Monday, December 30, 2013

Merry Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year!

I know it's been forever since I blogged, but I really have nothing melanoma related to talk about, which is great! I don't think I even blogged about my last scans/treatment, but it was pretty uneventful - also great. At the end of this week, I have my last round of treatment for the clinical trial, and I'm ready for that chapter of my life to be over with, and I hope I never visit the chemo area again!

I want to take this opportunity to challenge you to be the healthiest you that you can be in 2014. 'Tis the season of starting new diets and making resolutions to work out, and so many times we set ourselves up for failure - then when we fail, we give up completely. I know, because I'm an expert at this; just this weekend I did the "well, I'll re-start on Monday" thing even though Saturday morning I had decided that enough was enough. 

So, while you're making your health related New Year's Resolutions, think about what is actually feasible for you and your schedule, what you can actually live with long term when it comes to your diet, and what your plan will be WHEN you fail and need to re-group, because it's inevitable. Also think about why you want to make changes. Try to find reasons a little deeper than how you look in a bikini, like the way you feel, your overall health, etc. If you diet just to look good on the outside, and don't care about how it affects your inside, you won't succeed, at least not for long, and in the end, your health suffers - including your metabolism, which makes it even more difficult to lose the weight again. God gave you one body, and you may not think it's perfect, you may have not taken the best care of it, but if you have all your necessary limbs and organs, and they all work, you should thank Him for it every day, wrinkles, fat, gray hair and all (even if you don't have all working parts, if you woke up alive this morning, be thankful!). Realize that you can only be the best version of yourself, inside and out, and stop comparing yourself to others. 

So there's my feel good message for 2013 :) Have a safe, happy, and healthy New Year, and remember, just because it's winter doesn't mean you don't need sunscreen when you're outside!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Go Gators


It's Florida-Georgia Weekend! It's one of my favorites events of the year and I'm super excited to spend Saturday tailgating and watching football.....and maybe having a drink or 2..... :) Go Gators!

Next week I start a DietBet and start working on losing 10% of my body weight. It's exactly what I need to motivate me to lose the extra pounds I've been carrying around, and I love that DietBet promotes slow and steady weight loss. I have 5 months to lose 10%, then another month of maintaining that weight loss, which is pretty genius of them because maintaining can be just as difficult as losing. Check out the link (at the beginning of this paragraph) if you're interested in betting on yourself! I'm planning to use this blog as a kind of journal as I go along.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Happy Immunoversary!

I swear I have good intentions when it comes to blogging - I have plenty to say, that's for sure, just not so much time to say it! Anyway, I realized that today is one year since I started immunotherapy and thought I should commemorate that. I only found out the day before or day of which arm of the clinical trial I was randomized into, and I was SO stressed out about it. I didn't want to be a guinea pig for some new medicine (although it helped that it was already approved for use in later staged melanoma patients), and I didn't want to get the old standard of care that would probably make me sick for a year and has a very low success rate. The 3 options were interferon (standard of care), and high or low dose ipilimumab (new drug being compared to interferon). I wanted the high dose because I figured "more = better", and was a little disappointed when I got the low dose. Well, once again I have been reminded that what I want isn't always best for me because a lot of people on the high dose (almost 3x the amount of the low dose) have had complications and had to quit the clinical trial. While I have had 7 of 8 doses and have had no side effects except a little fatigue right after I get a treatment, which I can totally deal with! I've got one more to go and could still have some side effects, but I've made it almost all the way through with little disruption to my life.

Feeling very thankful for this last year, and I'm constantly reminded that God blesses us through the storms in life :)

Friday, October 4, 2013

Whose Fault Is It?

I carry a certain amount of guilt about having melanoma. I assume smokers who get lung cancer feel like they caused it by smoking, and I wonder if I caused my melanoma by being less careful than I should have been in the sun, and using tanning beds. I see a lot of people in "mela-land" blaming their cancer on tanning. In my case, I have family history AND I tanned, so I honestly don't know which one caused it. There are people who have no known history, and no tanning history, so sometimes I think it's just plain bad luck. None of us will ever truly know what factor caused our cancer, or if it was a combination of genetics, environment, and/or luck. I relate melanoma and lung cancer because they both have major links to the choice to smoke or tan, but people with different cancers probably also wonder if they could have done anything to prevent it.

I read a post on Facebook this morning from Aim at Melanoma about a lawsuit between a woman with melanoma and the tanning salon(s) she went to. The jury ruled in favor of the tanning salon, and according to the few comments that were already posted, this made some people angry. It just reminded me that we live in a society of blame shifting. This woman tanned in tanning beds, allegedly after her dermatologist talked to her about the dangers of tanning, and continued tanning even after being diagnosed with melanoma, a day before her excision was planned, and again 3 days before her stitches were going to be removed. And then attempted to sue that tanning salon and several others. You can read the summary here if you want the entire story. Granted, the summary is written from the vantage point of the defendant's attorney, but it seems pretty clear to me that this woman ignored the risks of tanning, like so many of us have, but then wanted someone else to take responsibility. 

In my opinion, we have to take responsibility for ourselves and our actions - as hard as that can be. If someone is negligent and that causes us harm, then yes, they should be held responsible for their part. But I think most of us feel that it's unreasonable to sue cigarette companies over lung cancer, McDonald's over heart disease or coffee burns, or a brewery for a drunk driving accident, and this is no different. And I also think frivolous lawsuits like this one take away from the seriousness of the regulations needed in the tanning industry. A lot of states are working to pass laws to prohibit or restrict minors' use of tanning beds, and I think that's important, way more important than trying to play a blame game.

In related news, I have a half marathon this weekend, which was my choice, and I'm probably going to complain endlessly and maybe sue the race promoters because I'll definitely be in some pain afterwards ;)

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Here's to Your Health

Someone was asking me for some health and fitness advice the other day, and suggested that I start a blog related to that. I didn't want to start a whole new blog, but I was thinking that since I fortunately don't have much melanoma related news to share, why not start posting more here about health and fitness related things? Health is connected to cancer prevention anyway.

First off, I am clearly not a doctor or any medical expert, blah blah blah. So don't listen to what I have to say and ignore your doctor's advice or anything silly like that. 

To start off, here are some of my basics for being healthy, whether you want to lose fat, gain muscle, or just maintain your weight and/or live a healthier lifestyle; I'll expand on these basics in later posts:

1. Don't "Go on a Diet". Make lifestyle changes. A "diet" is what you eat, whether it's "good" or "bad".  Make changes you can stick with for life, and include foods that you love, even if they are not the healthiest, and work on finding substitutes, eating smaller portions, or cutting out the really terrible stuff completely. 

2.  Quality and Quantity BOTH matter. You have probably heard of, or been on, "diets" that restrict fat, carbs, or times that you are supposed to eat. Basically, it's calories in/calories out. If you consume more calories than you burn off, you will gain weight. If you consume less, you'll lose weight. However, the quality does matter as well. Your food should be doing something good for you, and candy, cookies and chips don't. A decent rule is that if you can't understand the ingredients on the package, don't eat the food. This website has some really good, detailed rules about eating Real Food.

3. MOVE and Pick Up Heavy Things. Whatever your goals are, we all need to move more. If your current exercise routine consists of getting up from the couch to get more chips, then start off with walking or taking a family bike ride. If you already have a basic fitness level, step it up. When you are comfortable with whatever you're doing, make it uncomfortable again. Lift weights. If you don't know how, and don't have a gym membership or access to a personal trainer, Google is your friend. 

4. Set realistic goals, and find what motivates YOU. Whether you want to lose, gain, or maintain your weight, set goals for yourself. Start small, and set daily, weekly, monthly goals to start out. It doesn't have to be based on that number on the scale, it can be just working out a set number of days/minutes each week, staying within your calorie range, or anything else that you set out to do. Reward yourself with something for each goal you reach - I warn against rewarding yourself with food, you're not a dog! 

5. Realize that you will fail at some point. We aren't perfect, there are going to be weeks that you don't have time to get to the gym or grocery shop, or you just give in to temptation. When that happens, don't beat yourself up, just pick up and move forward - right then, not the next Monday (the national day for starting anything).

<3
Melissa

Friday, September 13, 2013

Cruisin'

Well guys, I am happy to report that I managed to go on a tropical weekend getaway, without getting sunburned or tan! It still feels weird to be happy about not getting a tan, but I was really proud of that. I wore my hats and sunscreen and tried to sit in the shade when I could, and it worked.  I had a great time with my friends, from the time we got into the truck to leave town Friday morning, til the time we got back home on Monday afternoon, it was a blast. Full of laughs, no drama, just a ton of fun. And everyone on that ship knew who we were, partially thanks to the awesome hats we wore:

Our shirts said "Catalina Wine Mixer" because we were 
talking about the movie Stepbrothers and thought
it would be hilarious.....and it was :)

We went to Nassau, Bahamas on Saturday, and Cococay on Sunday, which is a private island owned by the cruise line. In Nassau we just walked down to Senor Frogs for the afternoon, and in Cococay a couple of the girls stayed on the boat while the rest of us hung out on the white sandy beaches:


I also wanna let y'all (all 5 of you who read this.....) know about the lip sunscreen I've discovered. I've always been crazy about making sure I had sunscreen on my lips, because I've always gotten fever blisters if my face/lips get much sun at all. A couple of years ago, my mom got me some Supergoop products. I really don't care for their face sunscreen, I love my Neutrogena, but I LOVE their SPF30 lip balm. Every SPF chapstick I've ever tried has left a weird taste in my mouth (which doesn't go well with tropical drinks!), but Supergoop doesn't. I was a little leery at first because it's kind of shiny and I feel like that will attract sun, but I've been using it all summer and no burned lips or fever blisters! Check it out, and remember, you need sunscreen even in winter!

 And last, but definitely not least, when I got home, I got to meet the newest member of my "family" (not family by blood or marriage, but by choice)! I would like to introduce you guys to Vivian Ann:

Aunt Mel had just come from Spin class :)

This precious little girl was born as I was shipping out to sea, but luckily I got to see some pics and video before I had to turn off my phone. It's impossible not to instantly fall in love with her, and mommy and baby are both very happy and healthy!

Well that's all my news for now, I'm currently at Mayo for blood work but don't expect to hear anything but how great my blood is, as always :)


Thursday, August 29, 2013

Update on the Von St. James Family

Well this is a little embarrassing, but I just remembered that Cameron Von St. James from this post sent me a link to a video that his wife Heather did.....over 3 months ago. Sorry Cameron and Heather for taking so long, but here's the link to the video!!

Heather's Video

(I can't embed videos, for whatever reason. Sorry!)

I follow Heather on Facebook and love her positive attitude (and cool hair and tattoos!). Check out her video :)

Btw......I leave for my cruise tomorrow, and my best friend is having her baby tomorrow too! Exciting weekend ahead!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Let's Catch Up

I really want to start blogging more, because I know if I do, the posts will be shorter, and less boring to read, and because I want to start sharing more about the melanoma and cancer community. So we will see!

I follow a lot of melanoma related blogs, and sometimes bloggers share information that inspires me to write my own posts. Recently, Chelsea of Adventures With My Enemy Melanoma (who was one of my biggest inspirations to start my own blog) mentioned Is My Cancer Different, a movement dedicated to educating people about how different cancer can be. Did you know that "cancer" is really just a catch-all, generic term? Cancer is defined as uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in your body. Because there are many different types of cancer, and even the same cancer can behave differently in different people, everyone's cancer IS different. If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with cancer, go check the website out!

I have always (I like how I used the word always, even though it's been 2 years since my initial diagnosis) felt like "my cancer is different". It started in my skin, not inside my body, the treatment is somewhat different, and I have never felt like I had cancer. People sometimes use the word "sick", and I hate that because I didn't and don't feel sick. I definitely feel out of the ordinary in the waiting room in oncology, and when I had radiation. My doctors and nurses love me because I'm healthy and always happy, when a lot of their patients don't have that good fortune. I haven't gotten nauseous or lost my hair (and certainly not my appetite) or had one side effect from immunotherapy - which is another thing, because my cancer is different, traditional chemotherapy doesn't work as well in most cases. This is both a good and a bad thing, good because I don't have to endure difficult chemo, which kills both good and bad cells, usually makes people sick, etc; bad because it means melanoma is less understood than other types of cancer. 

Some people who have had melanoma caught it earlier, before it spread to their lymph nodes or anywhere else, and it only required surgery to remove the skin around the primary site. Some of these people are very active in melanoma awareness, and I've read stories where they've been hassled a little because basically, their cancer wasn't good enough. Seriously, people out there who are doing what they can to help prevent this terrible cancer from happening to others, have actually been ridiculed because they didn't suffer quite enough? But, read anything on the internet and you will find that there are a lot of hateful people out there with clearly not enough to do! Even within a cancer centered community. 

Whether you were fortunate enough to catch any kind of cancer in the early stages, or at the later stages, whether you had traditional treatment, none at all, are in a clinical trial, or went holistic, your cancer IS different, because you are different. Whether you suffered a little bit or a lot, your cancer matters and you matter. 

In other news.....look what I did last weekend:




I've been wanting to do this for about a year now, and on a whim while at the tattoo/piercing studio with some friends to get our ears pierced, I decided to just go for it. Hurt like nobody's business but was finished very quickly and I love it! I already want a cross on the other foot :)

Next weekend I set sail on a cruise to the Bahamas with a group of girls, so if you hear about a bunch of shenanigans on the high seas, we probably had something to do with it....let's see if I can learn my lessons and avoid sunburns while I'm out there!


Can't Wait!!




Thursday, August 8, 2013

Cancerversary Take 2

I wrote about my "Cancerversary" earlier this week, but I neglected to write about one very important thing - how thankful I am for so many people that are in my life! When you go through something difficult, you realize even more how much your loved ones mean to you. I already knew I had awesome family and friends, but the love that was shown to me over the last year has been unbelievable. 

So, to the friends who visited, who offered to drive me to appointments or sit with me during immunotherapy, who brought me food and presents (and braided my hair since I had one arm that was incapacitated!), thank you!! There were people I didn't even know that well that offered their encouragement and favors. Friends of my mom's came to hang out with me after surgery and at doctor appointments, and with her at my surgery. Speaking of that, a ridiculous amount of people came to the surgical center for my surgery. Thinking about the overwhelming support I was given gets me a little emotional. People at work were also really great during that time. I have worked at the same construction company since I was a senior in high school (besides a year and a half long stint as a flight attendant!) and I've worked with a lot of the same guys during that time. Almost every single one of them called, texted, or Facebooked me to see how I was doing while I was out of work. My boss was especially great as well, and he's been really patient with me with all the time I have to take off of work for appointments, scans, immunotherapy, etc. There are only 2 of us in the office so 1 person being gone really makes a difference but my boss and office co-worker never complain about it. 

And of course I want to thank my parents and family. At 35 years old, it's really comforting to know that your parents would still do anything in the world for you. Even though I tell them I'm fine, they still won't let me go to get my scan results without one of them there. After my surgery, when I was home for a week and couldn't drive, they came over every day to check on me and bring me food. I can't even begin to list things they've done to support me, so I'm just going to say THANK YOU to the best mom and dad I could ever ask for. And another big thank you to my brother, sister in law, step-mom and stepsisters who visited, brought me the yummiest food, and offered prayers and words of encouragement and love.   

:)

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Cancerversary

I'm in the middle of celebrating my "cancerversary" - the 1 year anniversary of finding out that melanoma had returned and having surgery to remove it, and staying cancer free. I found out on July 26th last year (which happens to be one of my best friends' birthday!) that the cancer had moved on to my lymph nodes, and I had them removed on August 8th. Mid July of this year, I had my routine scans, which came back all clear, so at that point I decided I would go ahead and call it my cancerversary :)

At the same time as my scans, I had my 6th infusion of ipilimumab, and I'm happy to report that I have had no side effects! If I were in a blind trial with a placebo, I would definitely think I was getting the placebo! I have 2 more infusions to go, and I'll be done with that, hopefully never to visit the chemo unit again. I'm not sure how often I'll go for scans at that time, because right now I'm required to have them every 12 weeks at treatment time. I'll do whatever my doctor recommends, but I'm hoping to go a little less frequently by the time I'm finished with the trial; that will be almost a year and a half after my surgery (January 2014 will be my last ipi infusion, if all goes as planned). 

Speaking of my doctor, let me brag on Mayo Clinic a little bit. I read a lot of blogs where melanoma patients go to really great cancer centers of excellence - FYI, if you have melanoma, you definitely want to see a melanoma specialist, that's basically melanoma 101. Something I've noticed about a lot of others' experiences is that they have to wait for hours after their scheduled appointment. I know it's worth it to them to see great doctors at great hospitals, but it's something I'm really grateful to not worry about at Mayo! For certain appointments like blood work and scans, I may have to wait a little while. But when it comes to my oncology appointment, I never have to wait long. This is especially great when I'm waiting for scan results, but it's nice any time. It's the same with my appointments for immunotherapy (the ipilimumab), and the dermatologist. On days where I have an appointment and plan to go to work afterwards, it's good to be able to pretty accurately say when I'll be finished and heading into work. They have really made my scheduling so much easier and I'm really appreciative of that. I highly recommend them. 

So, all my news is pretty good. Unfortunately, there are plenty of others in "mela-land" who don't have such great news. The most heartbreaking is Addison of Addison's Army Against Melanoma, who is only 2 years old and was diagnosed with melanoma at 3 months old - it was passed through the placenta from her mother, who passed away when little Addison was about a year old. Addison has been doing so well, but as of yesterday, her Facebook page was updated to say that she has a brain bleed and there is nothing more that can be done for her. I've never met Addison or her family, never spoken to them, but my heart is so heavy for all of them. I suppose the blessing is that for Addison, she does not comprehend what is happening, but I cannot imagine how gut-wrenching this is for her family, who have already endured the loss of her young mother (Addison's mother, Briana, was only 33 when she passed away). Certain stories touch my heart more than others, and this is one of them. Please visit their website or their Facebook page to learn more about this family.

Addison is one person, although one extra special case, but there are others who are finding out they have new tumors, that their treatment isn't working, that their insurance won't cover the drugs they need, and the list goes on and on and on. Some of these people have melanoma in their genes (like me), some of these people have melanoma caused by too much sun exposure (probably also me), and some of them don't have any obvious reason to have gotten melanoma. We're closing in on the end of summer (although in Florida, our summer goes well into the fall), but there's still time to practice sun safety. I used to hate to hear this sentence, and I still do, but the truth is, THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A "SAFE" TAN. (unless it comes from a bottle, and even then there's issues with chemicals, breathing in sprays, etc, but it's definitely better than the sun!). I don't think we should hide from the sun, everyone who knows me knows I love a Sunday Funday out by the pool, but you can wear hats, UV protective clothing (which I think is great for kids to cut down on the amount of sunscreen application they have to endure), and of course, sunscreen. Lots of high SPF sunscreen, applied every 2 hours or so. If your skin gets tanned, it is damaged. If it gets burned, it's REALLY damaged. Please, protect the skin you're in, and protect your kids' skin too. A few sunburns doubles your chances of getting melanoma. And if you're a woman, and have babies in your future, it could not only be your health in question, but your baby's as well. 

Of course, you can't guarantee that you won't get melanoma or other skin cancers just by being safe in the sun, so the really important part is to visit your dermatologist for a full body skin check once a year, and keep an eye on your freckles and moles, watching for changes and immediately have any suspicious spots biopsied (with a punch biopsy, no shaves!) and sent to pathology. I can't even stress how important that is, so many doctors have dismissed a funky mole, only later to find out it was skin cancer. If it bugs you, get rid of it. If your doctor won't listen, find a new one. 

Alright people, I've rambled on long enough! Thank you for reading this far :)

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Yay

One of my proudest accomplishments before Battle #2 with melanoma was that I could do almost 10 dead hang pull ups. I know that might seem silly, but physical strength does not come naturally to me (nor does coordination or speed) and for years I've worked really hard to become stronger. After having my lymph nodes under my left arm removed, pull ups seemed impossible. Then after radiation cooked and burned everything left under there, my range of motion is shot, along with my strength. It's been frustrating to start all over with certain exercises, but it's been coming along. Yesterday I decided to see if I could even hang from a bar - I can't raise my hand straight up, so I wasn't sure. Sure enough, I could do that, so I tried to do a negative pull up, where you jump up to the top of a pull up (chin near the bar) and then lower yourself down slowly, to build up strength to be able to pull yourself up. The last time I tried a negative, I couldn't hold myself up at all. This time, I had a lot more control and I did much better. It was a very happy milestone for me. 

Ever since I've gotten into fitness, I've noticed how working out, and the accomplishments that go along with it, transition into the rest of life. When you lift weights, you are tearing up your muscle fibers, and when they repair, they grow back stronger and bigger (if you're a woman, don't take that to mean that you'll get body builder big from lifting weights - there are exceptions, but you won't!). When life throws things at us, we might be torn down for a little bit, but then we come back stronger than before. In fitness, you don't know how strong you are until you're pushed to your limits. When you think you can't run a mile, or lift a certain amount of weight, and then you do, it's an amazing feeling and you feel like you can accomplish anything at that point. In life, when you feel like you just can't take any more sadness or heartache, but you do and you deal with it and you move forward, you realize that you can handle ANYTHING. One of my favorite bible verses is Philippians 4:13: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me". True Story! Whatever obstacles you're facing in life - physical, emotional, mental, spiritual - you CAN overcome them.  Sure, we have limits. I'm not going to stand on top of the roof and jump off, thinking I'll be able to fly. But we have the ability to do so much more than we think. Physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. 

My little mini accomplishment in the gym yesterday was a reminder of how strong and resilient I really am. I haven't been through a fraction of what so many others have had to go through, but I've been through enough to know that I can handle whatever may come along. And, wherever you are, so can you. Sometimes it takes making a choice to not let the hardships define you, and it always takes some time, but you CAN and if you want to, WILL heal from anything that tears you down. Let go of your bitterness and sadness, and choose to learn and grow from the bad stuff! 

Borrowed from Chasing a Miracle

Friday, May 31, 2013

End of Melanoma Month

Today is the last day of melanoma month, and at some point I'll recap the facts etc that I shared throughout the month on Facebook. 

I'm at Mayo Clinic for a routine blood work checkup and I'm just reminded once again of how very blessed I am. First of all, the guy who drew blood is a pro! I've gotten used to being stuck, but I didn't even feel it this time! I have to wait a couple hours after having blood drawn before I see the NP Gena (who I adore!!), and usually I make myself comfortable in a recliner in the quiet section of the oncology waiting room. There are so many people in here that are so sick and obviously going through serious treatment and I am so fortunate to feel so good! A volunteer usually comes around to see if anyone needs pillows or blankets (Mayo is awesome) and it's pretty chilly and I'm dressed for summer so I asked for a blanket today. She commented on how much she loved my nail polish (Tiffany blue, thanks to my friend Melanie for giving it to me!) and covered me with the blanket and we talked for a few minutes and she left. It was nothing major but she was just so sweet and I love these random encounters I have with people here, I have at least one nice conversation with a stranger every time I'm here, no lie. 

Mayo Clinic shared another video by my oncologist! Here's the link: http://youtu.be/lcp65g892qs (for whatever reason, I can't embed videos in the blog). This one is about new melanoma therapies, one of which I am getting through a clinical trial. 

As melanoma month ends, I am reminded that melanoma awareness never ends for me and so many others. I encourage you to protect your skin, and go get it checked every year. I know it doesn't seem like a big deal to most people, but every day I read a story of someone going through difficult treatments, worrying about insurance claims and bills, or running out of options and planning for hospice. The caregivers and loved ones are heartbroken and it reminds me that our choices don't just affect us. So slather on the SPF and visit your dermatologist! 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Overview of Melanoma

Mayo Clinic shared a video on Facebook today by my oncologist, Dr. Joseph! It's pretty basic but informative about the stages of melanoma. Here's a link to the video:

The 4 Stages of Melanoma


I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I am SO thankful to be able to go to Mayo Clinic! Dr J, my clinical trial nurse Ann, and my NP Gena are all so wonderful and caring and supportive. I couldn't ask for a better medical team, and I am so lucky to have them 30 minutes away. So many people have to travel to get to a good cancer center and I'm glad that's one less thing I have to worry about! 

Have a great week, and don't forget to protect your skin, and watch those freckles and moles for changes - and if you see any, get to the dermatologist stat! :)

Friday, May 24, 2013

Don't Fry Day!

Well, so much for blogging more often for Melanoma Month right? I've gotten a little lazy with my posts on Facebook as well, it's hard to remember to post every day! 

Today, the Friday before Memorial Day, is designated "No Fry Day"by the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention. For most of us, Memorial Weekend is the official beginning of summer and many of us spend a lot of it in the sun, ending up sunburned. You know the rules: use sunscreen (and reapply every 2 hours!) and/or UV protective clothing, try to sit in the shade when you can, and be extra careful when around water, sand and snow - hopefully none of you are in snow, but with the crazy weather lately, who knows?? Just remember that tans and burns are damage to your skin, and you could pay dearly for that damage later on. 

Also remember this weekend that it's not about the beginning of summer, or a 3 day weekend, it's about honoring those who have lost their lives fighting for our country. It's hard to know what to say about that because I cannot even begin to imagine sacrificing my life - my literal "life", or my life as I know it, where I have A/C in the house and work for 8 hours then go home, where I can see my friends and family pretty much anytime I want, where I can hop in my Jeep and go grab a hamburger and fries whenever I'm hungry - all these things that I take for granted, a soldier and his or her family are going without. All I really know is, these men and women work way too hard for way too little compensation! They give up their time and talents and families and are willing to give up their lives if necessary, and they all deserve our respect and admiration. 

So have a happy and safe (and sunburn free!) Memorial Day Weekend, and be thankful for those who sacrifice for our freedom! 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Melanoma Month - Week 1

We're one week into Skin Cancer Awareness Month, which I have just renamed "Melanoma Month"! Every day on Facebook and sometimes Instagram, I've been posting facts about skin cancer and melanoma. I'm already wondering if people are tired of it, but then I remember that if I can read people's drama, complaints, boring details of their day, not to mention all the selfies and duck face pics, they can read my skin cancer facts - at least these could be life saving!

In case you missed it, here are my first 7 days of tips/facts about skin cancer/melanoma:

Day 1 - Melanoma can start anywhere, not just on your skin, and not just skin that sees the sun! It can start under your fingernails, in your eyes, in your mouth, and other orifices - there are melanoma survivors who never found their primary site. So in addition to checking your skin for suspicious moles, check fingernails for spots that don't grow with the nail, check the whites of your eyes for spots, and ask your dentist, optometrist, and OB/GYN to check for moles/spots etc. during your routine checkups.  

Day 2 - Darker skinned people can also get skin cancer, Bob Marley being the most famous example. It most often occurs on non exposed skin, under fingernails, or in mucous membranes. So check those areas and visit your dermatologist even if you are not pale and covered in freckles and moles!

*Bonus for Day 2 - I was at the hair salon and thought I'd remind everyone to have their hair stylist check for moles or spots on their scalp. My first dermatologist said that it's easier to check when they're washing your hair than having someone check your scalp when your hair is dry. 

Day 3 - There are many risk factors for melanoma and other skin cancers, and it's not just excessive tanning or burning. UV Radiation is a factor of course, but so is: 

Pale skin and/or light colored hair
Exposure to coal tar, pitch, creosote, arsenic compounds or radium
Family history of skin cancer
Multiple freckles/moles

Also, having one type of skin cancer (BCC, SCC, melanoma) can increase your risk for another type. (This information came from the American Cancer Society, through the Melanoma Prayer Center)

Day 4 - I shared another picture from the Melanoma Prayer Center showing how melanoma doesn't always look like a funky mole. It can look like a rash or burn - but it will grow instead of heal. I encourage you to Google pictures of what melanoma looks like, but probably not during lunch, because while a funky mole isn't that bad, advanced melanoma can be pretty horrific. 

I also shared that using tanning beds before the age of 35 increases your chances of melanoma by 75%!! That's especially scary because so many people tan, and when I was younger, it seems like all of my friends tanned in tanning beds at one time or another. This info is from skincancer.org. I know that plenty of people will continue to tan, despite the risks, so if you do, PLEASE get your skin checked by a dermatologist twice a year, and remember that a sunburn from a tanning bed is no safer than a sunburn from the sun! 

If I had at least went to the dermatologist sooner, maybe I wouldn't be visiting Mayo Clinic every 3-6-12 weeks, getting scans, bloodwork, and drug infusions. Maybe I'd still be able to do pull ups and plyo push ups and my range of motion wouldn't be completely screwed up from lymph node removal and radiation therapy. Just sayin!

Day 5 - Melanoma is not an "old people" disease. Melanoma has seen a huge increase in teenagers 15-19. I've talked about Jillian Hayes many times, she passed away at 23 years old from this disease. That is far too young! I know teenagers (and in my case, people in their 30's) think nothing bad can ever happen to them, but it's not true. We can't prevent bad things from happening, but we can try, and melanoma can be preventable!

Day 6 - Melanoma is one of the 3 types of cancer that can be passed to a child during pregnancy. Can you imagine how difficult that must be for an expectant mother?? It's yet another reminder that what we do affects more than just ourselves. Visit Addison's Army to learn more about melanoma's youngest warrior. 

Day 7 - Getting sunburned can DOUBLE your chances of melanoma! One blistering burn at a young age, or 5 sunburns at any age doubles your risk. Who has never been sunburned?! Growing up in Florida, I think it's almost a requirement, it's definitely normal. But we need to change that. Wear sunscreen and/or UV protective clothing, and avoid the sun when possible between 10am - 4pm. Stop letting yourself get burned, and protect your kids in the sun!

So, that's week 1! Love the skin you're in!
   

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Good News/Skin Cancer Awareness Month

I had my scans last Thursday and Friday, and once again, I'm all clear! I had a lot less "scanxiety" this time, I just knew that everything was fine and I didn't stress. I had my 5th treatment of ipi and so far, still no side effects. 

Today is May 1st, and it marks the first day of Skin Cancer Awareness Month. A lot of those affected by melanoma prefer to think of it as Melanoma Awareness Month, and I kind of do too, but although melanoma is the worst, all types of skin cancer can be bad! At the very least, skin cancers require an excision, and depending on the depth and where it's located, this can be disfiguring, and of course, at its worst, skin cancer can cause death. In between, there's multiple surgeries, biopsies, radiation and drug treatment, etc. 

During the month of May, I'm going to try to post more often about different types of skin cancer and things about melanoma. I think it's great timing since it's the start of bathing suit season and I've already cringed at seeing posts on Facebook about being sunburned - and cringed at my own sunburn after being outside without enough sunscreen! So let's take care of our skin and ourselves this year!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Random Things

A few weeks ago, I mentioned having problems with lymphedema on my left side, which happens sometimes after lymph node removal and/or radiation, because the fluid that used to drain to those lymph nodes has no where to go. Mine was/is barely noticeable but sometimes it hurt and of course it bothered me and I definitely didn't want it to get worse. It took a few weeks to get in with a lymphedema specialist, but I finally went in last week. They showed me how to help push the fluid towards other lymph node sites, and I really feel like it's helping! My hand feels and looks much less "Stay-Puff Marshmellow Man-ish" :) and I haven't had pain and tenderness like I was before. Now to work more on range of motion!

In other good news, I've had knee issues since the first of the year, and I've been working on physical therapy for that, and finally on Monday I realized it hasn't been bothering me nearly as bad. I felt it a tiny tiny bit during spin last night (Tuesday) and this morning, but since it had been hurting just from bending and straightening my knee, it's a major improvement.

Next week I have scans and round 5 of treatment. It's been really nice to go 3 months without treatment or tons of doctor appointments! My insurance company denied authorization for a PET scan, which is required by the clinical trial, but my oncologist suggested we do a CT scan only and apparently this was ok with the trial and my insurance. I probably should know more about the difference between the two scans, but I don't, and my doctor said he'd appeal the insurance company's denial if he were even 1% concerned about not having the PET scan, so that's good enough for me. We can't blindly trust someone just because they've got MD behind their name, but I trust Dr J's judgement.

For some reason I don't understand (something to do with the contrast they use), since I have to get a CT scan of my neck and torso, that means I get to go on two different days to get them both done. The first day I'll do bloodwork and part of the CT (once again I have to sit around for a few hours in between without eating! If you know me, you know this is horrible news :) ). The second day I'll do the rest of the scan first thing in the morning, then see the doctor late morning for my results, which will be very good I'm sure, and then treatment after that. So that's a needle stick and 3 IV's in 2 days. Awesome. Super excited about that ;).

Ok well this short update has turned long, so I'm gonna stop now. Remember as we start celebrating spring and summer to put on your sunscreen, early and often! A tan is nice, but trips to the cancer center and chemo unit are NOT!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

R.I.P. Dawn

It's never a good thing to hear of someone passing away. No matter what you believe happens when you leave this world, it's still sad. Holes are left in people's life that are never re-filled quite right, no matter what. Husbands are left without wives, wives without husbands, children without a mom or dad, parents without their son or daughter, sisters and brothers without a sibling, and friends without one of their friends. It's very surreal to me the bond I feel with others who have melanoma, even though I haven't met any of them in real life. Some of them are Facebook friends, and some of them have blogs I keep up with, and I've never even carried on a virtual conversation with most of them. Dawn of [Defying Melanoma] is one of those people. I have been reading her blog for a while, and left a comment here and there, and that's it. But when I learned today of her passing, it didn't matter that I've never met her in real life, or had an email conversation, or anything. I feel such sadness for her family, but such awe of her attitude over the last weeks and months. 

Please go read her blog, even if it's just the last few entries, and take a look at her amazing attitude even lately while she's been in hospitals and doctors have been trying to figure out how to help her. If you pray, please keep this family in your prayers. Dawn left behind a husband and 2 young boys who will need supernatural strength to move forward without her. 

And PLEASE, don't tan in tanning beds, wear sunscreen in the sun, and go to the dermatologist to get your skin checked! It could literally be the difference between life and death. Dawn was only 39, and for anyone who is young enough to think that's "old", Jillian Hayes (see last post) was only 23. Both of these brave women were far too young to leave this world. Both of them tanned in tanning beds. Be careful and take care of yourselves!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Jillian Hayes

I shared this on Facebook, but also wanted to share here for anyone who might read my blog that isn't on Facebook. This is a news segment featuring a family very dear to my heart, the Hayes Family, who lost their daughter, sister, and wife in December to melanoma. The video is 4 minutes long and is well worth watching.

Daughter's Death Sparks Cancer Campaign

You can visit Jillian's mom's blog here: Jillian's Journey with Melanoma

Jillian's brother's blog here: The Melanoma Ripple Effect

And the Facebook page for Jilly's Jems here: Jilly's Jems on Facebook

I can't say it enough - protect your skin and visit the dermatologist! It could literally save your life. 

Happy Good Friday & Easter!

I have no melanoma news to share, which is great! I just want to say Happy Good Friday and Happy Easter! 

It always seems odd to call this day "Good Friday" when it signifies the day that Jesus died on the cross - but the "Good" part is, He sacrificed himself on the cross to save US, and He rose again 3 days later. I grew up in church and the crucifixion is a story I've heard my entire life, many times, but I still don't entirely comprehend it. The other night I started thinking about how we execute prisoners today, with lethal injection, or maybe the electric chair - is that even still around? And I was thinking how quickly death comes from those 2 methods, and how Jesus was on that cross for hours, in agony, and even though he is God's son, he was in human form, and still felt pain. No matter what I go through in this life, I will never fully understand what he went through - for you and me and everyone else, those who love and believe in him as their savior, for those who don't believe, for those who mock believers, for the murderers, the thieves, everyone. Jesus died on the cross for the worst person you know, and the best person you know. 

So remember, this Easter, it's not about this:


or this:

Side Note: Reese's Eggs are my favorite!!

The true meaning of Easter is this:


We all have this to be thankful for, no matter what else is going on in life!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Sunscreen and Updates

For reasons I hesitate to admit to the melanoma world, I thought I'd talk about sunscreen today. Guess what? You need sunscreen when you're outside, even if you're not at the pool or beach. I should know this, but apparently I need a reminder. I'm really good about putting sunscreen on my face, but not everywhere else, unless I'm in a bathing suit. Well, when you're outside for part of the day wearing a tank top, not only can you get burned, but you can get some really hideous tan lines. According to my dermatologist, if you're fair skinned like me, you need an SPF 50. For those less subject to burning, an SPF 30 is okay. You also need to put a ton of it on, you're not just applying a light layer, because the SPF is even lower if you don't put enough on. An ounce, or a shot glass full, is about what you need for your entire body. Then you need to reapply every 2 hours, more often if you're swimming or sweating. When I'm going to the pool, I usually apply my first layer of sunscreen before I put on my bathing suit to avoid those weird burn areas right along the bathing suit line, where you didn't get close enough. So anyway, the moral of the story is, wear sunscreen when you're going to be outside, whether you're at the beach, doing yard work, or running in the River Run and hanging around outside grilling and having some beverages!

Melanoma Update: I had some routine blood work done last Friday, and my blood is apparently pretty awesome! I saw G, the Nurse Practitioner, instead of Dr. J, and she went on and on about how great all my blood work was. I've only seen her twice and she is just so sweet and amazing. She was very encouraging about everything, I just can't get over how nice she is. I'm sure in the oncology department, they don't get a lot of great news, or have a lot of healthy patients, so I'm extremely happy to be that star patient! I'll go for scans and another ipi treatment next month, and I really don't want to think about it yet because I don't want to get the "scanxiety". 

I'm having some issues with range of motion, and a little bit of lymph-edema is setting in, so I'll go see a specialist about that in a few weeks. This is from my surgery last August to remove the lymph nodes, and subsequent radiation therapy. Removing the lymph nodes can mess with the lymph fluid, and cause that limb to swell. Right now, it's not bad, but it needs to be controlled before it gets out of hand. 

I also saw my dermatologist yesterday for my 3 month checkup, and there was nothing questionable there, so no news = good news!

So all in all, things have been pretty good. I ran the River Run 15K last weekend and had a great time (except for not putting sunscreen on my arms!). I hadn't been running because of a knee injury, but I ran the whole 9.3 miles without stopping, and it was slow, but I'm okay with that! The girls always wear tutus and we always have shirts made for races, and this one was dedicated to our friend Allen, who has throat cancer and is currently in treatment and could not run with us. The back of our shirts said "Getta Bike" because that's what he had been saying for a while, even before cancer stopped him from running. He came to our carb up dinner and our post run party, and he's doing so great, but definitely send some prayers his way. He's undergoing chemo and will start radiation soon, but he has a very positive attitude and we know he will be just fine! 

Here are some pics of the race:

At the starting line 

Getta Bike!! 

Well, Hello Beaker..... (One of my favorite things
about the River Run is the costumes!) 

The girls before the race - it was COLD, but 
once we started running, it was perfect weather!



Remember, the word of the day is: SUNSCREEN. Wear it. All the time. The least of your worries is ugly tan lines, and an uncomfortable sunburn. The worst is the irreversible damage you are doing to your skin. Never let yourself get burned, and for those of you with kids, keep them covered with sunscreen! Make them come out of the water, dry off, and re-apply. I remember hating that when I was a kid, but even before we knew what skin cancer was, my mom was sure not to let us get burned.   

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Tanning

Since being diagnosed with melanoma, and especially since it progressed last summer, I read a lot about tanning, not because I seek it out, but because it's so central to the whole melanoma deal. I believe in moderation when it comes to a lot of things, and I'm pretty moderate in my opinion of tanning. I don't think it's the worst thing you can do, and I definitely don't think it's the best thing you can do. One of the reasons I didn't go get my mole checked out sooner was because I thought they were going to lecture me about tanning and doom me to a life in the darkness. My mom had a stage I melanoma and her dermatologist basically advised her to become a vampire - in my opinion anyway. Actually the first dermatologist I went to never really lectured me about tanning at all, she did her spiel about wearing sunscreen and avoiding the sun at the peak times (10am - 4pm), but that was about it. My Mayo Clinic derm also never lectures and has even less of a spiel about sunscreen - not because it doesn't matter, but because I pretty much know the spiel now. 

I know a lot of people don't want to listen to any melanoma awareness talk because they don't want to change their tanning habits, like me. Because I know this and understand it, I encourage you to take small steps in changing your habits. If you have a habit of letting yourself get burned in the summer, please be more careful this year! Wear more sunscreen than you think you need, and re-apply it more often than you think you need to. If you tan in the tanning bed, I'd like to say quit, but I know not everyone will, so at least cut back and supplement with self tanning lotion - that's what I did pre-melanoma and it helps boost the tan a lot (I feel like I'm doing something very wrong by offering any tanning tips, but I'm just working with the knowledge that not everyone will just quit tanning!). But understand this - tanning your skin is damage. It just is. We all have seen the stereotypical old lady who's tanned too much and has leathery skin, like this: 


I think we can all agree that it's not the most attractive thing ever, and if you continue to tan, you will look like some version of this when you're old! You'll have more wrinkles, and your skin will not look nice. So while you feel like you have a "healthy glow", you're really just damaging your skin, and your future self will regret it, skin cancer or not.

And if you're really worried about the way you look, scars from having skin cancer removed don't look pretty. It's not just melanoma, basal and squamous skin cancers also require a chunk o' skin to be removed. I've been fortunate to have my melanomas on my back/shoulder, where there's some extra skin, but if there's not enough extra skin where yours is, they could have to graft skin from somewhere else, and it's just not fun. Don't even get me started on the fear that skin cancer will show up on my face, and even though I have ALWAYS, even as a teenager, been very careful not to let my face get ANY sun, it could still happen. Plastic surgeons can do great things but who wants to go through that?! If you need a dose of the reality of living with advanced stage melanoma, go read the message boards at Melanoma Research Foundation and you will see personal accounts of what these people go through. Not what the doctors say, although that's elsewhere on the website, but real people, young, old, rich, poor, from all over the world, who have had their lives turned upside down by melanoma. Traveling to appointments, worrying about what insurance will or won't cover, having multiple surgeries and treatments, and sometimes planning for the loss of their lives or the lives of loved ones. If all you know about melanoma is me and what I've been through, you don't know a fraction of this world. I am thankful every day that so far, my situation has been pretty easy, at least compared to so many others'. 

The flip side of the tanning controversy are the claims of how good the sun is for you, the vitamin D exposure, etc. First of all, I laugh whenever I see the whole vitamin D thing used as a reason to tan in the tanning bed, not because it's actually funny, but because how many of these vitamin D proponents eat a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables needed to get other important vitamins and minerals? Now, if someone does eat a healthy diet, and tries to get a little sunshine on a regular basis, I think that's great. But don't push tanning as something that's healthy for you, especially in a tanning bed. Getting a small amount of sunshine is a different story than baking yourself in the sun or tanning bed. If you're out enough to get "tan", you're probably overdoing it. It makes me a little sick to read articles that make it sound like tanning is good for you, and it's not like I'm totally anti-sun, I just think it's irresponsible to pretend that it's healthy to get inside a tanning bed for 20 minutes a few times a week. For 99% of tanners, I would be willing to bet that it's about the way they look and has nothing to do with vitamin D. 

So, the takeaway from this is, try to be moderate and work on changing some of your habits. Just like I tell personal training clients, or anyone who asks my advice on weight loss, making small changes to your existing habits is the key. I'd love to get all of you to quit the tanning bed, wear sunscreen on a daily basis, and really load up on sunscreen when you're out in the sun, but I can see you now, putting your fingers in your ears, saying "lalalalalala I can't hear you" at the first sign of a skin cancer lecture. So for yourself and those who love you, please just be more careful! 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day!

Just a quick post to say Happy Valentine's Day to everyone! Whether in a relationship or not, I've always felt like V-Day is a little silly and pointless, but I do have a lot of great people in my life who I love very dearly, from family to friends and family who are like friends and friends who are like family. I'm a really lucky girl to have so many people love me, and to have so many people to love! So whether you have a hot date for Valentine's Day, or a hot date with your couch and the TV, be thankful for the ones you love! And chocolate, be thankful for chocolate. 

How cute is this?! Found it here: Brick Artist


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Don't Do That!

I was watching TV last night and an awareness commercial for something came on, I can't remember what it was for, but it made me think about how we usually champion for a cause that has affected us in some way. No one really cares about texting and driving until someone they know has been in a car accident while reading or answering a text (well that's half true because my mom gets on to me about texting and driving all the time!). No one cares about cancer until they have been personally affected by it. The list could go on and on. I never thought much about melanoma until I had to go get a PET scan to see if it had spread to my internal organs, even though my mom had it and had a "shark bite" scar on her arm. Hers wasn't deep enough to warrant any further lymph node biopsies or PET scans, so even after she had it, it was still "just skin cancer" to me. 

So as I saw this commercial last night for whatever it was, I was thinking about how we're constantly being told what to do or not to do. In the melanoma world, it's don't tan, wear your sunscreen, etc. In other worlds, it's don't text and drive, don't drink and drive, don't smoke, etc. The anti-smoking commercials are probably the best example. They show people whose lives have been drastically altered due to smoking, whether they have to use a voice box thing to speak (I probably could've googled the name of that thing but I'm lazy and you know what I'm talking about!), or have had body parts amputated, or use an oxygen tank to breathe. I wonder how many smokers are actually affected by these ads? If you're a smoker and reading this, let me know in the comments! Melanoma obviously isn't as widely talked about, but I've seen some pictures that should make anyone put on sunscreen and visit their dermatologist, but I wonder if I'd seen those pictures pre-mel, would it have changed my behavior? I guess what I'm getting at is, I wonder if these awareness ads actually make a difference? Are they ignored by many, and maybe taken seriously by a few? Or are we all desensitized to anything we hear or see on TV?

I know that no one ever comments on my posts, but I'm really curious what other people think about this, and what you think does get through to others, so if you have an opinion, please share!

Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Caregivers Point of View on Cancer

Today's post is from a guest blogger, who contacted me through this blog and wanted to share the story of his wife's diagnosis with mesothelioma (wow, I spelled that correctly on my first try!). Obviously I focus on melanoma, and from the side of the patient, but I think it's a great idea to learn about other illnesses and other points of view.

So, I'd like to introduce you to Cameron!



A Husband's Reflections on His Wife's Cancer Diagnosis

November 21, 2005 is a day never to be forgotten in my family. It’s the day my wife was diagnosed with cancer, malignant pleural mesothelioma, and I became her caregiver.  The timing of her diagnosis could not have been more devastating. Just three months before Heather’s mesothelioma diagnosis, we celebrated the birth of our first and only child, our daughter Lily. We had been eagerly anticipating her first Christmas and the memories we would make as a new family.  However, the diagnosis changed all those plans in an instant.

The implications of caring for someone diagnosed with cancer became apparent while we were still in the physician's office. We were told that we needed to go elsewhere for treatment, with three options that included the local university hospital, a regional hospital without a Mesothelioma program, or a Mesothelioma specialist in Boston named Dr. David Sugarbaker. My wife was silent in disbelief. I knew that she was shocked and needed help, so I told the doctor that we would see the specialist in Boston.  This would be the first of many difficult decisions we would be asked to make over the coming months.

Our daily routines disappeared after that. Heather had to quit working and I had to scale back to part-time in order to care for Heather and Lily. Traveling to appointments and caring for Lily caused me to feel overwhelmed. I feared my wife would die and my child and I would be bankrupt and alone.  These thoughts filled me with fear and dread, and more than once I cried and wished it would all disappear. However, I never let Heather see me in these moments of weakness.  I always did my best to remain strong in front of her.

Family, friends and complete strangers helped us with everything from comforting words to money, reminding us we were not alone. We are thankful to each and every person who reached out to us in our time of need. One thing I learned, and the strongest piece of advice I can offer to others in a fight with cancer, is that if someone offers help, accept it.  There is no room for pride or stubbornness when a loved one’s life is on the line.  Even the smallest bit of help can be a weight off your shoulders, and will remind you that you are not alone in the fight.

Caring for someone with cancer is difficult. Stress, uncertainty and chaos test you daily. Strong emotions such as fear and anger surface. You will have bad days, this is inevitable and you have to accept that, but you can never give up hope.  Always hold on to hope, and use every resource at hand to get yourself through. Heather went through surgery, radiation and chemotherapy fighting mesothelioma, and against all odds, she managed to beat it. Seven years later she is still cancer-free.

I used my stubbornness to my advantage and learned that time is precious. Two years after Heather's diagnosis, while working fulltime and caring for her and 2-year-old Lily, I returned to school fulltime to study Information Technology. I graduated at the top of my class and much to my honor, was the speaker of my class. I remember my graduation speech well.  I told my fellow graduates to never give up hope and realize that within each of us is someone capable of accomplishing anything, as long as we believe in ourselves.  Heather and Lily were in the audience to cheer me on, and that was the greatest reward of all.

*********************************************

Thanks to Cameron for sharing his family's story! You can "like" Heather's page on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/HeatherVonStJames?fref=ts and visit the mesothelioma blog that Cameron and Heather contribute to here: http://www.mesothelioma.com/blog/authors/cameron/

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Happy Birthday To Me!!!

So yesterday was my birthday, and I happened to have follow up scans scheduled that day. Blood work at 7am (boo!) and a PET/CT Scan at 9, with an appointment at 2:30 to get results. I love that Mayo gives results the same day! The first 2 scans I had were at a different hospital and it took a couple weeks to get results. Especially the 2nd time, when no one seemed to know what was going on or who ordered the test to begin with, but that's a long story for another day. Anyway, ever since they scheduled the scans I've been a little anxious, which I guess is pretty common since the term "scanxiety" has been coined for this very thing. The day went by pretty fast, the break in between blood work and the scan was the worst, because I couldn't eat. But once the scan was over, I ran some errands, visited my mom at work for a little bit, then we went to lunch, where I took advantage of a great wine tasting special they had, then I wasn't so anxious for the appointment to get results! We got back to Mayo right on time, got called back almost immediately, and the doctor came in within 5 minutes of being in the room. Dr J, my oncologist, is probably the most caring doctor I've ever been to. Within seconds of walking into the room, he says those words we all want to hear after a scan, "Everything's fine"! The last time I had scans, it was on a Friday and my appointment wasn't until the following Monday, and he called me on Friday afternoon to let me know all was well. I really appreciate that kind of stuff. Also, after I left yesterday, he called me to say Happy Birthday and he was sorry he didn't notice while he was in the room. Little things like that mean a lot, and while his competence as a doctor is the most important, the fact that he seems to care about his patients as people means a lot! All in all, great birthday! I had tons of sweet messages, phone calls, texts, flowers, cupcakes, drinks, etc. 

I saw something on Facebook about 50 Bible verses everyone should know, so a couple weeks ago I decided to memorize one a week for the rest of the year, and I wanted to share this week's verses (the 2nd part isn't on the list, but I love it):

Isaiah 40:28 - Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. 

I really love that last part and it means a lot to me, especially this week. People say that I'm strong and a lot of other nice things, but I know that I'm only strong because God gives me strength, where I am weak, He is strong and He gives me the grace to get through tough situations. For the past few weeks, I've had "scanxiety" and wondered if something was going to show up this time, knowing that if it does, that puts me in the stage IV category, but I also know that whatever happens, God will give me strength to get through. Whatever you are going through today, God will give you strength as well, you just have to ask for it and know that He will provide just what you need. It doesn't mean that life will be easy, or that you will always be happy about your circumstances, but He can make beautiful things out of the ugliness. I've met some wonderful people because I have melanoma, and I've had the opportunity to share with others through this blog and Facebook, and I've been so blessed in so many ways. 

Well, I'm gonna stop here before this short update becomes a long winded ramble! Later y'all!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Love Your Skin Link Up

I'm doing my first blogger "Link Up"! Yay! The lovely Katie of Pretty in Pale put this together with Erin of Shades of Gray and a Pinch of Pink (until today I had not read Erin's blog, but she's pretty hilarious! - and check her blog post on this subject, if for no other reason than to see the sun damage done to one half of a truck driver's face! Crazy!)

So, here we go with the questions!


1. What's your daily skincare routine?

I'm not sure I'd call it a "routine", but usually I wash my face at night in the shower (currently using Neutrogena Naturals), and then moisturize with Neutrogena Night Cream or sometimes just coconut oil. In the morning, I rinse off my face but don't wash it because it seems to dry it out too much, and moisturize with either Jergens gradual self tanner for the face, or Neutrogena daytime lotion, both of them with SPF of course! I try to exfoliate on a fairly regular basis, and I have a few different things that I use, some of them from samples that I get.  

2. A skin product you could never live without?

Hmmmmm, definitely need moisturizer, definitely need sunscreen, speaking strictly skin care and not makeup, I guess that's what I can't live without. If we're talking about makeup as well, under eye concealer and eyeliner!


3. Have you ever used a tanning bed?

Oh yes, of course I have! I started when I was pretty young, probably 16-17, and tanned off and on for years until I was diagnosed with melanoma at 33. I was never a "tanorexic" and always tried to be moderate, but as a lot of us have learned, there's really no such thing as a safe/moderate tan. I will not pretend that I don't miss having a streak free tan, or the nap time I had in the tanning bed, but I now compare tanning beds with smoking, it might make you feel better temporarily, but the consequences are most definitely not worth it! And it's not just the risk of skin cancer, it's also the sun damage that can make you look old beyond your years. 

4. Thoughts on spray tanning?

Spray tanning is ok, I have done it a few times for special occasions, even before melanoma entered my life. It's not perfect, at best, you'll have some streaking and it looks a little weird wearing off, and at worst, you'll look like an oompa loompa! I don't spray tan much, but I do use self tanner on a regular basis. It's important to love your skin (and body!) the way it is, but I also have pale skin and dark body hair, along with keratosis pilaris (red bumps on my arms and legs), so I need a little help! 

5. Favorite brand of sunscreen?

For my face, I use Neutrogena sunscreen with a ridiculously high SPF if I'm going to be outside. For the rest of my body, I'll use whatever I find as long as it's not expired - and I will throw it away if it's expired, even though it's probably still good and I'm just wasting my money, but better safe than sorry! 

6. Biggest skincare splurge?

I guess my biggest splurge is Bare Minerals makeup, and Urban Decay Primer, and even though they're makeup products, I feel like Bare Minerals is good for my skin so I'm counting it! I'd love to splurge on Arbonne because I love their products, but I also like to be able to just walk into a store and buy what I need, and Arbonne isn't sold in stores.

7. Celebrity with the most perfect skin?

That would probably have to be Nicole Kidman, her skin is gorgeous!

8. Feature you're most self-conscious about?

Geez, how much time do we have here? I suppose the aforementioned dark hair and keratosis pilaris makes me the most self conscious. 

9. What do you think about botox?

There are times that I look at my forehead and eye wrinkles and think it would be awesome to get botox, but for the most part, I would not want poison injected into my face. Plus, my eye wrinkles are mostly from smiling and laughing a lot during my almost 35 years on this earth (34 years and 51 weeks exactly, but who's counting?!). Just like most things, I think it's fine in moderation, but it can be overdone and then you just look weird and expressionless.

10. I feel most confident when...

When I'm gross and sweaty from a great workout! Or when I'm dressed up to go out - I work in a small office and don't really dress up much for work, and then I'm at the gym most days after work, so I spend a lot of time in jeans, shorts, t-shirts, tank tops, flip flops, tennis shoes, etc, so I love getting dressed up sometimes!

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So, that was fun! Be sure to check out Katie & Erin's blogs, and on their posts they have links to the others who are participating so you can see what all they have to say about their skin. You might get ideas about awesome products to use, or learn from someone else's prospective about skin care and health. If you're a blogger, you should definitely participate!