Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Bob Marley: My Soul Brother

Robert Nesta Marley was born February 6, 1945 and died May 11, 1981. At age 36. Of melanoma. He didn't fit the "profile" and his didn't begin where we typically think of melanoma beginning, namely in a mole. His began under a toenail.

Bob Marley, still revered for his reggae music, was diagnosed with  melanoma in 1977 and advised to have his toe amputated, which he refused to do and kept on touring. And his untreated melanoma kept on growing and spreading. By the time he decided to seek treatment, it had spread to his lungs and brain. He waited too late to fight the fight of his life and he died from melanoma. According to his biography on Wikipedia, "His final words to his son Ziggy were 'Money can't buy life'."

And everything wasn't all right, either. It's still not for too many people who just don't think this can happen to them. Melanoma has very low statistics in the non-Caucasian population. But the statistics are there, they represent real people, and when you become part of the ugly side of a melanoma statistic...then this information takes on a new sense of urgency and importance.

This post, in memory of my Soul Brother, Bob, is dedicated to my living soul sisters and brothers who happen to have more skin pigment than I do.

When College Kid, who is also my favorite theologian, was 9, Michael Jordan was enjoying his second heyday as America's Basketball Star Unparalleled. He had the moves, the jumps, and the dunks. My little emulator didn't just dream of being "like Mike." No, in his white kid mind, he was Mike! Anything Mike could do challenged him to do it, too. He was a hotdog on the court and relished showing off his fancy foot work. He lived and breathed Michael Jordan. And, yes, he did have Air Jordans.

One day, when he was 9, I had read an article in the paper saying that scientists had discovered "Lucy," a skeleton in Ethiopia that proved everyone on earth was descended from her and we all share DNA. My nine-year-old was telling me Mike this and Mike that and he was all excited. I interrupted him to tell him what I'd read in the paper about "Lucy" and we all share DNA. My white kid son looked at me, his eyes grew ten sizes, a smile covered his entire face, and he exclaimed, "You mean we're RELATED?!?!" I could see the wheels rapidly turning in his brain! That gave him new momentum, as if he needed more, to practice harder and keep improving. It was in his DNA! He was kin to Michael Jordan! Life couldn't get better than that for my pale kid.

We're related. Me and Bob Marley. It's not just our DNA, we've got a common link with melanoma. I think Cousin Bob might approve if I give our relatives some facts and figures. So, for all my non-Caucasian kin, this is for you. Please read, take to heart, and share. Keep that check on your skin, but also on the soles of your feet, the palms of your hands, and all your nail beds, because those are the places you are most likely to get melanoma.

This is copied from Skin Cancer. Org: please click on the link to read updated info!
  • Asian American and African American melanoma patients have a greater tendency than Caucasians to present with advanced disease at time of diagnosis.
  • Skin cancer comprises one to two percent of all cancers in African Americans and Asian Indians.
  • While melanoma is uncommon in African Americans, Latinos, and Asians, it is frequently fatal for these populations.
  • As few as 48 percent of melanomas in African Americans are diagnosed at an early stage, compared to 74 percent in Hispanics and 84 percent in Caucasians.
  • The overall melanoma survival rate for African Americans is only 77 percent, versus 91 percent for Caucasians.
  • Melanomas in African Americans, Asians, Filipinos, Indonesians, and native Hawaiians most often occur on non-exposed skin with less pigment, with up to 60-75 percent of tumors arising on the palms, soles, mucous membranes and nail regions.
  • Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common cancer in Caucasians, Hispanics, Chinese, Japanese, and other Asian populations.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the most common skin cancer among African Americans and Asian Indians.
  • Squamous cell carcinomas in African Americans tend to be more aggressive and are associated with a 20-40 percent risk of metastasis (spreading).
  • Skin cancer represents approximately 2-4 percent of all cancers in Asians.
  • Among non-Caucasians, melanoma is a higher risk for children than adults: 6.5 percent of pediatric melanomas occur in non-Caucasians.
Bob Marley sang Three Little Birds which put forth the idea, "Don't worry about a thing, cause every little thing gonna be all right."

If we all pay attention to our bodies and get things checked out at the first sign of trouble, and don't put things off until it's too late...well, things will have a much better chance of actually being all right, especially in the world of melanoma. Learn a lesson from my Soul Brother, Bob. He had money. He had fame. He had talent. He had melanoma. It wasn't all right for him because he didn't know his enemy and take it seriously until it was too late. 

I leave you with him singing Three Little Birds. He was many things. Add "melanoma prophet" to the list and take this seriously.

We'll all be grateful.
(here's a link to my second post that draws on Bob Marley)