8 years. Five diagnosis. It has certainly changed my life and guided my career path. On Feb 9, 2021 I received my fifth melanoma diagnosis. This time I was the one who found the changing spot that turned out to be an early-stage invasive melanoma (Stage 1a). While I know my prognosis is good it was a gut punch none the less. It is hard not to blame yourself and ask why? What am I doing wrong? Why does this keep happening?
I am lucky. I always remember that. My melanomas continue to be caught early. I have an amazing team of caring physicians who keep a close watch on me and a loving and supportive family and village of friends. When the call came through for this one, I knew what the news was going to be. What I didn’t expect was the flood of emotions and tears that came along with that phone call. Afterall, I should be an expert at this by now, right? I continue to hear my doctors sweet voice and kind words “you did nothing wrong; you are doing everything you can to keep on top of this”. Those words are a mantra I replay in my mind daily. Especially when people continue to ask, “why does this keep happening?”.
Why does this keep happening? Great question, right? I wear sunscreen, I wear UPF protective clothing, hats, I get my skin checked every three months, I exercise, I eat well and most days I am very happy. Yes, I used tanning beds in my 20’s and suffered from many burns in my younger days. What I have learned is that we always tend to blame ourselves and people always want to have a reason. I wish I knew the answer….but I don’t. Clearly, I am someone that makes funky and changing moles. Is it genetic…maybe? Is it from all the damage caused in my younger years….maybe? I may never have an answer. I am learning to be OK with that.
While writing this blog a dear friend and colleague shared a podcast with me from Kate Bowler titled “Everything Happens for a Reason”. It truly resonated with me. At a time when so much feels unexplainable, does this phrase offer actual comfort or does it do just the opposite? In this podcast there is a great discussion about the difference between finding meaning and making meaning. Too often the people around us try to find a reason for why something is happening or try to give meaning to it. This can be a heavy burden to bear for someone who is going through a challenging life event and puts a lot of pressure and blame on the person experiencing the diagnosis or life altering event.
For that reason, I have been working on my mindset and how I view this disease–melanoma. I have stopped wishing for it to go away or trying to find a reason why it keeps happening. Instead, I have started to accept that for me, this is a chronic condition. Something that I will always have to be on top of and deal with. Knowing that I am doing everything I can is the best that I can do.
This recent diagnosis came three weeks before our largest event of the year—the Taste For a Cure Gala. I recorded a section of the Gala days after wide excision surgery and the event itself took place two days after my stitches were removed. I was in full work mode and had no time to think about what had just happened. I had to dig deep to gather the strength to pull off our first virtual event. I am happy to say that the Gala was a success on many levels and reminded me how important our work is. After all, I was living through the pain of a melanoma diagnosis while planning for an event that aims to fight this terrible cancer.
Being diagnosed during a pandemic also made this diagnosis different. Not being able to hug or see friends/family in person made this experience a little more challenging. My amazing support system still managed to show me so much love, but the experience definitely had me feeling more isolated.
Earlier this week I had another skin check (it was all clear—phew!). This was my last visit with one of my dermatologists that I have been seeing for seven years (she is moving out of state for a wonderful opportunity). When she walked in the room I cried. I cried a lot. In fact, I went on to cry a lot throughout the day. I was not prepared for that flood of emotions. My reaction and those tears reminded me of what an intimate experience this has been and how my amazing dermatologist has seen me through some tough times and throughout it all has shown me grace and compassion. She has taught me so much; she has been such an important part of my life. She has taught me that I am in fact, doing the best that I can.
This experience has taught me so much. It has taught me to never take life for granted. It has taught me that it is OK to be scared. It is OK to be worried. It is OK to be emotional. It is OK to feel a loss of control. I take pride in being strong. I take pride in supporting others. Now am I taking pride in taking care of myself. It is so easy to forget about nurturing ourselves. I will be the first to admit that I am much better at giving help and support than I am at receiving it. I am working on that.
Melanoma is the fifth most common cancer among men. It is also the fifth most common cancer among women. If it can happen to me, it can happen to you. Please remember to check your skin regularly and see a dermatologist for any new or changing lesions. It could save your life. To learn more visit: https://polkadotmama.org/about-melanoma/.
Remember, take time to care for yourself. Take time to enjoy the outdoors but do so safely. Wear sunscreen, UPF clothing, hats, sunglasses and most importantly take time to enjoy each day and just BREATHE.