Monday, October 24, 2011

Blown off?

This isn't really a post about melanoma, but maybe it is..  I'm experiencing a roller coaster of emotions right now. They range from confusion, anger, rejection, relief..  I don't know.  Hopefully this post will make sense, normally I would wait and calm myself first, it will all probably make perfect sense by then, right? I'm being an impatient brat instead, so please bear with me.  I know once I share and get it out of my system, I will feel a lot better.

About 2 years ago, I started experiencing some pain in my breast.  Having just lost someone very close to breast cancer, I was very aware, and got in for a breast ultrasound right away.  It came back clear, so my concern just fizzled away, especially after my melanoma diagnosis 6 months later.  Well, the pain never went away, and in the past month, a new pain has developed further up and into my armpit.  I went for my physical this past Thursday and mentioned it to Dr M, along with my history of melanoma and not knowing my family history.  She felt the area I pointed to, and set me up for an ultrasound and mammogram. I just got home from that appointment.

It was a breast health department, and while there was a lot of pink around, there was not as many pink ribbons.  I really expected to be surrounded by them, but it wasn't so bad at all.  There was a board that had a note that it was not managed or maintained by the center, it had a pink ribbon on diagonal corners and 3 large pink felt butterflies spread out between the two ribbons.  Each one had facts.  One had risk factors, one had facts, one had statistics.  On the facts one, the second of three facts said other than skin cancer it was the most diagnosed cancer in women in the US.  I was glad to see that small but notable nod to skin cancer being more prevalent for women.

So after the mammogram, which I have to say I was dreading the pain and it wasn't so bad at all.  It was uncomfortable, but seriously, these DDD's weren't screaming with pain (sorry if tmi, but I always heard that the larger or more dense, the more pain..).  It was less comfortable when they did the spot towards my armpit, but that is to be expected since the plates had to push against my bones to get there. I am sent back to the waiting room while the radiologist reads that and tells the ultrasound tech where to focus on. When I go over to the ultrasound room, and she immediately goes to the spot under my arm where it hurts.  I am now really sore due to the pressing with the device.  Thanks to many ultrasounds for ovarian cysts and three pregnancies, I know when there is a spot on the screen and that her clicking and marking is taking measurements.  They leave me in the room while the radiologist takes a look, just in case they need to do more.

A few minutes later, they come back in and say that I am all done, good news I'm okay.  What they saw on both the mammogram and the ultrasound was my lymph node. That isn't really breast tissue up there, so I'm free to go.  I ask if I should be concerned that it showed up, I don't know if it is supposed to show up or not. I don't remember a mention of them last time. They just repeat that I'm fine, my breast is fine.

Here's where I feel blown off.  Yes, my breast is fine, but my lymph node is not my breast, so they aren't concerned that it hurts and showing up.  Is it supposed to show up?  I understand the radiologist cant tell me everything, and obviously they were just concerned with the breast.  Should I be concerned?  Should I wait until Dr M gets the report and call her and remind her that even though my breast is okay, I had melanoma?   Should I call Dr K (dermatologist) and tell her what is going on, since every skin screening she feels for my lymph nodes too?  Am I overreacting?  Should I just accept that I'm okay and that this pain is normal, as I did with the breast pain 2 years ago?  I don't like that they are saying breast pain is normal, but really dont like that they are saying that pain in what I now know is my lymph node is okay..  Okay, nothing's wrong, I am relieved to hear that. The logical next question, why the pain?

Thursday, October 13, 2011


In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month, last week I shared a picture of the pink ribbon on my personal Facebook page. Thanks to one of the new features, I can see that it was shared 3 times.  As I have mentioned before I have been involved in Breast Cancer Awareness events in the past several years.  There are personal reasons for this, I lost a dear friend/family member to her second battle with breast cancer, her mother is a two time survivor, another family member and her mother are both survivors.  It is an important cause.

Well, a few days later I get an email that says "with all your skin cancer stuff, I thought you were over the breast cancer thing now"  What?  Are we only allowed one cause at a time?  No.  I also support Diabetes and Heart research/awareness/prevention.  Also because someone I love has been affected by these.

They are all important causes, and the support of one, does not negate the support of the other.  Yes, right now my primary energy is towards melanoma.  Why? Quite simply, everyone knows about breast cancer, everyone knows the risks for diabetes, heart and stroke, and they are getting attention.  I want that attention towards Skin Cancer and Melanoma awareness too.  Looking back, for a while Lung Cancer and Emphysema got a lot of attention for a while as everyone fought the tobacco companies.  I remember a period of time when Diabetes research got a lot of attention.  The cardiac organizations go through their stages where they get a lot of attention.  Thanks to a brilliant campaign, Breast Cancer is now getting attention.

All the while, the Skin Cancer organizations are struggling to get the same name recognition out there.  It has been more of a word of mouth campaign.  Those affected, share with those they know.  There are various events around the country, some organizations use an orange ribbon, most a black ribbon, one even uses a white ribbon that has black spots.  Information is spurratic, sometimes too medical.  I even came across a site recently that disputes everything that the skin cancer awareness campaigns stand for, and in a very convincing way.  It is understandable after reading that site, how the tanning industry has been able to have their customers see the world through rose colored tanning goggles.

I see good things happening though.  California just passed a ban on tanning for anyone under the age of 18, many others are passing legislation restricting usage to parental consent.  The FDA has new guidelines for sunscreen manufacturers and labeling.  In my personal life, I am encountering less people who think skin cancer is just cut out, and more who are, vaguely, aware that melanoma is in a different class than other skin cancers.  I'm very encouraged by this, I hope that even though it is a frustrating road, that my fellow warriors are also encouraged by the baby steps. Slow and steady..

It's Possible

Every time an idea I have for getting started with speaking to mom's groups hits a road block and I get discouraged, something comes along that tells me not to give up.

Take this video that was just shared on Facebook.  While it is about getting the word out to high school students, it shows how receptive the younger audience can be.  They are saying that it makes them think twice.  If this can apply to stubborn, know it all teenagers, it can also apply to overwhelmed moms.  I hope.   

So I'm motivated again.  I need resources and a plan.  I am going to start with a local awareness group, and go from there.  For groups, I have friends that are involved in several different groups in the area.  Hopefully I can get them to brainstorm with me, for the best approach, and they will suggest me to the group this spring when I'm ready.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Tanning in the 90's

Last week I came across an article about prom tanning in the 90's and the current spike in melanoma cases in women ages 25-34.  I went to prom in 1993, 1994 and 1995. I didn't tan prior to prom.  I look back, and even though they were in April, I am fairly pale in those pictures.  My skin looks very even toned and healthy.  

I already had a relationship with the tanning bed at that time.  My mom and I went to get our base tans before spring and summer breaks in maybe 1991 and 1992.  As I've said before, she would get very dark, I wouldn't get so dark.  Although, I remember fall of freshman year, wearing a warm up suit to school.  Hush! it was the style then.  I wore a tank top under the jacket, it was blue and really showed off my tan. I remember the guy next to me in Language Arts class calling me "fake"  My hair was colored, I had fake nails, and I was extremely tan after a summer at the tanning bed, pool or at the lake.  He asked me what was real about me.  I did not like the guy before this, I really didn't like him after that.  But here I am, 20 years later, I remember that conversation like it was yesterday. I hate to admit it, but he may have reached me on a subconscious level.  I think that was when my time in the tanning bed transitioned from trying to tan, to trying to just get that alleged safer base tan.

Back to prom. I do remember trying not to get tan lines before prom my sophomore year.  I was wearing a strapless dress. My mom passed away shortly after sophomore prom, and after that, I lost interest in the tanning bed almost completely. Junior year my dress had several spaghetti straps that crossed in the back, and I remember my friends giving me a hard time for wearing a long sleeve shirt at a track meet at FSU, in order to avoid tan lines.  Senior year my dress was sleeveless, but in the back it had a very detailed beaded design that just looked better with pale skin, versus the freckles that would "pop" if I tried to tan.

All that being said, I almost would call myself an early bloomer as far as tanning in high school was concerned.  Maybe I need to find that jerk who called me fake (among other things over the course of 3 years prior to this), and thank him for putting that bug in my ear.  Not that I want to give him credit, but I know that he was the only person to point out to me that I was too tan.  Who knows how much more damage I would have done if I continued through high school tanning that way?  I am not saying I didn't damage further by continuing tanning for the base tan at all, but it was no longer extreme tanning for me after that.  I don't blame prom tanning, but I definitely blame my sun habits my entire life, and tanning bed habits from 1990-1993 and then off and on from 2001-2005 for my melanoma.  The article states that "The latency period from the time of intensified exposure to the appearance of melanoma is 5-20 years"  My diagnosis was in 2010.  

Monday, October 3, 2011

Excited about this new direction..

I've mentioned before that I felt like my journey sometimes takes a life of it's own.  Especially with this blog.  Sometimes I come in with the idea to write about one topic, and as I write, it goes a whole different direction.  Probably why I didn't do too well on essays in school, I had trouble staying on topic.  Well there was one time in college that I stayed on topic so well that my persuasive essay had too many supporting facts and THAT counted against me.  Anyway.  I have found that I want to tell my story and experiences.  I want to educate my friends and family.  I have been looking for a direction to take it further.  If you have been following my journey, you know that a few weeks ago I was presented with an opportunity to suggest a meeting topic to a moms group, and I suggested sun safety for children as an idea for spring or for May which is skin cancer awareness month.  Well, I thought that would be the end of that direction and I kept brainstorming ideas for my own age group.  Well, as you will read, that wasn't the end, because I can't seem to get my mind off the children.

On Saturday, my daughter and I went to a "Taste of..." event at a local church.  It was held from 12-4:30, so in the peak sunlight hours that you are supposed to avoid.  It was also in a field, so no hope of finding shade. Next time, I will be the one in a sun hat. We only planned on being there for about 2 hours, but as we were about to leave, our friends came in and said their sons band was singing at 4, so we stayed.

I used all the products I listed in my previous post, and applied a SPF 30 before leaving home.  After about an hour, I noticed that my scar was looking pink.  I joked that my UV indicator was sending me a warning and walked back to the car to get the sunscreen.  As I was returning to our group, my 4 year old turned around and saw me.  Without hesitating, or me saying a word, she ran over and put her arms out so I could spray her too.

I thought that was the coolest thing.  She saw me carrying the spray can and ran over and put her arms out.  Okay, maybe that is just dorky of me, but it made me really proud.

Unfortunately, had it been my olive skinned 14 year old, he would have grumbled through the first application and probably refused the second one.  For my 4 year old, it is just a fact of life.  She also has snow white skin, so she understands the consequences of no sunscreen.  For him, he was 13 when I had my awakening (melanoma diagnosis), and by then I had already set the tone of minimal protection.  He was on a retreat getting a blistering burn, the week of my surgery. He is at that stubborn age too, you know the one where mom is just overreacting to everything??

I think this is the perfect example of why I am suddenly so passionate about reaching the parents in a way that they will teach their children while they are young, to develop good habits and hopefully break the cycle of sun-abuse.  I didn't see this direction coming, I have spent my energy the past 15 months sharing information with my friends and family.  Hoping that they would see me and hear me, and make more safe decisions. I really want to reach the next generation. I know that when the kids are younger, parents are more consistent with applying sunscreen to them before they spend time outside.  It is when they reach about school age, that the parents back off a little. I want to find a way to keep that habit from breaking as they get older.  I really do want to somehow work with mom's groups, preschools, day cares, etc., to find a way to get this message out so that not only do the parents remember, but the children also remind the parents they need it.  It happens, my little one wont let me forget.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

I have a question..

In all my research online, I have not come across the answer to this. I'm thrilled to see that my number of readers is going up each week, so I am hoping that one of my readers knows the answer to this.

Traditional sunscreen is effective for no more than 2 hours, less if you are more active.

I use sunscreen with a SPF 30 before leaving the house each day.

My every day body lotion has a SPF 15.
My morning facial moisturizer has a SPF 35
Depending on which foundation I use that day, it either has no SPFSPF 15, or SPF 30.

If I were only to use the sunscreen in my body lotion, facial moisturizer and make up, as many people do, how long is that really effective for?  I always think it is good for added protection, but sometimes think it also gives a false sense of security for long term or all day protection.