Monday, May 21, 2012

Melanoma Road Ventures Thru Facebook

Traveling Melanoma Road isn't easy. It knows blessing because it brings a person in contact with wonderful people, but it's a perilous road, to be sure. There's no cure for melanoma and treatment options are limited and no guarantee. Some people with some other cancers may be lucky enough to hear "you're cured." But none of us will ever hear those words, no matter what our stage at diagnosis. Maybe one day but not today. Or tomorrow.

Thanks to Facebook we're able to come together and form communities, many communities, and they are tight. We share, learn each others' story, share each others' hopes and dreams...and fears, pray for each other, lend support, encourage each other to keep fighting and pushing and hoping and to keep the faith, even help each other out financially from time to time. We private message and we also make phone calls and visits. We learn of each others' treatment options and what is ultimately chosen. We keep up-to-date with one another's progress or lack of progress. We watch helplessly when battles take a downward spiral and that digression often moves extremely fast once it starts.

We take it personally and internalize these final battles. We cry out against them and urge the one with no fight left to keep fighting because we know that one day that may well be us and we can't bear the thought. We can't bear the thought of melanoma snuffing out yet another life and we can lose sight of God in the process. We forget there's a big picture that we cannot see and that no life is ever in vain even if it doesn't last as long as we think it should. Particularly if it's our life or our child's life or our spouse's life or our parent's life or our sibling's life or the life of a Facebook friend whose battle mirrors our own a little too close for comfort.

And so it is that that's a place we find ourselves all too often these days. Our communities are growing quickly; we bond tightly just as fast as we take on each others' stories as if they are our own because they are.

We can log on and in one fell swoop learn that one warrior has died and another is saying good-bye and another has received the worst-of-the-worst of bad news and will soon start that final journey. We cry as we read of mothers we respect and love crying over their keyboard as they share the pain of burying the child they brought into the world and now must visit that beloved child at the cemetery. We hold our breath as spouses must continue on in a new life that still looks the same in so many ways and we know that our own spouses may also have to live those new lives one day soon and make adjustments we don't want them to make but we won't be there to stop it or help them. We can't take the pain away for them. We see ourselves in the stories of those who have melanoma and we see our stories in the stories of the families left behind because we get a glimpse of the world our own families will possibly live in one day. For those who battle and also have young children, it's particularly heartbreaking.

And melanoma sucks and we can't stop that either or turn back the clock and make decisions that may have stopped this progression in our lives. We can't go back and not sun, not tan, remove that blasted mole, take the family history seriously, not wait so long to see what a suspicious place was going to do, understand that many melanomas have no explanations so vigilance is demanded at all times no matter what a person's skin color or ethnicity or age or gender. We can't go back and make our doctor listen to us and remove something we didn't like the looks of.

Melanoma Road is a hard place to live on. It can be overwhelming but it's the life we know. We can step back but we can't step off. We can take a deep breath but it's in the air we breathe. We can get off Facebook but then we can go back to traveling this road alone. The road isn't going anywhere. Facebook communities, when they are bound together by something like melanoma, are places where, all of a sudden, we meet our fellow travelers and that's a great and giddy feeling. We're with people who understand. They get it because they've got it. We may never "meet" each other but we know each other well and we love each other. But these communities are also very intimate places and we share each others' pain and grief.

When we traveled alone there were drawbacks but we weren't overwhelmed. We knew the numbers and knew there were other people "out there" like us, but we usually were spread so far apart that we never met and we never swapped stories or hearts. Facebook changes that scenario. As our communities grow and stages advance and lives come to an end, we find these things happening more and more. We can know weeks where we say good-bye to several friends. And each time, we say good-bye to ourselves in a way. We lose a little more of our if we had any left to lose. And life goes on. But we remember and we honor those we say "good-bye" to by saying "hello" to a new warrior. Just like we never get used to the empty seat at the table, we are forever pulling up another chair. The cycle continues and we never know how our journeys will progress or end.

But we know we must live our lives to the fullest. Eventually we must face the fact that our piece of the picture is a piece of the picture and not the whole painting. We build on those who were before us and those after us will build on what we have done. While we share the same time frame, we build together. We aren't entities solely unto ourselves.

And we aren't the Painter either. We don't mix the colors and we don't make the frame. And I look at my little piece of the painting and I get to see how it has evolved to this point, because it is a living picture that is also a puzzle, but I don't get to see where it is going. I get to see some of the pieces around me but I don't get to see them all. I can see as far as my eyes can see but I cannot see the next minute of the painting. And that is as it should be.

All I know is that I need to trust the Painter to pull it all together into a glorious painting that's always changing but always in His Hands. I need to know that while I occupy a small piece of the painting, it's an important piece and it's a piece that only has my name on it. I need to know that once the Painter paints my name that I'm in the painting. Permanently. When my part of the picture is complete, part of me may go away but part of me is an intricate part of the painting and puzzle I leave behind.

It's like that for all of us. Once we're in the painting, we're there. That doesn't mean the painting isn't wet with tears, for it is. I think those tears are what God stirs the paint with. It's not easy being in God's painting. It's not easy living on Melanoma Road.

But while there is pain, there is blessing. Even on Facebook.

And I am grateful.