#WhyICare: ‘Thank God She Became Her Own Advocate’

In honor of Melanoma Awareness Month, we’re sharing some #WhyICare stories that recently moved the room to tears at our Taste for a Cure Gala. Today, Sara Kistler Lewis of Virginia  recalls how her mom’s melanoma scare more than a decade ago – and her refusal to accept a prognosis of one year to live – has shaped who Sara is today. Our community is better because of Sara’s advocacy.   

#WhyICare: ‘Thank God She Became Her Own Advocate’

I care because of a very consequential visit my parents paid me in college back in 2005.

I was a junior at George Mason University, and they took me out to eat to break the news: My mom, Libby, had melanoma. Stage 3 B. She was given 9 to 12 months to live.

I still think about that waiter at Red Lobster from time to time. He knew something was very wrong. As he refilled my water glass, tears streamed down my face as I imagined a world where my mom might not see me graduate from college. I cringe a little every time I pass a Red Lobster now.

I care because my mom was diligent enough to do the research. She didn’t accept her fate. It doesn’t get much more bleak than a prognosis of one year or less to live. Thank God she became her own advocate. She found a clinical trial through New York University with Dr. Anna Pavlick. We believe it saved her life. She has had no evidence of disease since 2006.

I care because I’m 34. My generation grew up tanning. I am embarrassed to admit it, but I even went to tanning beds when I was younger. Some of us haven’t broken the habit. We still celebrate the so-called “sun-kissed glow” look, or even encourage people to get a base tan before they go on vacation. That’s what causes me to post on Facebook time and again, warning my friends – near and far – of the dangers associated with tanning.

I care for my friend Melissa at work, whose husband PJ was recently diagnosed with melanoma. My incessant talk about the importance of screenings caused her to urge her husband to have this suspicious mole checked. When I got a text from her one night, it was a simple two words: “It’s melanoma.” I thought to myself, “I have to do what my mom has done for so many people. I have to guide them through this and ease some of their fear.”

But I didn’t know how. So, naturally, I called mom. She told me to be real with them, be there for them and tell them there is hope out there. I was so nervous as I approached their house that night, but I sat with them as we all grappled with this news.

PJ’s outlook is good. He is young. Melissa recently told me, “PJ thinks you saved his life. I think that’s the reason why I came to know you, why we work together. He never would have gotten that mole checked were it not for you.”

Just when I thought that I was being too vocal on Facebook – that I should rein myself in, that no one was listening anymore – I get feedback like that. It gives me motivation to keep going.

I care because even though it’s been 13 years since my mom’s diagnosis, I fear the melanoma will come back.

I never feel like it’s over.

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