, whatever your color-love you, love hue! Dana Farber Cancer Institute dedicates the 6th floor to melanoma and other skin cancers.  That’s where I go for the clinical trial that I participate in on a regular basis.  We’re all there together, terrified and seeking resolution, seeking life; every person with every skin color imaginable, seeking hope and answers.

Scan Versus Tan

Skin cancer and in particular, melanoma knows no color barrier, no discrimination here.  Think your genes are meant for sunbathing, and that you are not going to get cancer because your genetic makeup is to have dark skin? We all think we are safe until we find ourselves on the 6th floor of Dana Farber. Now I scan (MRI, CAT, etc) instead of tan. I’m not wanting to scare you, I’m wanting you to help change our culture away from the solar genuflection that kills. Avoid the red, avoid the burn.

Happy 4th of July

Celebrate Independence! Celebrate the red, white, and blue! Celebrate creating a culture of #sunsmarts.  #melanomatheskin #melanoma #skincancer #naturalskinrocks #avoidtheburn #Happyfourthofjuly

We Can-cer vive!

Janis

 

 

Reading Matters

Reading matters!  It matters a whole lot to me and as a former library director, I had a newsletter called “Reading Matters”!  Read important documents, great novels, and non-fiction that impassions you. Speak your language(s) ardently and with effervescence. Compose silly soliloquies, sing a pretty ditty, and be sure to take time to rhyme with that four-year old in your life!

Digi-death

wires.jpg

Cancer patients and caregivers have a lot of serious information in our day, in our lives.  Reading about the clinical trial that you may be eligible for, signing off on radiation side effects (with no idea what this means for you), filling out medical forms, and searching online for information about your cancer diagnosis…

Uh-oh, online research can be a killer, in itself.  Wondering what the life expectancy is for Stage III melanoma?  Or who is most likely to get this deadly skin cancer?  Or information about how other patients are adjusting to life with cancer? What about the  details about the drug that is being suggested?  And who is this doctor, anyway?head.png

Let’s face it! There’s a lot of digital misinformation.  We’ve all learned how to ignore, choose, and create online data.  What’s real?  What’s not?  Often information is gleaned from different sites and snowballs, taking on a life of its own, albeit false. Finding real data is tricky when oft times there is no verification. Don’t we already have enough mortality concerns, without drowning in medical untruths?

The Real Deal

Get back to the basics and be wary of just googling your health concerns.  Go for the legitimate, avoid the questionable. Here are a few cancer resources that I find useful and why:

American Cancer Society – basic cancer information and resources

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute – my hospital and melanoma team

Mayo Clinic – a good overall health site for answering health questions or looking up symptoms

National Cancer Institute – a department of U.S. Health and Human services, there’s a lot of data and resources here

Skin Cancer Foundation – international organization seeking to educate and prevent skin cancers

U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – useful resources and up to the minute data for health, nutrition, medication, and regulation

Obviously, each of us need to find the online data that best represents our cancer diagnosis.  Ask your professionals what they recommend as you learn about your disease.

Screen Shot…or Is It Shot Screen?

information.jpg

So yeah, connect those dots using valid information.  Seek information integrity and beware of the less scrupulous websites. Just a few more thoughts about seeking medical information:

  • Ask your oncologist and medical team-they’re the experts
  • Step away from the screen
  • Don’t believe everything you read
  • Use sources that you know to be reputable such as Mayo Clinic
  • Online information is general information and may not pertain to you
  • Step away from the screen
  • Learn how to use your medical facility’s website and individual patient information platform
  • If something you read concerns you, write it down and ask your medical professional
  • Uncertainty with validity of information is counter productive
  • Did I mention step away from the screen?!!!

Be sensible.  Use your digital time wisely.  Look up metastatic for the umpteenth time if you still find it hard to believe that this is part of your diagnosis. Then, remember that your medical team knows you and your cancer diagnosis.  Reading matters but so does living your life. Close out the screen, breathe, and enjoy the view.      #melanoma  #melanomatheskinwerein #cancer

We can-cer vive!

Janis