As I’ve browsed the skin cancer blogosphere and roamed the halls at the Hotel Melanoma, I’ve encountered two types of folks. The first are those who share their personal experiences with the disease. The second are folks who share their thoughts and awareness campaigns in honor or memory of a loved one that battled melanoma. My blog and Jodi’s 5K run are dedicated to those who have passed and we intend to carry on their messages. We are inspired by our loved ones ever day. But some days, we simply just miss them. Today was such a day for me.
About two years ago, I started a hobby, activity… I’m not sure how one might categorize it. Anyhow, I started to geocache. In simple terms, geocaching is the act of using one’s GPS to locate items hidden by others. The coordinates are listed in geocaching.com (where else?) along with a description and an online log of all the people who have visited. You can log on to the site if you’re interested in more detail. It’s rather neat in that there are thousands of hidden “caches” (many containing cheap trinkets…all containing a log sheet) all over the place. For those familiar with the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in NY, there’s a cache hidden at E 70th St between 1st Avenue and York Avenue. But I digress.
A couple of months after I started geocaching, I told my brother about it. Jeff is seven years older than I, so we never really got into the same things. And once we both were well into adulthood, we simply lived too far away from one another. He last lived near Akron, OH and I live near Raleigh, NC. Because of the age and physical distance, we really never talked but once a month or so on the phone, if that. Anyhow, he took great interest in geocaching, and before you know it, he and I were calling each other weekly to describe our latest caching adventures. He became the one person I looked forward to sharing such stories with and I believe he felt the same. Sure, we’d share with our wives, but only Jeff and I really understood one another regarding this hobby. This silly high-tech scavenger hunt really brought us closer together.
I didn’t stop geocaching after Jeff died, but I was never as enthused about it. I enjoy going out into the woods or scanning hiding places in office parks (yes, we have our fair share of encounters with “secuirity”). Earlier this year, I even got three “first-to-finds” in one day…a difficult feat since many cachers are devoted simply to being the first to make a find. When I found my third, I grabbed my cell phone and started to dial my brother. Then I realized he’d been gone for 4 months.
I hadn’t been caching recently until this past Saturday. I went to the aforementioned 5K walk/run in the morning, and then decided to attend a geocaching event close by afterwards. Two events closely linked to my brother. I was inspired to go find a couple of caches as I drove home…just for Jeff. Today, I saw where a few new caches were hidden along my commute route. I decided to stop by one and look. I found myself at a dead-end road with plenty of trees surrounding the area. I carefully trekked through the woods as I stared at my GPS, carefully avoiding spider webs and tick-infested trees. I felt I was zeroing in when I heard a loud buzzing. A wasp was right next to my face…and I freaked out. Like Indiana Jones running away from the ball, I flew through the brush and spider webs and back to my car. And then it occurred to me…there are spiders on them thar webs! So I followed my out-of-woods sprint with the “there’s a spider on me” dance. Thank goodness the area was isolated or else I would have surely been seen as totally crazy. Once my heart-rate settled, I saw the humor in it all, I started to laugh. Another geocaching adventure…and I instinctively reached for my cell phone.
Melanoma has a devastating effect on those it invades. Blogs written by those who have suffered (or are suffering) through the disease's attacks are an incredible read and very eye-opening. But also know that it's not important just to protect yourself from melanoma, it's important to protect your loved ones. Don't be afraid to remind a relative or friend to apply sunscreen. Don't be too shy to mention that their visit to a tanning salon is a really bad idea. Losing a loved one to melanoma has lasting effects on you as well.
One footnote to this is that when one finds a cache, one goes back online and logs the find with any comments regarding the condition of the cache or any side stories (such as a notice that there may be wasps in the area). Ever since Jeff’s passing, I’ve written my log entries with the following closing, “Thanks for placing this cache, and don’t forget to wear your sunscreen!” It’s my way of bringing Jeff along on another adventure.