I Scream, You Scream

Get Out!

National Ice Cream Day is celebrated annually the 3rd Sunday of July.  Perfect time to go out and have an ice cream! For those of you who are lactose intolerant, this post may not interest you, and for those who have skin cancer and fear the sun, I say, get out!

It’s tricky to have melanoma or other skin cancers because, well the sun is with us every day. Does it make you want to scream, having the deadly melanoma and having to be mindful of the sun? It’s about new sun-safe habits and creating easy routines.

Everyone should be using sunscreen, every day. Do you struggle with being outside? Does fear keep you from living in the moment? How many of your friends go with the belief that skin cancer won’t happen to them?

#EverydayisaSUNday

Recently handed an ad from the American Society for Dermatlogic Surgery, I was reminded just how much sunscreen matters. While I don’t know the ASDS personally,  promotion of sun safety is so important and I was pleased to see their reminder.

The sun is with us every day. Every, every, every day! With gray and dreary weather that solar reach is coming down to earth. Late in the day sunset viewing those rays are streaming at you. Middle of a cold winter day out snowshoeing that reflection off the snow is…well, a killer actually.

Skin cancer can make one very sun shy.  Don’t let melanoma and other skin cancers push you into the corner. You don’t need to live life in the dark either. Create sun-safe habits and have the courage to get out there and live your life! Wear sunscreen, clothing, and bring along your umbrella.

Favor a Flavor?

Oh, the options! My grandgirl and I have a few favorites at the top of our list though we love it all! Sugar cone and the very smallest size, because in America smallest still is a super size! Creamees just don’t cut it for us and we skip the condiments like sprinkles. It’s really about going out for an ice cream…together! Let’s talk ice cream..what’s your scoop?

And hey, did you see this?  U.S News has a listing of some free and discounted options for National Ice Cream Day. I think I might just google some ice cream shoppes local to me and get this mission going! I mean, National Ice Cream Day may be a gimmick and come only one day a year, but hey, why not? (I’ll write about sunscreen “flavors” another day).

scoops

None of us knows what lies ahead in life (except death). Gather up that weary immunotherapy body or whatever your cancer is giving you today. Go out for National Ice Cream Day this Sunday.  Take a hike. Swim in the ocean. Mindfulness of sun days matters as does mindfulness of each and every day.  This day is the one that you have so put on your sunscreen and lather up with hope.

#EverydayisaSUNday #Nationalicecreamday #takeahike #melanomatheskin #melanoma #sunsmarts #favoriteflavor

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

 

Feel the Heat

Riding the Wave

Wow! The Northeast has soared to places no New Englander has ever been…or at least in my neck of the woods. With mercury hitting 93 degrees in the shade on July 4th, it gave even the most avid sun lover reason to find relief! Finding parade shade in the morning was excellent, followed by some time hiding out in the almost-cool cellar, and then, choosing to be inside at the neighbor’s barbecue versus on the hot deck overlooking the ocean.

heatwave 1.jpg

Those in the south would think a temp of 93 is nothing, though we in the North tend to melt with anything about 75 degrees! How do you deal with heatwaves? I now head into warmer days with a plan. I pay attention to the UV Index most days because with melanoma, it’s just what you do.  There’s also a Heat Index chart and other heat safety information at http://www.weather.gov, all of which is very relevant right now.

Heat Seeking Miss

I use to love heat, the more the better as long as I had plenty of water…to drink and to jump into for relief! Beach days for sure, I’d find it tough to have work or other commitments on serious heat days.  Water adventures, be it lake or ocean, brought me to my mecca and the hotter the better. I always loved the approach of summer solstice and the sun days of summer.

 

I chose to never complain on scorchers because I wasn’t crazy about the deep freeze of winter; if I am going to complain, it will be about that snow crunching, nostril-hair freezing, #nodesiretobeoutside winter weather. I’m still not going to complain about the heat but phew, I am glad that today’s storms will clear the air.

Intense Sense

So, what’s changed so that I can’t take the heat? For me, a lot, though I hadn’t really noticed the trend. I’m a bit older so my body seems to stress a bit with temperature extremes. The clinical trial that I am on through Dana Farber Cancer Institute leaves me fatigued; I wake up fatigued, I go to bed fatigued. Lastly, I spend less time in the hot sun so it feels brighter, hotter, and takes very little to wear me down!

heatwave watering

Throw heat and humidity together, and for any cancer patient, elderly person, or others with no reserve, it means no way to re-charge. I’ll always love summer and the gorgeous weather that allows me to be out and about-living and breathing. Mindfulness is important when planning for fun in the sun; it makes summer celebrations wonderful when you keep options open for all!

Thanks for signing up for my blog and remember that sun safety! #melanoma #melanomatheskin #heatwave #sunsmarts #skincancer

We can-cer vive!

Janis

Knee High by the Fourth of July

So whose knee are we talking here, anyway? I mean, if it’s mine the corn’s not meeting the standard. If it’s my “almost five” grandson, things are ahead of schedule! This year, gardening keeps me focused on life, on what might be if you believe.

Mary, Mary Quite Contrary

DSC01530
Three Sisters Garden Early June 2018

Back in March, I was planning and planting my gardens, something I never had time for when reaching out and outreaching with literacy initiatives.  Originally, I envisioned seedlings in the cellar as the good light and extra space seemed best.  However, I learned I needed great light so plywood splayed around the living room and seeds germinated!

 

Working with all my seedlings this Spring kept me busy enough (in and around dragging through the day!), and also got me to thinking, thinking about things other than cancer.  Sunshine is for growing food, flowers, trees, and life. Flora, the goddess of flowers and nurturer of botany, needs light. Light is life.

Ironically, here I find myself dealing with metastatic melanoma and learning how to live with the sun and not directly in it. That same invaluable sunshine that gives life to us can also take it away. Each day I choose to find inspiration in the light, the power it brings to Mother Earth. Find your passion to see you through and the courage to stay out of the darkness!

Three Sisters Garden

One of four siblings, and with 3 of us females, I decided to try a Three Sisters Garden this year. Some of my seedlings included corn and winter squash.  These are two of the Three Sisters vegetables, and I later planted bean seeds directly into the garden, representing the Three Sisters. The day I planted the seedlings of corn and squash, the clouds melted into rain. At first I thought it could be sister tears though quickly realized this gentle, unexpected rain was to settle the plants, to nurture, just as my sisters always had with me.

 

Remember the book Carrots Love Tomatoes?  The Three Sisters Garden is of Native American origin and is a variation on companion planting.  Each of these 3 plants, winter squash, beans and corn, provides nutrients and growing space for the others.  I was reminded of this method last Fall when I read Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer.  After borrowing this book from my library, I purchased a copy because it resonates with me deeply.

DSC01594
Three Sisters Garden Early July 2018

My two sisters have passed, each of a different cancer, and this is my way of recognizing the hole that lost love leaves and that we all incorporate loss into life.  Nurturing ourselves, remembering others, and living the best damn life we’ve got today. My garden is definitely an experiment…in patience, in growth, and in the hope of tomorrow. But then, isn’t life an experiment as well?

DSC01596
Three Sisters Garden July 2, 2018

Knee high by the Fourth of July? Hell, yeah! What are seeds of inspiration that you sow?  Please comment on how you look to the positive! #threesistersgarden #melanoma #melanomatheskin #cancer #garden

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

 

 

Sun Worship, Part II

Or why didn’t I get this as an adult?

An earlier blog speaks of some basic sun worship mistakes from my childhood.  The culture of the times was all about that healthy glow and rich tan skin. Really, there was nothing to get; sun bathing was the norm. Don’t let the guilt get the best of you.  Change begins today, never yesterday.

In my young adult years, say in my 20’s and 30’s, I continued to seek sun whenever possible.  My young family  enjoyed walking, hiking, playing sports,riding bikes, gardening, camping, boating, and best of all, the beach, whether lake or ocean. We were active, happy, and brown.

beauty and light
My new version of light!

Time Out

My son was, and is, feral. He seeks the wild places and “needs” to be outdoors. He was lucky enough to have that most of the time as a child and to create his life around that need as an adult. For our family, outdoor adventure made us feel alive and the best times were “out”.  Dear children-I hope that your past sun history never becomes what mine has.  If I only had known and I hope skin cancer never comes in to your life.

I love being a librarian but sometimes felt work got in the way on a gorgeous summer or winter day, when the natural world beckoned.  I chuckled while doing a mid-February story time about the beach and felt like I was in heaven when I plunked down into my beach chair to read with families.  Summer reading brought the enticement of story time and programs anywhere outside; the pool, the library garden, the bookmobile at the ball field, the free lunch program all lured me in for reading in the great outdoors!

My sisters, brother, and all of our families loved our family reunions.  Sun meant fun as we spent a whole weekend together in the warmer months, traipsing kids, babies, and parents to the beach, on boats, up gorges, to outdoor fairs, through campgrounds.  See the theme in our lives?  Best days were often the maximum time out, just out.

Scoodic Peninsula, Maine!

 

I Took A Walk in the Woods And Came Out Taller Than the Trees (Henry David Thoreau)

I don’t intend to give up on my life alfresco; I intend to be #sunsmart. Wow!  This is a complete lifestyle change.  We know the drill of sunscreen, SPF clothing, and avoiding peak sun times.  There is no way, I repeat NO WAY, I will give up on fresh air and that wonderful feeling it brings.

How do you deal with the sun?  What are you learning to modify your life without giving up your outdoor adventures? I’d love to hear from you because we all have much to learn, not so much to give up. It’s that idea of balance that comes into play so much with all of us, but particularly with cancer patients. It’s easy to tip the scale.

moonshine
Enjoy the moonshine!

I am super pleased that I am wrapping my head around getting on and getting out there. Have courage, bring mindfulness into your adventure.  Don’t let melanoma rule.  Find inspiration in the new, different way that you live. Sun safety matters and so does the adventure we call life!

Here’s one easy example-Get out there and enjoy a bit of moonshine this week. Life is full and so is the East coast moon on Thursday! It might be a cloud-covered evening but hey, there’s always tomorrow!  #melanomatheskin #melanoma #thursdaythoughts #melanomamoonshine

mooshine.jpg

We can-cer vive!

Janis

That Healthy Glow

There’s a lot I’ve learned about cancer in my lifetime, and more than I want to know about the consequences of melanoma. It really wasn’t all that long ago that many of us didn’t know just how deadly skin cancer can be.

letsgo.jpeg

I grew up outdoors as I mentioned in an earlier blog post.  We didn’t realize how damaging the sun could be, or at the most, thought we needed to use lotions and creams after sun damage to keep our tan skin beautiful. I’m going to generalize here and say most of us knew of skin cancer but thought it was no big deal.  The worst that could happen would be we have a small area removed, right?

Wrong, wrong, wrong! How naive we all were and for all of those who still think they are “immune” to cancer and the power of the sun, I deeply hope that is true for you. I know I was absolutely fine with my tan, my rosy cheeks, my “healthy” look…until I found the first area on my face and after the biopsy, learned I was unhealthy, very unhealthy as I had my first cancer diagnosis of melanoma.

Making a List and Checking It Twice

I have a plethora of cancer tips to share with cancer patients and caregivers, along with everyone else. Today I want to share some basics about skin cancer.  A family member asked me if basal cell carcinoma will turn into melanoma if left untreated?  What a great question and the answer is no.  There are different types of skin cancer and while all of them are frightening, they do not start as one type and morph into another.

skin.jpeg

Here is a very basic list of skin cancers:

  • Actinic keratoses-pre-cancerous growth
  • Basal cell carcinoma-most common skin cancer and should be removed to avoid disfigurement as it can grow into surrounding tissue
  • Squamous cell carcinoma-causes damage and grows deep

Any of the above skin cancer diagnoses should be taken seriously and mean there is abnormal cell growth.  They do NOT turn into melanoma and each has their own description and photo at the American Academy of Dermatology Yes, you can have more than one kind of skin cancer and each has unique characteristics.

  • Malignant melanoma-the most aggressive and deadly skin cancer

Skin cancer may travel though it’s far less likely to happen with the non-melanoma cancers in the first bulleted group above.  Early detection is beneficial, and with malignant melanoma early diagnosis and treatment is critical.

Get the Skin-ny

Have an area that you are wondering about?  Or have you had sun damage in the past? Dermatologists are a great place to have your skin examined or biopsied if necessary.  Even people who have had no skin issues now have an annual skin checkup.  Why not?  It’s simple and may just ease your mind.

health.jpeg

Please don’t wait if something doesn’t seem right.  My first area of melanoma didn’t look like the online photos; visit a real doctor to clarify any skin concerns. As I mentioned, early detection is very important, and be #sunsmart and take care of your skin now; it’s never too late! I’d love to hear from you on how you are dealing with your skin cancer concerns. #melanoma #melanomatheskin #skincancer

We can-cer vive!

Janis