Monday, April 16, 2012

Every Day Is Melanoma Awareness Day

May is "Melanoma Awareness Month" and already a popular question on Facebook is "What are you doing to promote awareness in May?" I've seen a few sites that call May "Skin Cancer Awareness Month" with Monday May 7th being set aside specifically for melanoma. Whatever.

For many of us all day, every day, is Melanoma Awareness Day. I mean, really now, once we get it we can't get rid of it. Even if we manage to keep it at bay for decades, it doesn't leave our minds and prayers. It doesn't leave our families minds either. We see our doctors so much we practically exchange birthday cards. Strangers give us odd looks when they catch us getting a little too close for comfort to get a better look at a place on their skin we spotted from halfway across the store or parking lot. And heaven better help the person who tells one of us they go to tanning beds. Let's face it, how many of us wish demolishing a business was legal so we could take out our anger, aggression, and attirude on local tanning salons? If they have license to kill, why can't we have license to bust a few bricks without hurting anyone? Oh well. So we take the high road.

That high road is a busy place though it is a road no one wants to travel. Let me tell you about some of the people I travel that road with without calling names. First, I travel that road with women and men who have buried their children who died from melanoma. I know some of them well in cyberspace and I stand in awe of them. Because every day is Melanoma Awareness Day, they work tirelessly so nobody else need feel their pain in an "in your face and family" kind of way. They choose, every day, to honor their child's fight to the finish by keeping their private pain on display for all to see and, hopefully, learn from. They work in melanoma-specific organizations, work on legislation, travel and speak, write, they do everything can possibly think of and none of it will bring back their child. So they do what they can to keep you from burying yours.

I travel this road with men and women who have buried their spouses who died from melanoma and I stand in awe of their resilience as they live with broken hearts. Many have buried their spouses way too young and they are left to raise young children alone. Because every day is Melanoma Awareness Day, they get out of bed and carry on because they have to. Life must go on and they have responsibilities that won't wait. They choose, every day, to get out of bed and honor their love by doing many of the same things parents do. It is, often spouses though, who establish melanoma-specific organizations that the rest of us support. Not always, but often. None of it, though, will bring their spouse back. So they do what they can to keep you from burying yours.

I travel this road with children of all ages who have buried their parents who died from melanoma and I stand in awe of how they struggle and cope with a pain that has broken their hearts. Just because "burying ones' parents" is the "natural order" of the universe doesn't make it any less real and painful. It doesn't make it any less life-changing. Because every day is Melanoma Awareness Day, they remember the person who brought them in this world, raised them, and loved them to the end and died a very horrible, brutal death. All deaths caused by cancer are excruciating, but the multiple tumors, everywhere in the body, associated with melanoma are beyond belief. Because of what they witness and is now part of their genetics and family history, they walk the walks and raise money and awareness as they can. They raise their children to do everything they can to prevent melanoma from adding more branches to the family tree.

I travel this road with siblings who have buried a brother or a sister. I travel this road with other family members and friends. Each person's level of pain is different. Each person will celebrate Melanoma Awareness Day every day their own way. But they never forget and  because they never forget, but carry their loved one with them where they go, they are a silent force to be reckoned with. People often misjudge the depth of their pain and that is a mistake. Especially if you engage in threatening behaviors that can lead to your own case of melanoma.

I travel this road with warriors. People of all races, ages, and both genders who deal with melanoma.  Many warriors are parents who battle with and for their young children and teenagers. They are every bit as much a warrior as me. Many are far more so. I stand in awe of their inner strength. They truly do the impossible. Many are spouses of warriors who also battle with and for their wife or husband. They, too, are warriors, who find themselves living vows in ways they never thought they'd have to. And they are more than rising to the occasion. Many are children and siblings of warriors. Grown children who battle with and for a parent are increasing in number. Many have their own children at home and also have to take care of Mom or Dad who battles melanoma. Because every day is Melanoma Awareness Day these are the people supporting, in superhuman ways, those of us who bodily live with the beast. These are the mama-bears and papa-bears nobody better cross. At all. These are also the angels that make the journey on this road bearable.

I travel this road with fellow warriors of all stages who have melanoma. We're an awesome group of people and just thinking about them fills my eyes with tears and my heart with love. We are a rainbow of people, battle scarred but not battle weary. We've always got fight in us and we're not going down without one helluva one. We're tough as nails and soft as marshmallows. We'll tell you where to get off but we'll also tell you where to get on. We don't suffer fools gladly but we'll suffer what's on our plate because it's there. We have compassion but don't tell us what you "can't do." We don't like whining. Unless it's our own and it's a well-deserved pity party. Even then we don't like it and apologize for it, but we work through it and move on. Because every day is Melanoma Awareness Day for us we work through what we're feeling and move on. We may move on from a good place or we may be in a really hard place, but we stay on the move. We've got lives to lead, battles to fight, awareness to spread, and the world to conquer.

Because this is so personal to us and because everyone we see has skin, we who live with melanoma every day are always on the lookout for fresh, innovative ways to celebrate Melanoma Awareness Day. It will begin, in earnest, next month. But people don't just have skin one month a year. We don't just have melanoma one month a year either. People who have buried loved ones who died from melanoma don't grieve one month a year. Ever.

I'm something of a renegade. I can only live in a man-made box but for so long. As all cancers have a ribbon and are known by a particular color, well, melanoma's color is black. We're the Black C. You'll be seeing a lot of black ribbons during May.

God's been capturing my imagination with rainbows lately. Susan at Jilly's Jems has designed me a bracelet and necklace that twines a double rainbow and the necklace has a cross on it. Both pieces are predominately rainbows but there are a few black beads worked in to acknowledge melanoma and her jewelry always has a sapphire bead to acknowledge her daughter's battle with melanoma.

The rainbow is a symbol of hope and I wish the rainbow was what people thought of when thinking of melanoma. God's at work spreading hope on this road. I designed this image today to try and capture what I'm feeling. The bottom line of the text is slightly askew, but so am I. There's nothing perfect on this melanoma journey down melanoma road. Except the God Who journeys with us all.

Every day.

And I am grateful. Every day.