Tuesday, November 26, 2013

What I'm Thankful For in 2013

"Families" come to mind this year and I am blessed with many.

I have my biological family, both immediate and extended. Both my parents are alive and thriving at 83 years of life on this planet. They remind me of a Dr. Seuss book. They're in good shape for the shape they're in. My brother just turned 52...an age none of us probably thought he'd ever live to see, but see it he has! Despite what crack and alcohol tried to do, he is clean and sober, has been holding down a full-time job at a major furniture-making company for a few years now, and, he, too, is thriving! My husband and I just celebrated 34 years of marriage and are now working on the next 34. We've successfully raised two children to adulthood. The older one is happily married, a full-time pharmacist with two young children who are our delights on this earth. Her younger was just born in July and her older is blossoming, so we are truly thankful. Our younger child has started work on his Masters in math and has truly got in touch with his inner Geek. Who knew, in high school, that he even had an inner Geek waiting to get out? We have a son-in-law, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, and nephews. A great-niece. While it's true that we're scattered and all leading busy lives, and it's true that we may not see each other as much as we'd like, we know each other is there. And we are truly blessed.

I have my church family. I've been blessed to have been raised in a wonderful Methodist church, serve a two-point charge as an Interim co-pastor when I was just beginning, serve two independent churches as a part-time appointment, and now I'm at Warren Plains UMC.Not only are we bound by faith, which is huge, but we're also bound by blood. Both of my parents are "transplants" to Conway, NC, and growing up, we just weren't kin to everybody like everybody else is. It was the four of us. My husband is kin to everybody. He'd meet new kin when I'd get a new appointment. Not me. But when I was appointed to Warren Plains, a cousin in Franklin County told me that I'm kin to "every Stegall, Harris, and Davis in Warren County." Guess who's in my congregation?! I haven't sat down and discussed family trees with anyone. But I don't need to. The connection is there. I'm at home at Warren Plains. I get to go at least once a week, take the most beautiful hour and ten minute drive in God's country, be with the most beautiful people, preach the most beautiful Word, sing the most beautiful hymns, and be part of making a difference where we are planted. And I am beautifully blessed.

I have my melanoma family. We are bound by a common disease, many of us share a common faith, but we're all in this together. We get it because we've got it. We come together online and we come together at events. I've had the pleasure of hugging many and meeting more. It is actually because of this disease that I've learned the importance of people over things, and God over all. It took learning that I really will die one day to teach me lessons about life that I otherwise would not have learned. My mortality was only theoretical until I was diagnosed with stage 3b melanoma in July 2008. I "knew" I would die one day but lived as if that just wasn't so. It was a theory that really hadn't reached into my soul. My priorities were skewed. I liked things...a nice house, my car, lots of books. I'm not who I was in July 2008 and I have melanoma to thank for that. I'm a better, improved Carol and I have God to thank for that. He has taken this disease and used it in ways I never could have imagined in 2008. Good ways. And they are ways that spill over into every part of my life. Life is good and every day is a gift. No matter what happens, I've learned that God can deal with anything. And I am wonderfully blessed.

I am thankful. I am truly, beautifully, and wonderfully blessed. My cup runneth over. Even on the not-so-great days, I have much to be grateful for.


Monday, November 18, 2013

Looking Back on November 16, 2013

And our Aim at Melanoma Walk for the Cure that was held in Charlotte. Last year, I felt like a roving reporter, writing all about our every move. This year I was on the quiet side.

Absorbing. Processing.

Don't get me wrong. It was wonderful seeing old friends and hugging new ones. And they came in from around the country to be here. For us all to get together and spend the weekend getting acquainted and reacquainted. Not to mention that the day was gorgeous. The weather beautiful. The people smiling, even through some tears. It was, all-in-all, a spectacular weekend.

And I got to hug and spend quality time with Crabby. My better half in our melanoma community. Susan Hayes, mama of Jillian who died from melanoma in December at the age of 23.

Jillian should have been here, on this earth, and not Susan at a walk. None of us should have been at that walk. And if life had gone differently, you know what? Probably none of us would have been. But, we were where we needed to be because life is what it is and this is where we are and what we live with.

Melanoma is part of our lives, in some form or fashion. Some of us live with it in our bodies. Some live with it seared in their memories. Some live with it up close and personal as they love and care for one with it. We ALL see what it really means to have this disease. To fight the fight and battle the battles. To die from it. We see it. We live it. We know what it means.

Susan and I got to have a long talk about all this. She's the person behind a growing series of billboards that feature melanoma warriors. Her latest billboard is dedicated to those, like Jillian, who are no longer with us on this planet...but who SHOULD be! She shouldn't be staring down at her mama, forever young with her dog, and her life now pictures, boxes and memories. Her mama shouldn't have been in Charlotte, and she wouldn't have been had Jillian been alive. Again, none of us would probably have been there if we weren't directly affected by this disease.

Susan and I talked about the progression of this disease. The Jillian on the billboard isn't the Jillian who died...in a way. Cancer changed her looks, her abilities. It changed everything about the life she lived. Jillian was beautiful and vibrant. She took center stage. She was athletic. She tanned. She got melanoma. She died. And between all those periods her dashes changed too. And all of that is Susan's to tell and share in her own way, in her own time, if she ever does. If a billboard is ever created that shows what warriors are like at the end of their journey...it will look VERY different from the billboards as they now are.

The world probably isn't ready for that. And neither, frankly, are the families with images of their loved ones final days permanently tattooed in their brains and souls.

We know the reality of this disease. And we walk to end it so it doesn't become the reality of other families. Other people so much like ourselves. There was a time that WE didn't get it. WE didn't know. WE didn't understand. WE ignored and looked the other way. WE didn't listen.

WE didn't walk.

WE do now because we get it.


Melanoma. It isn't what you may think it is.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Forget Santa! Crabby Hayes Is Comin' To Town!

Crabby Hayes, better known as Susan or as Mama Bear or as Jillian's mama, will be coming to the Aim at Melanoma Walk in Charlotte, NC this Saturday, November 16th! There are many people in this world that I love but haven't met yet, and she ranks at the top. She was supposed to come to the walk last year but couldn't. Her daughter, Jillian, took a turn for the worse and Susan could not, would not, leave her side. She did what any of us would have done. But she was missed.

We have a special relationship, Crabby and I. She calls me Bossy, which I am. I call her Crabby. Which she is. She has a right to be Crabby, especially when it comes to melanoma. I have being Bossy in my DNA. We complement each other.

In honor of FINALLY getting to meet my old chum and give her a great big bear hug...OK, many hugs...I took a page out of Hotel Melanoma's book and redid a Christmas classic, "Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town."

"Crabby Hayes Is Comin' To Town"
I really can’t wait
I’m ready to hug
I will not be late
My heart feels a tug
Crabby Hayes is coming to town
Crabby Hayes is coming to town
Crabby Hayes is coming to town

She's comin’ to walk,
Put faces to names;
Gonna take pics and fill up some frames.
Crabby Hayes is coming to town
Crabby Hayes is coming to town
Crabby Hayes is coming to town

She has a billboard waiting
She wants us all to see
She’s seen the worst of this disease
And wants people Black C free

With Bossy in black and Rich in tutu
We’ll come from afar and all go WooHoo
Crabby Hayes is coming to town
Crabby Hayes is coming to town
Crabby Hayes is coming to town

She’s gonna join us walking
She’s gonna hug new friends
She’s gonna connect with all us there
Friendships that will never end
Never end

I’d better get ready
She’s gonna get here
I’m excited already
I want to be clear
Crabby Hayes is coming to town
Crabby Hayes is coming to town
Crabby Hayes is coming
Crabby Hayes is coming
Crabby Hayes is coming to town

Monday, November 11, 2013

There Are More Than 921,780 Reasons To Take Melanoma Seriously

And I'm one of them. That number. That "921,780" represents real people in the USA who, according to the National Cancer Institute, are currently living with melanoma. Stage of disease is irrelevant in this count, for those whose melanoma was in situ (stage 0) live with melanoma...not in the same way as those in the 3-4 range, but we all live with it. The fears. The stats. The not knowing what our own disease is silently doing...or not doing.

And that's just people in the USA! And that's just the person with the disease. That doesn't take into consideration the person/people living with and loving the one with. So...there are millions of people worldwide living with melanoma in some way or other. Millions.

And that number is growing. Worldwide. There are some impending cases that we can't prevent. The sad fact is, that even if everyone stopped going to tanning beds and we destroyed every single tanning bed on the face of this planet; if everyone stopped baking in the sun; if everyone used high, broad-spectrum SPF sunscreen correctly; and if everyone started getting a full-body skin check annually by a dermatologist who specializes in melanoma and skin cancer...there would still be an increase in melanoma diagnoses...for now. Damaged skin is skin that doesn't forgive or forget. Even if everyone, from this moment forward, took their skin-health seriously, the sins of the past will still reach out and bite many. They will pay the consequences for poor choices of their tanning past. Plus there are those cases that will happen because of genetics. There will be those cases that will happen because...because. There's much about the onset of this disease that isn't known.

But there is much about the onset that IS known! And if people will act on what we know, we can prevent many, countless, deaths in the future. We can prevent a lot of suffering and anguish. This is one cancer that we can actually prevent many cases from ever happening.

Raise your children to NEVER get in a tanning bed. If you have never tanned in one, DO NOT START! That decision and action will lower your chances of getting and, possibly, dying from melanoma dramatically.

Raise your children to NEVER lay out in the sun all day. And raise them that when they ARE outside to use broad-spectrum SPF sunscreen, use it correctly, and reapply according to directions. And you do the same. Teach them how to dress when outside to block the sun's rays. Teach them to respect the sun but not to fear the sun. We need the sun. We need the warmth it provides and the vitamin D. We need it. What we do not need, however, is to get burned by it. And when we DO get burned, that's OUR fault...not the sun's. Therefore, it behooves us to be out in the sun, and to teach our children to be out in the sun responsibly!

Back in the day, when I was a preteen and teen, back in the 60s and 70s, and before then, nothing was known about sun-safety. Suntan lotion was the thing in my day. It all smelled like coconut and it's purpose was to help us tan without burning. I hated it and didn't use it. I, and many of my peers, used Baby Oil (some even added iodine!). We didn't know. We know now.

I've never even seen a tanning bed up close and personal...have no intentions to, but I know the dangers of them and have witnessed deaths caused by them. When they first came out, people didn't really grasp their dangers. Parents gave permission for their teens to tan. They didn't know. They do now. And many so regret it but they cannot change history. However, they are doing everything in their power to change the future...YOUR future! Your children's future. There is so much we didn't know. We know now.

We didn't know that tanned skin is damaged skin. We thought it was sexy. We thought tanned equaled healthy. We thought pale was sickly and to be avoided at all costs. Many still do think that. We didn't know that we had it all wrong. We know now.

We didn't go to dermatologists to get full-body skin checks either. If I had done that, more than likely the doctor would have insisted on removing my mole that my Mama hated and wanted removed. Mama was right. It bit me. It gave me trouble. A dermatologist would have caught it and spared me a lot. Yeah, very few of us have bodies we love putting through that. Our bodies can embarrass us. And, yeah, full-body means full-body. But it's worth it and possibly life-saving. For everybody with a body regardless of skin tone. Melanoma strikes people of all ethnicities. We didn't know the value of being proactive and seeing a dermatologist every year, whether we think we need to or not. We know now.

There are millions of reasons to take melanoma seriously. Seriously. And I'm one of them. Listen to me. Listen to those of us in the melanoma community. Learn the facts about this disease.

And maybe, just maybe, you won't become reason 921,781.


Saturday, November 2, 2013

Hey, Hey, We're STILL The Monkees!

Last year I did my own rewrite of this classic by The Monkees in anticipation of our Aim At Melanoma Walk in Charlotte, NC. This year's walk is on Saturday November 16th, same Bat Place, same Bat Time. But this year, as last (but not in time to make this rendition of my song), there will be TWO tutu guys! Hotel Melanoma's very own Rich McDonald will, also, strut his stuff along with Mark Williams. Yes. Giggles are in order and cameras will be called into action!

Now, without further ado or adon't:

Here we come
Walking ‘round the Park
We got guys in tutus
They're Rich and Mark.

Hey, hey we're the Walkers,
and people say we’re gaining ground.
But we're raising money,
to put melanoma down.

We just wanna advocate,
Come join us on the sixteenth.
We're the Black C nation,
And we've got people strength.

Hey, hey we're the Walkers,
You never know when we'll be ‘round.
So you'd better find money,
We may come walking in your town.

In Praise of Caregivers: Our Unsung Heroes

The following is a note from Melanoma Prayer Center:

There are two groups of people who deal intimately with melanoma: the patient and the patient's caregiver(s).  While "caregivers" technically may include the medical team looking after the patient, it more commonly refers to the dedicated people who attend to the patient's basic & personal needs that the patient can't tend to themselves and it's also the people who provide that needed intense support through the journey called "melanoma" or any other cancer. Usually these angels are spouses, parents, children, or the significant other of the patient and share a household.

Simply put, we can't do it without you. You are our rock, our strength, our shoulders, and our hankies. You absorb our fears and frustrations. You give us joy and keep us laughing when there seems to be so little to be joyful about or to laugh at. You help us throw our pity parties but you're the ones who know when it's time to clean up the party and get on with life. You change, clean, and do things you never thought you'd ever be doing for us and you do it with dignity, letting us keep ours. You do it with love and grace, reminding us minute-by-minute why we love you so. You give legs to "in sickness and in health" in ways you never imagined when you uttered those words.  Who knew one day you'd need to breathe live into that phrase? Yet you never left my side even when my side was messy.

You refuse to let us refuse. You keep us going. And, we keep you going. We kind of feed off each other: we need you and you need us.

You need us to beat the beast and win the fight so it becomes your fight too. In your own ways, you fight as hard as we do. It's just that your plan of attack looks a little different from ours. Both are necessary.

When we win, you win and we have to acknowledge that we didn't win alone. Our "normal" looks different and we have a new normal. We become stronger. Life and priorities change. Forever. And....

When we lay our battle down, you must carry on. Our fight ends but you can keep going for us, knowing that you did everything you possibly could and we saw superhuman abilities in you we didn't know you possessed and were sorry to be the one bringing that out in you but mighty grateful, at the same time, that you rose to the occasion.  You earned your crown! You now know better than many just how precious & short life is, so live your life to the absolute fullest and make the most of every moment.

At the risk of elevating you and making you sound like "God," please realize how much we see God in you. You reflect him beautifully. Paul's letter to the church in Corinth contains a passage that is often lifted out of context and read at weddings...and it fits. It is also used to help us understand God's nature because "God is Love," so we can substitute "God" where we read "love" and walk away with a somewhat clearer picture of him.

We can also read it and see you, our caregiver(s), shining through the words. You embody LOVE and we are grateful.

Because I like how The Message paraphrases this passage that's what I have here.

As you, dear caregiver, read this, hear profound "Thank yous!" As you, dear patient, read this, pause and give thanks for and to your caregiver. God's angel given to you. Amen.

1 Corinthians 13 (The Message)
The Way of Love
  If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don't love, I'm nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God's Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, "Jump," and it jumps, but I don't love, I'm nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don't love, I've gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I'm bankrupt without love.

   Love never gives up.
   Love cares more for others than for self.
   Love doesn't want what it doesn't have.
   Love doesn't strut,
   Doesn't have a swelled head,
   Doesn't force itself on others,
   Isn't always "me first,"
   Doesn't fly off the handle,
   Doesn't keep score of the sins of others,
   Doesn't revel when others grovel,
   Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
   Puts up with anything,
   Trusts God always,
   Always looks for the best,
   Never looks back,
   But keeps going to the end.

 Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.
 When I was an infant at my mother's breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good.
 We don't yet see things clearly. We're squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won't be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We'll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!
 But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.

And I am forever grateful!