Saturday, September 29, 2012

There's Nothing "Dull" About Dirt!

An odd thing to think about but it popped into my brain just now and I've been pondering.

Yesterday, I told a friend/big brother/boss o'mine at Hotel Melanoma that I was glad he had gotten a good MRI report and was still "dull as dirt." To the untrained eye it may have seemed like I was referring to him, but I was, in fact, referring to his glowing medical report. Didn't think anything else about it.

Until this morning and the thought I just thought, "There's nothing dull about dirt."

One day I'll learn to keep my mouth shut. But not today.

Dirt. It's actually a hustle and bustle full of life, and it does know the cycle of death as well. But, OH!, the life it does see, carry, and sustain. Ponder all the creatures that call "dirt" Home. It is also that substance we plant seeds in. We water that dirt and we fertilize that dirt. We weed that dirt and we reap what we have sown in that dirt. And that's when my musings began to take a more theological, philosophical turn.

I live in a rural, farming area. There's a garden on my front porch. Seriously. And down both sidewalks. Stop by sometimes and pick some cherry tomatoes and all kinds of peppers and fresh basil...My church is in another rural, farming area. I grew up playing in dirt. Lots of it.

Nature bears witness to the Scriptural truth that we reap what we sow. What we plant in the dirt is what we get back out of the dirt. In abundance. We reap a harvest.Tenfold. Twentyfold. Thirtyfold. Sixtyfold. One hundredfold.

Same is true in the dirt of our lives. If we plant seeds of anger, hate, distrust, bitterness, we will reap a broken home and a hurt generation. Like soil that has been abused, that generation may not recover. Those weed seeds are every much at home in dirt as are the seeds of harmony, love, help, trust, faithfulness, tenderness, patience, etc. When we plant these seeds, we will reap security, joy, peace, wholeness.

Yes, we humans plant seeds of all kinds each day. But we must be diligent to weed our dirt daily so the weeds don't overtake the fruit. So the weeds don't soak up the fertilizer and get out of control. So we have beautiful gardens to proudly display instead of beds of weeds that we cannot hide.

De-weed. Spread around some forgiveness, dish out hugs and kisses, close the doors on fear and worry. Work together instead of stewing alone. Teamwork and good sportsmanship aren't just nice platitudes to teach our children when they're out playing a sport. They are lessons for life.

There really is nothing dull about dirt.

What, in your dirt, needs weeding? What needs nurturing?

Get busy and

Be grateful for the chance to tend your dirt.

May you grow a beautiful garden.

Monday, September 24, 2012

"Ban The Tan" And "Preach No Bleach"

After I wrote about melanoma around the world and mentioned skin-whitening being a trend in Asian countries, I posted this on my Facebook page and on Melanoma Prayer Center:

"I've learned that while Caucasians value "tan" skin (though we're working to change that), women in Africa and Asia are being taught more and more to value "white" skin and are bleaching their skin with products that contain mercury, which is illegal, and some products contain ingredients that destroy their skin's melanin. People, learn to love and protect the skin you're IN, whatever color God gave it. Don't tan it and don't bleach it. Each are ways to kill yourself. Work to "ban the tan" and work to "preach no bleach"."

My blog post had focused on Asian women, but while researching it I found this article featuring Ajuma Nasenyana, a beautiful Kenyan model, and she discusses the same pressure faced among African women. It turns out, though, that there are pressures on women of ALL darker ethnicities and skin colors to be lighter and whiter.

I've been around 53 years and I'm used to women never being satisfied with their hair. If it's not the color, it's the texture, or the curl-factor or lack thereof, or the length. Something is never like we like it and we'll pay good money to straighten God out. In my case, I would be happy to have just one strand, one strand, do like I want it to. Each strand of my hair goes directly to its own brain cell and does what it wants. I gave up fussing and mussing years ago. I keep it washed and combed and it stays on my head. That's the deal.

But our skin color, also God-given, needs to be tamper-proof. We've, ALL, really got to love the skin we're IN and not alter its color. Now, I know I suntanned in my younger years but I really was never trying to accomplish changing my skin color. I usually fell asleep in the sun and that warm nap is what I liked! I did accomplish "tan." Often a very dark tan, but that wasn't my goal. That nice nap was my goal. That tan was a side-effect (and, yes, I did get compliments on it). Melanoma was the end result. Rats.

Melanoma is the end result many of us are facing no matter when, or how, we have altered our skin color. People, like me, who suntanned in our teens and are now in our 40s, 50s, 60s, and even 70s, 80s, and 90s are being diagnosed with melanoma. The skin doesn't forget or forgive and tanned skin is damaged skin. People who are now in their teens, 20s, and 30s, who frequent tanning beds are being diagnosed with melanoma. From what I'm seeing, theirs is particularly nasty and aggressive. People who suntan don't necessarily go to tanning beds, BUT, people who use tanning beds often suntan as well. People of ALL skin colors get out in the sun. People of ALL skin colors use tanning beds. And, people of ALL skin colors use skin whitening products. However, Caucasians who use these products usually don't use them all over but have dark spots, here and there, that they want whitened. That doesn't mean that sparse usage won't cause them health problems.

BUT, it's people, generally women, with naturally darker skin tones who use skin whiteners/bleaches all over.

This whole concept is new to me, so I'm not going to set myself up as some kind of self-styled expert. I will say that we, in the melanoma community, need to step up our campaign for people, ALL people, to love and protect the God-given skin they're in and not change the color of it by any means or for any reason.

I'm also going to recommend a couple of up-to-date articles about skin whitening:

Are you dying to have white skin?

Skin whitening

Ban the tan and preach no bleach
Simple rules to live and teach.
Love your's yours for life.
But do it wrong... you'll know strife.

Skin-altering is life-changing.


Melanoma Around The World: A Call To Drug Companies

Being the pastor behind the Facebook open community page, Melanoma Prayer Center, I often come in contact with people from around the world who are affected, somehow, by melanoma. This is an awesome position I find myself in because I am, by no means, a "traveler" of any kind and yet Facebook allows me the privilege of coming in contact with people I never would have any other way. For that I am truly grateful.

That also means that I can learn some things that I find rather unsettling. Currently, as I write, I am enjoying a season of private messages with a young woman, under 30, from an Asian country where melanoma is extremely rare. She has just been diagnosed and it is already in her lungs and liver. Her treatment options: chemo, followed by Interferon, and then, if necessary, biochemotherapy. As I write, she has her first chemo today.

Her country has no tanning beds. As a matter of fact, she tells me that skin bleaching is very popular where she lives.  Hers is also a country of beautiful beaches. My guess is, and I could be wrong, but I'm guessing not many people there practice safe-sun. Not many here in the USA do, so why should it be different anywhere else in the world? But, like I said, I could be wrong. All I know is that she's her oncologist's only melanoma patient. There are no melanoma trials being offered in her country, only breast cancer ones. And Yervoy, which is showing great promise here, will not be available where she lives for another five years. FIVE YEARS. Zelboraf isn't an option, either. And if they WERE options, the cost would be astronomically prohibitive.

So my brain has been thinking and wondering what worldwide melanoma stats are like. I also wonder what can be done to speed up other countries having what we have so people can have access to treatments that just might save their lives, or at the very least, prolong them. Do these countries face the same rate of melanoma-diagnosis increase as we do? OK, tanning beds may be out of the picture, but is bleaching a cancer risk? And then there's the hot sun and plentiful beaches in these countries.

First, the pressure that exists in Asian countries to have white skin:  A Vision of Pale Beauty Carries Risks for Asia's Women from The New York Times Asian Pacific. "Skin-whitening products work in various ways. Some contain acids that remove old skin to reveal newer, lighter skin underneath. Others inhibit melanin, like those with mulberry extract, licorice extract, kojic acid, arbutin and hydroquinone, an ingredient in prescription creams for blemishes as well as in photo processing materials." (The red is mine to point out how dangerous some of these are).

"Worldwide, doctors diagnose about 160,000 new cases of melanoma yearly. It is more common in women than in men. In women, the most common site is the legs and melanomas in men are most common on the back. It is particularly common among Caucasians, especially northwestern Europeans living in sunny climates. There are high rates of incidence in Oceania, Northern America, Europe, southern Africa, and Latin America, with a paradoxical decrease in southern Italy and Sicily. This geographic pattern reflects the primary cause, ultraviolet light (UV) exposure crossed with the amount of skin pigmentation in the population. According to a WHO report, about 48,000 melanoma related deaths occur worldwide per year."

"Race is the primary risk factor
for developing melanoma, with fair-skinned races at greater risk than darker-skinned races. In the United States, white Americans are 20 times more likely to develop melanoma than African Americans. Worldwide, white populations have the highest risk of developing melanoma, and Asian populations the lowest risk."

As I stated earlier, my new friend is Asian, so let me hone in on the Asian population and melanoma.

"However, despite the extensively published results from Western countries, knowledge of melanoma in Asian patients is scant. Current available literatures for the disease in Asia are limited to a survey, a small retrospective series, as well as an epidemiology report from U.S. that included Asian patients as a minority group. Clinical evidence for Asian patients especially of large-scale does not exist due to, at least in part, the rarity of the disease in this region. As such, the etiology, characteristics, biological behavior, as well as outcome after treatment are largely unknown for melanoma in Asian patients."

"Internationally, the incidence of melanoma varies greatly, with the highest incidence occurring in Australia, the United States, Norway, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark and Israel, and the lowest incidence in Japan, the Philippines, China and India."

My friend is in one of these countries that has the "lowest incidence." There are others, though, in each of these countries.

Drug companies who manufacture Yervoy and Zelboraf and that are coming out with new trials and options: you have plants in Asia. Can you, please, make alliances with the hospitals and doctors who see people with melanoma and cut through the red tape and get these drugs in their hands? Can you make trials available? Can you even GIVE them these drugs where costs make them prohibitive? Or, at least, reduce the cost significantly? Call it research if you want. Study what works best on our warriors in Asian countries and I want to include African countries also. But, please, figure out a way to make these options available worldwide.

I want what we, in the USA, just assume is available EVERYWHERE to truly be available everywhere.

YOU can make that happen.

God bless the warrior, no matter where they live.

Drug companies...make them and all of us



Friday, September 21, 2012

This Is War (Against Melanoma) And We Will Win!

First Stand Up 2 Cancer had their hour broadcast and announced they have a Melanoma Dream Team. This link is to the full broadcast. The melanoma segment starts around minute 47.

Now, MD Anderson has announced they are launching their Moon Shots Program and melanoma is one of eight cancers they are targeting first. They are boldly declaring an end to cancer.

We, in the melanoma community, have had a growing sense that melanoma is coming down. It's days are numbered. We will win. Failing is not an option. It just isn't. There's an awful statistic hanging over the world's head and we have to make sure that it doesn't happen. That stat? That by 2022 melanoma will be the most common form of ALL cancers!

There are melanoma specific organizations that have been working a long time. But we've been the forgotten stepchild of the cancer world as the proprietor of Hotel Melanoma likes to say. Well, no more!

God is also raising up tremendous grassroots efforts, worldwide, to add fuel to the fire. There are a growing number of bloggers, there are a growing number of Facebook pages, there's Jilly's Jems, and there's Rock and Roll Italian style (this site is in Italian but you'll clearly see the word "melanoma"; they also have a Facebook page). Warriors have been on TV and radio and in magazines! Our message is getting out in a variety of ways!

There's a list of 26 things that will be obsolete in ten years. Tanning beds, a major cause of melanoma, are on that list. This is a link to that list-in-pictures.

Tanning beds are coming down. Melanoma is coming down. The days of both are numbered.

We will win, that's the only option we are willing to consider.

And I, as one among millions, am grateful.

Anybody who is smart will be grateful, too!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Finding The "Can" in Cancer

It seems like I've fallen into the habit of reporting on my different doctor visits. Yesterday's call on my melanoma specialist surgical oncologist went well. Far better than my last appointment! But they remembered! I had an 11:30 am appt with the doctor (labs were done) and I saw him at 3:30 pm. On the dot. Yes! A FOUR hour wait! But I was soooooo good! I really was. I waited nicely and patiently. After my behavior last time I let him have his sweet payback. I owed it to him. But it was worth every second of the wait to be told I was good to go for another six months. He totally appreciated my snakeskin pattern compression sleeve and glove; so we had a good time. But, his resident came in at 2, sat down, looked at me and said, "You left without seeing him last time, didn't you?" We had a nice discussion about that, which consisted of me apologizing and explaining why...I really was sorry. And apparently, I'm not the only one who's had to leave without seeing the doctor. Appointment booking still needs tweaking at the new Duke Cancer Center.

But let me tell you what I'm tickled about, and Duke Cancer Center patients, listen up! All the clinics have wonderful volunteers. I went to 3-2 and ours, for that time, was John. John is a cancer survivor, as I suspect most are, and he got our attention to tell us all we needed to know about snacks and being positive. AND...about a book that Duke Cancer Center is GIVING to their patients who ask for it. He had copies right there at the desk. I expect all the clinics in the Cancer Center have copies available. Other Cancer Centers need to get a plethora of copies to GIVE to their patients as well. If you are a patient, any cancer, at a Cancer Center, please make the suggestion to someone who can actually do something about it!

The book: Finding the "Can" in CANcer. The front cover also has these words, "Like a tree...Accept the rain, take deeper root, And reach for the sky." (The link goes to the book at Amazon in case you're interested!) Also, something to know, in the front of the book a website is given, "". I've looked and, at least for now, there is no longer a website (this book first came out in 2005 and a second edition in 2007 so it's possible it was taken down since publication). Also, a search for this title in hopes of finding the surviving authors, led to a site and a blog with the name but it's not these women.

This book is written by four women with cancer who found their way into each others' hearts and lives. Men, this is not a "woman's" book. This is for men, too. Everyone will appreciate the love, life, and courage exemplified by these women. One woman started her cancer journey with one type of cancer and later melanoma was added to the mix. I made a note to look her up on Facebook, but later learned, as I continued reading, that she and one other of the co-authors died before publication.

The book begins with each woman telling her own story: Nancy, Pam, Susan, and Terri. These women were and are fighters. Some fought cancer for decades...treatment and surgery became a way of life but kept them alive. Nancy is the one who had a vision about finding the "can" in CANcer. "You CAN survive!"..."You CAN help others"..."You CAN make a difference." She was on a 20 year plus cancer journey and that helped her through it. She also learned "you can put 'treat' into treatment." Nancy didn't see this published.

Pam learned to approach her cancer as "a problem and proceeded to do what was needed to be done to take care of it."

Susan had to have her right arm, shoulder, clavicle, and top ribs amputated and one of the things she writes about dealing with her new look is, "Now I was dealing with a unique shape, and to my surprise, I found it to be quite freeing. I threw the word "normal" out of my vocabulary and began to be comfortable with being me and accepting that it was an ever-changing experience." Susan is the one who also developed melanoma and didn't live to see this published.

Terri tells her daughter that she (the daughter) is like her in that "she's like a teabag--she'll know her strength when she's put in hot water!" Terri also shares, "What you do does not define who you are; what defines us is how well you rise after falling.

After they share their stories, they share practical helps and resources in dealing with the diagnosis and life with cancer.

PART 1: Diagnosis: Hearing the News and Coping With It; and Telling Family and Friends

PART 2: Essentials: Being a Cancer Patient; and Practical Concerns

PART 3: Understanding Procedures: How to Prepare for Tests; and Common Types of Tests; and Treatments

PART 4: Side Effects...Things That Might Help

PART 5: Nurturing Your Inner Self: Looking & Feeling Better; and Living Better; and Personal Resources; and Spiritual Resources

PART 6: Upstaging: Surviving Stage IV and Thriving At Stage V. Here they see "StageV" as recurrence and living with cancer as a chronic disease.

There is also another list of resources beginning on page 235 for "Books," "Financial Help," "Information Hotlines," "Magazines," "Professional Associations," and "Websites."

This is written, assembled, put together by women who found themselves cancer patients at Duke and became fast friends. This is by our own for us and all who join us in the journey. Their own words, many of which I found to be uplifting, insightful, and definitely worth passing on to you.

I leave you with this from Nancy on page 229, "I grew up on a farm in the mountains of North Carolina near West Jefferson, and we had several fruit trees. I learned that if a tree stops bearing that you could cut a gash in the tree and for some unknown reason that tree will begin to bear fruit again. I think the gash is a wake-up call to us to examine our lives and see what we are doing to be fruitful."

Cancer may bring a gash with it into our lives, but that gash can serve a mighty purpose in God's mighty Hands.

If cancer is part of your life, take a page from the book of these ladies and find the "CAN"

And be grateful that it's there.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Hmmm...Get A Free Tanning Session (A Carcinogen) YET Sunscreen Is An OTC That Parents' Can't Send To School! What A Whacky World!

Is it just me or is something wrong with that picture? Yet that's the world we live in, at least in the USA.

Tanning beds have been classified as a Class One Carcinogen and tanning salons can give away minors, at that, in some places. (Do a search for "free tanning session" or drive around town).

At the same time, sunscreen has been classified as an Over-The-Counter drug and cannot be sent to school by parents for student or teacher to administer to keep a student sun-safe while outside. (Note: some school districts are seeking to discuss policy changes). Sunscreen is only good for two hours at a time, so it does little good to send a child off slathered in it and expect them to be protected all day. Come recess (RECESS?) and protection is gone.

Now, I understand allergies and some children may be allergic to an ingredient and parents have to find a safe product. That should be the parent's call and responsibility. Inappropriate touching seems to be a concern...parents can teach their children how to apply sunscreen. My two and a half year old granddaughter knows how! It's not that hard to teach.

So, let's NOT put our children at increased risk for possible skin cancer or melanoma later in life. Teach them safe-sun practices and put those lessons into practice. Let's reduce that risk for them.

Speaking of reducing tanning sessions...some places with no mention of age limits. Are we in a country just dying to see their citizens die? Tanning beds, whether in a salon or at home are carcinogens. They are known cancer causers. And they are doing their job like gang-busters!

I'm ticked. I've got my bi-annual appointment with my melanoma specialist surgical oncologist coming up. I didn't practice safe sun and it may kill me one day. Literally. It IS killing friends. So are tanning beds. I didn't know when I was a teen what I was bringing on myself.

I know now. We, in the melanoma community, know now.

Not ALL melanoma is caused by unsafe sun practices or tanning beds...just most of it. People of all ages, races, and both sexes get out in the sun and/or use tanning beds.

All people, that I know, have skin. They have organs, eyes, nail beds, mouths, and areas "where the sun don't shine." ALL are areas that melanoma can start in. Melanoma does NOT always begin on the surface OR in skin or moles.

But when it begins it's dang tough to stop. Sometimes it's impossible.

Melanoma is on target for being the most prevalent cancer of ALL cancers by 2022 (read the post right under this one).

With asinine policies like we've currently got, that's not likely to change anytime soon.

Don't be part of that statistic.


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Number One Cancer To Top The Charts By 2022 Is...

Melanoma. In ten short years one of the most preventable cancers will be the most prevalent cancer. It's on track for happening according to this article from Webmd. This article was written 8 years ago and they haven't found a need to update it apparently. The numbers stand. And here are those numbers from the opening paragraph

It's rapidly climbing the charts, but this is one list you don't ever want to top: malignant melanoma. The most serious form of skin cancer is moving up through the ranks of the most common forms of cancer in the U.S., moving from the No. 6 slot in 1997, to a projected No. 1 by the year 2022, researchers predict. 

I have tried to find other similar articles and reports and can't. But I haven't found anything refuting this either. We know melanoma is seriously on the rise. These are the CURRENT statistics from the Melanoma Research Foundation:
  • The American Cancer Society estimates that the risk of developing invasive melanoma in the United States is 1 in 41 and 1 in 61 for men and women, respectfully. This averages out to approximately a 1 in 50 chance of developing melanoma throughout your lifetime. 
  • The incidence of people under 30 developing melanoma is increasing faster than any other demographic group, soaring by 50 percent in young women since 1980. 
  • Melanoma primarily affects individuals in the prime years of life, is the most common form of cancer for young adults 25-29 years old and the second most common cancer in adolescents and young adults 15-29 years old.
Practice safe sun and stay away from tanning beds and the chances of developing (and therefore dying from) melanoma significantly decreases. It's that simple.

Melanoma is NOT just skin cancer. You cannot just cut it out and be done with it. That tan is NOT healthy. At best it's the sign of damaged skin. At worst it's killer. Literally. No tan, however it's gotten, is worth it. No feel good time under the heat is worth it.

I cannot explain why that 2022 stat isn't shouted from the rooftops. It's largely ignored. But those 10 years will pass all too quickly. Time has a way of doing that.

My prayer is we reverse that stat and the melanoma trend stops.

That's the prayer of all of us who are already in the melanoma community.

Stop the madness. Stop the tanning. Stop the needless suffering and death.

Make us ALL grateful. Yourself first and foremost!

This Isn't How I Was Four Years Ago!

Sigh. Four years older. Check. Four years wiser. Some days. Four years better. Sometimes. Four years farther from perfect. So true. Four years into my melanoma journey and that's what I was referencing. It was actually a good moment and a moment, that as I reflected on it during my drive home, helped me realize something about me that I really hadn't vocalized to myself before.

This morning I left home at 6: 25 to go to a school in Warren County that my church has begun a partnership with. I've been cleared to volunteer and was to be there by 8 to assist with a 3rd grade reading class for two hours. Cuuute kids! Enthusiastic teacher! A couple of the girls touched my left arm very gently (that's the arm with the compression sleeve on it), to tell me they liked it. Today was my "sunburst" day. Somehow, I don't think it will be appropriate to wear my snakeskin pattern set (I wear a glove as well). One even asked why I wear it and the children at her table listened with wide eyes as I told them that my arm looks like a balloon without it because it keeps fluid flowing. I didn't get into "cancer" with them.

When 10 am came, I left and went to get a cup of coffee at a nearby Burger King. An older man came in, got his order and sat at the table next to mine. We were the only people eating at the time and I guess he wanted company. He looked at me, smiled, and said, "I just have to ask. I see that's not a cast..." So I gave my more adult answer that does include the "c" word and we proceeded to have a nice little conversation. Just last night he had been at the fair and a woman there had to go find a tent and sit a while. She was having chemo and the fair was getting to her. She didn't look so good. He didn't know chemo did that. I explained that I never did chemo but that I controlled mine, so far, with surgery. I was smiling and being pleasant. He was smiling and being pleasant and he said

"You look like you've accepted it. She didn't."

That's when I said, with a friendly lilt in my voice (poetic, yet true) "I've been dealing with this four years! THIS isn't how I was four years ago! You have to accept some things so you can deal with them. It doesn't do any good to hide your head in the sand where you can't deal with it. It is what it is." And, yes, I did say that mouthful. To which he replied, "I reckon you're right. I hadn't thought of it like that."

Side note: "accept" does NOT mean "like." I'll never "like" melanoma, but I do have to accept that this is part of my life and what I have to deal with. Me. Other people may choose not to accept it.

By then my coffee was ready; they had been brewing a fresh pot, so I got my cup and we wished each other a nice day and I went to the Warren County Recreational Complex where I officially began my rigorous training for our November 17th Aim Walk in Charlotte, NC. My definition of rigorous: a nice couple of laps around the walking trail with coffee in hand. I'll do more tomorrow when I go back. Get in the car, turn on the radio, and it's not long before I hear Kirk Franklin singing, I Smile and this line, "Now every day ain't gonna be perfect but it still don't mean that today don't have purpose. Today's a new day..."

And I smile as my brain starts doing funky things and associating that line of the song with what I told my new Burger King friend, "THIS isn't how I was four years ago!"

Four years ago I was a class A, royal, pain in the butt MESS! Four years ago I was cramming my head with all things melanoma and lived in complete and total fear and chaos. Sure I usually had that blasted smile on my face, but my face did NOT reflect my heart and prayer life. It simply did not. Four years ago I went through really strange spells of talking about it with everybody and their brother, to talking about it with no one, to talking about it just strangers, to talking about it with my nearest and dearest. It never left my mind even when it left my vocal chords. It didn't take much to set off my attirude, but mercifully, I didn't always take my attirude out on the people who provoked it. OK, it probably wasn't "merciful" for the people who did catch it. As a rule, when I would let lose of some attirude, somebody somewhere caught it. Sigh. It still seems to work that way today, though not quite as often.

Four years can seem like a short time ago and it can also seem like a lifetime away.

Looking back, even my far-from-perfect days were replete with meaning and purpose and that has shaped me into who I am today.Who would I be if I had not been NED these four years? Who would I be if my stage 3b progressed to 4 in those four years? I don't know. I may find out one day because that is the thought that now has space in my brain. Four years ago I was at the beginning of a ten year statistic. Now I'm four years into that and doing well. For me, that's not an easy place to be. But it's a blessed place. It's a place and a day with purpose.

BTW, though the thought about a possible stage 4 one day has space in my brain, it's not running rampant! I'm not obsessed with the thought. Just aware. I have to have a better purpose than being obsessed with melanoma. My melanoma. I suppose I am borderline consumed by the melanoma of other people, but that's a purpose for me.

Today's a new day and if tomorrow gets here for me then that will be new too and I'll be moving even farther away from who I was four years ago and closer to who I'll be when the next six are up.

But I remember that Carol. Barely. In six years will I remember who I am today?

The future six years will take care of themselves and will be what they will be. Whatever they are and whoever I am, I'll have purpose and my days will have meaning.

For that...

I am grateful!

Friday, September 7, 2012

There Are Some Things Death Cannot Do

Death can kill a body. It cannot kill a love.

Death can sever a body's ties with this world. It cannot sever the bonds of family and love.

Death can erase a person from our field of vision. It cannot erase a person from our mind's eye, heart, and memories.

Death can change a future. It cannot alter the past.

Death can make it impossible for a person to be with us physically. It cannot make it impossible for a person to be with us spiritually and stop us from feeling their presence like never before.

As a matter of fact, the more I walk with people who have walked a loved one through the valley, the more I am finding that to be universally true. It's almost as if God has a surprise in store for us when a loved one dies...we can feel them with us. I'm not talking about them being a "ghost" now. I'm not talking about "seeing" them in any way, shape, form, or fashion. Rather, it's a feeling, a sense of their presence that people are talking about.

I'm talking about their nearness is felt. It's as if God says, "Their body is gone, their spirit is with me, but there's a feeling I'm leaving with you and you'll feel them with you when you get over the initial shock of them being gone."

It's a comforting feeling. It can reveal itself in a time of day or in an object. It can just pop up out of the blue. It's a helpful feeling and a presence to talk with and cry with. And laugh with.

Jesus tells us that He will neither abandon us or forsake us.

I'm beginning to think He makes a way for our loved ones to, somehow, not totally abandon us either. I cannot explain it. I don't understand it. But I am seeing it over and over from men and women of all ages.

And I am grateful.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Deeper The Valley, The Higher The Mountain!

That's not original with me. A true sister in Christ said that to me recently and she spoke from a deep well of personal experience. She said it with a broad, ear-to-ear beaming smile on her face, a big shiny twinkle in both eyes, and a melody in her voice with those words the song. It was a beautiful moment.

There are, surely, valleys we must go through in this life, and while we often think of mountains as obstacles to be either climbed or moved, they can also be those mountaintop experiences with God when we relish the sweet moment of "overcoming." When we look down behind us and see just how far we've come. When we see the obstacles and the broken path that we have moved through to get to this time of deliverance and relief and we can say, beyond a shadow of a doubt, "LORD! You did it! You've carried me through all that garbage and stuff of life that tried to pull me down and drown me and we've gotten through it...together! And God, You've shown Yourself to be more than I ever dreamed and Lord, I'm more than I ever thought I was, too and man do we make a formidable team!"

We couldn't see all that while we were still in the valley, though. Sometimes that valley seems interminable. Sometimes it looks like we see a mountain up ahead in the distance but when we finally get to it it's really a bump in the road that veers to another valley. Sometimes the valley gets just so deep that it seems like we're going to live there the rest of our days and drown in that awful place. It can get so dark that we may begin thinking God has left us there to rot. We may decide to blame God for the valley. We wonder how long we'll be there and our faith can waiver. We can forget the times we've seen the mountain. And sometimes our mountaintop experiences of the past become forgotten pieces of history.

If you're in that valley of a place right now, hang on. When you feel like you're hanging on by a thread, find other threads to wrap around so that there's a string. You're not alone. You may not have the support system you thought you did, unraveling support may be one of your valleys right now, but there are fellow travelers in that valley, there are travelers up ahead going up the mountain who will throw you a life line and lift you up, and there is God and there are angels all around you. You are not alone. Become part of a string. And then a rope. And find life getting better and you filling with hope that there really IS a Light at the end of this tunnel shaped valley.

You're going to make it to that mountain. But we can only get to the mountain by taking one step at a time. Sometimes they'll be giant steps. Sometimes, baby steps. But they will still be one step at a time. Sometimes we'll get tired of stepping and take a break. That's OK, too. You're not racing anyone to that mountain. This is your ascent out of the valley and it's your mountain climb and it will be your mountaintop experience and exultation. Nobody elses. No two valleys look the same and no two climbs out are the same. God is the same God over all though.

And, yes, God's on that mountaintop waiting for you and waiting to enjoy the moment of victory with you. But God's also down in that valley with you. He's there to guide your steps as you navigate your way, but you have to follow His lead. We're not always good at doing that. We're going to fall and He's going to pick us back up. We're going to get lost and He's going to find us.

Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound, how great the feeling of being lost and then found!

And you're going to get to your mountain. And you're going to climb it. And you're going to relish getting to the top and seeing just how far you have come with God's help. And you'll be able to see just how deep your valley really was and it will be from a different perspective because you'll be looking down at it with triumph instead of looking up from it with despair.

But you'll be on this high mountain. And it will be good. Promise. Sooner or later, somehow or another.

You WILL walk through that valley and you WILL climb that mountain

And we will ALL be eternally