Wednesday, January 30, 2013

World Cancer Day...Feb 4, 2013 and Melanoma

According to the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), which is the organization behind World Cancer Day, 7.6 MILLION...7,600,000 people worldwide die from cancer each year. That staggering figure takes in all cancers and breaks down to 20,822 people dying from cancer every day.

My particular cancer of choice is melanoma. Approximately 25 people die from that cancer everyday in the USA alone. That may seem like a small number when compared to 20,822, but we're talking about people and not numbers.

January 17, 2013, the American Cancer Society posted revised projections for this year. Here is something I want to share to make sure it gets seen, "Unlike many other common cancers, melanoma occurs in both younger and older people. Rates continue to increase with age and are highest among those in their 80s, but melanoma is not uncommon even among those younger than 30. In fact, it is one of the more common cancers in young adults (especially young women)."

It is still on track for being the deadliest of ALL cancers by 2022...nine short years from now. It will kick lung cancer out of first place. It will be a more common household word than breast cancer. People don't know what it is now until they get it, but we're all slowly learning.

While rates for some cancers are declining, rates for seven, including melanoma are rising.

And people are still going to tanning beds. And still getting out in the sun without sunscreen, hats, protective clothing. People in their golden years, who turned golden in their younger years, are paying for it just like young people today are paying now instead of later.

Melanoma is closing the generation gap.

Chaplain Boss Queen of Hotel Melanoma, that would be me (also known as "BossyPants"), is not a happy camper about it either.

Let me put this simple message in an easy-to-share image

Imagine tumors inside your organs and/or bones. Advanced melanoma spreads as it wants to where it wants to. At that point various chemicals have proven ineffective and so has surgery. These rampant tumors can present themselves on the outside of the body also. That's death by melanoma and it's not pretty. Neither is that tan.

Think about that.

And a big PS, melanoma strikes without rhyme or reason. People who have never tanned in sun or bed are getting melanoma. So are children. So are people who aren't Caucasian. Think it happens to "other people?"

YOU are "other people" to everyone on this planet except yourself.

Think about that, too.

Be proactive.

Be grateful.

Thursday, January 17, 2013


Whatever life throws our way and tries to knock us down with, we can stand and catch it, or we can let it flatten us. And sometimes we do our best to catch it but it flattens us anyway. Sometimes we can be flat on our faces physically, spiritually, emotionally, mentally...any one of those or any combination. And we get through it, look back, and don't know how we manged to do it, but, we've come out STANDING. We may even have become OUTSTANDING!

We realize people have prayed us through, God has carried us through, and we've leaned on an awful lot of people who came alongside of us and they've walked with us. And we realize we've also had a lot of people who came along underneath us and they lifted us. And, together, we got through it all. Never alone, not for a minute.

When we can't stand by ourselves, we can stand when others support us. And we can stand when God gives us the grace and fortitude to stand, even without obvious support from others. God always has the last word and it's always, "Stand." Even when life knocks us down for the final time, God tells us to "Stand" as we come to Him and prepare to run through His Gates.

And, so it is that we always fall seven times, stand eight. We're never knocked down for good. We're never down and out for the count. No matter how it looks to the onlooker. No matter what the world may see. Eyes of faith see something else. We see winners. We see standers. We see athletes claiming their prize.

Stand tall. Head up. Shoulders back. Eyes ahead. Ears tuned.
Stand firm. In it to win it. Determined. NO room for naysayers.


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

My Call And How I STILL Wound Up Being A Preacher!

Messaging back and forth this morning with a melahomey got me thinking about this. And I smile.

Back in April 1993, I was sitting on the sofa, looking at a magazine and talking about the pictures in it with my, then, almost two year old son (who would grow up and be called "College Kid" in my blogs) and we came across a picture of a beautifully landscaped prison yard. The caption conveyed the information that "service-programming" for the inmates was part of the Chaplain's job. And I thought to myself, "I can do that." It wasn't a snippy thought or condescending like "anybody could do thaaaat." No, surprisingly, for me because I'm no landscaper, the thought was conclusive and firm and it sounded more like an invitation for me to do a prison chaplain. Something inside me knew I was "being called."

And I was fine with being called into prison chaplaincy. Actually, my first reaction was, seriously, "At least I won't have to preach!" And this is where God started laughing. I guess the plans I started making on how to fulfill this drowned Him out. If only I could have heard Him cackling and snickering, "Gotcha!" my life would be very different now.

I had always been active in my home Methodist Church in Conway, NC, so I can't say I was too surprised God called me into active ministry other than what I did voluntarily at church. At the time this was taking place, I was a stay-at-home Mom to our son and daughter who's almost nine years older. Before getting married and having children I had tucked two years of college under my belt and the second of those two years was spent as a Religion major at a college close to my home.

I investigated what it would take to become a prison chaplain, talked it over with my husband and gained his full support, and enrolled in college to complete my BA in Religion. I started in August 1993 and graduated in May 1996...the first woman graduate from Chowan's Religion Department, I might add! I was 37 years old and Duke, the closest Seminary was over two hours away. At the time, seminary was out of reach, my plan was still to be a prison chaplain, but I needed that MDiv to do it.

Life moved on, as life does, and while I stayed busy I also became a volunteer assistant chaplain to the women at the county jail and did that for a few years.

During that time, we got a preacher at Conway who became a good friend. I had been told by a previous pastor that when I turned 40, I could take something called "Course of Study" at Duke. It was a summer thing and maybe that could count for my MDiv with the NC Dept Of Justice in my efforts to become a chaplain....see that goal never left my mind. That was ALWAYS the plan. Prison Chaplain. Not "pastor" or "preacher." Prison Chaplain. I still couldn't hear God chuckle! When this new preacher came, I was 40...I had wandered in the desert for 40 years, I was ready to head to the Promised Land...I likened myself to Moses! Seriously. Moses.

And the pieces fell into place! I would need to complete the "Candidacy Program" and need a trained mentor...this pastor/friend was a trained mentor! I could meet with him weekly instead of monthly like a lot of candidates who live a ways from their mentors. The process would be sped up! God meant business with this! At last! And I STILL wouldn't have to preach!

(Side note and an important one: I had filled the pulpit for a few Father's Days over the years. People liked my messages. But man! It took me 2-3 months for EACH sermon! I needed NOTICE. The second year I was asked to do the Father's Day sermon I actually turned it down because I was given only 3 weeks notice! There was NO WAY I could EVER be a preacher. At least not one who had to show up E-V-E-R-Y Sunday!)

At the end of the Candidacy Program, if the mentor approves, there are still other hoops to jump through before actually being "OK-ed" by the powers that be to head to Licensing School. That license has to be in hand to head to Course of Study. My Candidacy Certificate is dated "May1, 2002." My License to Preach is dated "July 1, 2003." I began COS in July 2004 (COS is only for the month of July if you do the summer program at Duke).

Late January 2003, before I even went to License to Preach School at Duke, a two-church charge around 45 minutes or so from my house lost their preacher to an emergency disability leave. I was asked, along with a retired preacher who had served that charge years ago, to fill the pulpits until a new pastor was appointed at Annual Conference in June. OK, not in my plans, but the Methodist church is a "connectional" church and I was now part of that connection and I was needed. I'd have this wonderful retired gentleman to teach me a lot (which he did and still does), and besides...and most importantly...this was temporary and would look good when I took the next step on my road to Chaplaincy!

If I remember right it was February 2003 when we began and we alternated pulpits each week. I loved writing my sermons. Having the lectionary was a big help, and I found that if I worked hard and concentrated, I could actually get a sermon written each week! Hallelujah Thine the Glory! And that worked well...for about three weeks. Oh, yes. Weeks.

I'll never forget. It was my turn to preach at Lebanon. I don't remember the passage or the topic. But I do remember (vividly), sitting down with my black pen and legal pad, ready to write, and nothing would come. It was in my head, but I couldn't put it to paper. I could write anything else I wanted, but not that sermon. So not good. And I could feel God being very clear that I was not to write it either but to trust Him with it when the time came. He had to be kidding, right? I wish!

Now, remember, I was somebody who did not want to preach, was temporarily filling in for a few months, preaching once a week, had only preached two, TWO, sermons at this new charge, and, here I was being forbidden to write my sermons! This was the Mother of Nightmares.

But I did the only thing I could do. I studied, I read, I prayed, I had a sermon in my head come Sunday, and I got in that pulpit with not even a note and explained to the congregation what was going on. And I preached. And I survived. And I found I loved what I was doing even though I was totally scared to death. But I was also certain I had passed the test with so-so colors and God would let me write the sermon for the next Sunday and all the Sundays yet to come while I was temporarily preaching until June.

I have never written another sermon. I do get to write out wedding homilies and I write out eulogies, but that's it.

After that June I was sent to a church somewhat closer to home. In January of 2004, another church was added. These two were not a charge...they were two separate, independent appointments and I preached twice every Sunday. From the same text, but it was never the same sermon. But it was always what each congregation needed.

Sometimes I get in God's way and I can tell when that happens. But I can also tell when I am able to stay out of His way. Even I like me then! And I'm not a prison chaplain. I understand, now, that God had to hook me with that to get me on the path He wanted me on. If God had told me from the very beginning, back in 1993 that He wanted me to be a preacher and that I'd, one day and for almost seven years, be preaching TWICE each Sunday, I would have run so fast that even God couldn't have caught me....that's what I wrote my FB friend this morning and got me reflecting on this.

He knew me and He knows me still. God didn't lie to me. I served as a jail chaplain and thought, at the time, that that was my "training ground." I loved it and I loved the women I met there. It was an important time in my life and I don't regret it one bit. But as He opened doors and my path took twists and turns, He did it in such a way and in such perfect timing, that I was ready to go through those doors. Even the doors that led to that "temporary" appointment that got me firmly in the Methodist appointment system. By the time that temporary appointment was over, I was ready for the two churches that followed, complete with preaching twice a week.

Me and those two separate, independent appointment churches thought I'd retire there. Seriously.

In very late 2009, God began laying it on my heart that it was getting time for me to leave. I didn't want to believe it, but by January 2010 I was sure so I began talking and discerning with my, then, DS, for me to leave in June. He came and we met with both churches in January so we could all start working through this instead of waiting until later as June drew closer.

In the Methodist church, a licensed local pastor, such as myself, has to have an appointment to be "clergy" and to go to Course of Study. By the first of June 2010, I still didn't have an appointment waiting for me to step into after Annual Conference. My DS, Mack, had given me two choices, but I knew they were each given a Divine "no" so I turned them down and would tell Mack I was waiting for that "third option."

Very early June I got an email from him and we met at a local church. I can still see him. He was stern and firm. Did I know what I was doing? Was I sure about turning down these two appointment options? Did I understand I needed an appointment if I wanted to go back to Duke in July? I assured him of everything and told him, again, I was hoping for that "third option." He asked, "Are you sure?" I said, "Yes." and he settled back in his chair, smiled, and said, "Let me tell you about a third option."

And that's how I came to Warren Plains UMC off the 158 Norlina Bypass about an hour and 15 minutes from my house. The church is in Warren County which is next to Franklin County which is where my grandparents lived until they died.

The minute Mack started telling me about this congregation it felt "right." I knew and accepted it on the spot. I've grown a lot more comfortable with not writing a weekly sermon and understand more how God works with this. It's Him and not me (when I get out of His way). He kicked my ego to the curb early on and now, looking back, I'm glad. The fact is, I can write. If I wrote moving, astounding sermons each week that "wowed," I would be a big problem. This way, I communicate by being "me."

God has given me back stuff to write.and I'm glad because I do enjoy the written word and I enjoy the writing process and writing things that people like to read and that help them. I get this blog and all the things I get to write on Melanoma Prayer Center.

All this to say that God knows each one of us and where we are and where He wants us to be and He knows how to get us there...what carrot to dangle in front of us to keep us following His lead.

This ain't over yet.

And I am grateful!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

My Fantasy League

Years ago, when I was working on my BA in Religion, a fellow student was into Fantasy Football and nagged me to get involved so we could compete. I got tired of the nagging so I looked into it only to learn that I couldn't set up my league or team the way I wanted. Where's the fantasy in that? It wouldn't let me be my own star player either. Man! That was so not for me and I never made my own league, team, or anything else and my friend eventually shut up about it.

Well, wouldn't you know? I still see people playing Fantasy Football. Not me, though. But, it has gotten me thinking about my Fantasy League. And because it's my fantasy, I'm doing it my way.

My fantasy league is squared up against melanoma's league and melanoma's league is going down. Here's why:

My league is owned by God. All God's competition bites the dust eventually. Only fools think they can win against God. Melanoma is so foolish.

My league has mamas and daddies as General Managers. These mamas and daddies have either buried children because of melanoma, or, have children battling melanoma. They're plenty angry and motivated to bring melanoma down. See how foolish my competition is? Even I know not to mess with mamas' and daddies' children. I also have GMs who are devoted spouses, children, and siblings of people who either died from melanoma or are currently battling it. They are angry and motivated, too, to being part of melanoma's demise.

My league has coaches who have led the way in the battle and know, firsthand, about how rough treatments are, about recovering from surgeries, about all the emotions that come with this disease. These coaches are warriors themselves who have been in tough battles, and also melanoma specialists and researchers. These folks have skirmished with melanoma and melanoma has been weakened because of them. They know what to tell the players on the field and on the sidelines. They know how to call plays. They know melanoma's Achilles' Heel and go after those weaknesses on the field.

My league has only the best players. These women and men are tough spiritually, physically, emotionally, and mentally. They're stronger than they look and are up to seriously kicking some melanoma tochas. They're in this to win it, losing is not an option, and they fully intend to bring melanoma down. Some are engaged in active battle and are fierce on the field. Some, like me, are sitting on the sidelines, cheering those on the field on, and ready to get on that field if our disease advances. We're teammates, in this together, supporting each other with prayers, tears, hugs, visits, calls, anything we can do to encourage each other on.

My league has cheerleaders, who cheer us all on from heaven. They have fought their fight and they have won. They have ringside seats, beside God, and they cheer the warrior and, also, welcome those who rest from battle. They get to see the battle from a new perspective...a perspective we don't get to see from here. They get to see the victory. They get to see a bigger picture and how they fit into it. They get to fully realize how sweet victory is and that melanoma really has already lost.

This is my Fantasy League. But as I look around the real world I find it's not a fantasy after all. This exists. We just don't refer to ourselves as a "league." And we don't operate under a "league" organization. And we don't "play." This isn't a game at all. This is real life. Reality.

While I'm not grateful that this is a battle to be fought, I am grateful the war is won and melanoma's days are numbered. It IS going down. Because of all the people I've already mentioned. It IS going down.

And I AM grateful for that!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Dream A Big Ol' Dream For '13

I know the reality. I could write the show. I live on 1313 Melanoma Road and I don't see myself ever moving. I know the statistics. I know people behind the statistics...some are living the stats and others are beating the crap out of the stats. For some, unfortunately, even "living" the stat is wishful thinking. I know the reality of melanoma. All of us with a room at Hotel Melanoma do.

But we also know The Dream and it's a Big Dream and it keeps us going, giving us Hope. It's a God-Fueled Dream. Our Dream is a Nightmare for some. Our Dream leaves the tanning industry tossing and turning (scheming and churning). Our Dream is the thorn in the side of some legislators. Too bad. Don't mess with Roses. But our Dream is becoming the New Reality and one day, one day, it WILL be the way things are. Not today. But, the day is coming.

2013 will continue to be "Our Year." We've seen good things happening. But not enough good things and not to enough people. So, here's The Dream. We Dream Big. We have to. Dream Big or go home.

So, Dream a Big Ol' Dream With Us For '13:

We Dare Dream that people will listen to our stories and warnings, all of them and pay attention and apply what they see and hear, from us, to themselves.

We Dare Dream that we can turn the tide and NOT be the number one cancer in NINE years! This can happen if people listen and become proactive.

We Dare Dream that the tanning industry will get a conscience, tell the truth, and close itself down.

We Dare Dream that ALL legislators in every state and every country will heed our voices and help the tanning industry shut down. That there will be tough legislation against tanning beds, in the home and in businesses and online, and that it will be enforced. We Dare Dream that ALL people will be protected and not just minors. Over 18 year olds can make stupid, vain choices too, get melanoma too, and die too. We Dare Dream that ALL countries will follow New South Wales lead and ban the tan. Period.

We Dare Dream for more and better treatment options. Melanoma earned its name "the beast." The reality is that a "cure" for everyone may be out of reach for a long while, if ever. Melanoma has no MO, does what it wants, goes where it wants to go, acts differently in each of us. BUT, it CAN become a manageable, chronic disease for all. That, right there, is a HUGE Dream that can become reality...and this year.

We Dare Dream that melanoma become a household word and that people understand what is is and because of that new understanding they generously fund melanoma research.

We Dare Dream that everyone, everywhere understand chances are really good that it will strike someone in their life and sun habits and tanning/bleaching habits aren't always good risk indicators. There's a genetic component; there are factors we don't understand. Yet. It strikes children of all ages and babies can be born with it if the mother has it. It can strike people in their golden years and those in their teen years. It doesn't care what a person's skin color is or their ethnicity. As a matter of fact, it absolutely LOVES, LOVES I tell you, that element of surprise and striking where least expected.

And, yes, we do Dare Dream of a cure. The more we learn the more it does become possible. That's a BIG Dream though, the Ultimate Dream.

2012 saw some good things.

2013 holds great promise of more great things to come.

And then we have these Dreams. Sweet Dreams. Dreams worth Dreaming and working for. Dreams worth sharing and pursuing.

God has planted these Dreams, and more, in the heart of everyone who lives with the disease.

When God plants a Dream, God brings it to fruition.

I pray I live to see some of these Dreams come to pass. But whether in my lifetime, or not, they WILL become reality. For someone.

And I am Grateful!