Monday, June 27, 2011

I was alone... for a reason!

Saturday I participated in Scan Foundation's 5th Annual Save Our Skin 5k run/walk.   I was hesitant to sign up and waited until the last day of early bird registration to do so.  About 2 months ago, I had one of those freak foot injuries.  It should have been nothing, but 2 months later it is still bothering me.  Also, even though I had asked family and friends to do it with me, nobody was interested.  Every time I thought about not doing it, I got a sick feeling in my stomach.  In a couple of Bible studies lately, something I have heard more than once was that if you have a choice and one makes you feel uneasy, that is what God wants you to do.  I have felt that way about sharing my melanoma story and getting the word out about skin cancer, but every time I try to avoid it, it becomes abundantly clear that I am supposed to.  With this event coming up, one thought kept coming to my mind.  Many people think skin cancer is not such a big deal, well, in the past 14 months, I have personally known 6 people who have been diagnosed with or treated for skin cancer.  That is 6 people in my personal circle.  That is not a big deal, that is a huge deal.

This week, on the last day of early bird registration, I woke up and my foot was feeling fine.  I decided, I'll sign up, so I at least have made a donation and we will go from there.  Everything fell into place. My foot never bothered me again during the week. My teenager agreed to watch the preschooler, since husband works Saturdays.  My uncle was having surgery, and it got moved to Saturday and the walk/run was halfway to the hospital.  Even Saturday morning, my alarm didn't go off, but I woke up in time to leave by 6:30 am.  I was supposed to be there.

Even as I arrived, and watched couples, families, or teams go in together, I wondered why I had to be there alone.  I have done four 5k run/walk events for breast cancer awareness, and have never had a problem getting a team together.  This was something that affected me personally, and none of those former team members were there. I really was taking it personally.  It was really hard to avoid a pity party, but luckily that feeling passed quickly.

I walked in and got my race number and was told to visit the survivor tent. Stubborn me browsed the booths that had been set up.  Radio station, salons, catering companies, gyms, stretch-massages one handing out information pamphlets and samples of sunscreens for the face or lip balms.  They had huge bottles of sunscreen out, which I was thrilled to see many people applying it to children in strollers.  They had a tent set up for free skin cancer spot checks. I dont know why it was hard for me to go over there, but finally watching the survivor tent wasn't enough.  Maybe it was the DJ on the loud speaker reminding survivors to go over there.  So when nobody else was there, I went. As I walked up, the lady asked me if I was a survivor.  I showed her the scar on my arm and said "I had melanoma last summer"  she handed me a button with a black ribbon hanging from it that said "SURVIVOR" and asked me if I am telling people about my story and encouraging them to be sun safe.  She said she was a 21 year survivor, but had had several places removed since then, and that she even still had people in her life that were indoor or outdoor tanners.  Her main message was to not give up.

As the race started, I moved towards the back of the pack, as I always do when walking so the runners can go ahead.  For about the first half mile everyone was still pretty jumbled together, but soon spread out.  I began to notice that the crowd was all ages from infant to one adorable elderly couple that you wouldn't think would walk that distance, much less jog it.  As people spread out, I was able to hear people telling their stories about why they were there.  There were people who had personally had skin cancer, people who were walking with or for a loved one, and people who were walking in memory of a loved one.  No two stories were alike.

I began talking to someone who had lost her sister to melanoma.  She was walking with her niece and niece's step-daughter.  It was their second year walking in memory.  As we exchanged stories, we found that even though our stories were so different, our quest for wanting to make those around us more aware was very similar.  We had people who supported us, because they love us and will support all we will do, and we have people who will just flat out tell us to shove it.  We have people who will thank us for making them more aware, and we have people who will tell us to get off our soap box if we just give a tip on how to treat a sunburn.  We have those who will share pictures of themselves in a tanning bed, or who will criticize us for using too much sunscreen.  We have friends or family who are more aware, and haven't yet changed their ways, but have told us to keep sharing with them.  We also have stories of people who have gotten checked, because of our experiences.

Suddenly I got it.  Every walk I have done before, I have been with a team.  Our team has stuck together.  Nobody in our team has really ever talked to anyone outside our group.  If I had a team, I most likely would not have approached the survivor tent, listened to stories of other people participating, or talked to anyone else.  I heard things that I needed to hear.  I realized that even though sometimes I feel alone in my feelings about having cancer, and not wanting any of my loved ones to experience it, I'm not.  There are a lot of other people out there who are fighting this same fight, going through the same opposition by people who think tan skin is healthy skin.  Yes, this was God's way of telling me that even though I feel like nobody supports me at times, I am on the right track, and am not alone.

This isn't to say that I am not hoping that some of my friends and family will join me next year.  I would love that, I really want to share this with them.  I think this year, this was what I needed though.

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