Thursday, August 25, 2011

Simple Gifts

With the opening of the college football season just a week or so away, excitement levels are rising.  I’m a graduate of West Virginia University and we WVU fans are crazy about our football.  After all, we have no pro sport teams in our state, and while Marshall University fans are as enthusiastic (and they have their own movie), the Mountaineers carry the name of our state with them.  It’s not just a college-wide pride; it’s a state-wide pride.
What really sets the WVU anxiety blazing is what happens just before the game.  “Simple Gifts.”  It’s the soft and gentle popular section of Aaron Copeland’s score of “Appalachian Spring.”  You’d know it if you heard it.  The WVU Marching Band (also known as the Pride of West Virginia), like many other university bands, plays certain songs as part of their pre-game show:  the fight song, the alma-mater, the National Anthem, etc.  While the Pride adds John Denver’s “Country Roads” and the hillbilly anthem “Good Ol’ Mountain Dew” to the repertoire, the addition of “Simple Gifts” is what stirs the heart of many Mountaineers.
The band starts in a “WVU” formation and marches in complex patterns while playing the soft tune, ultimately marching into a tightly packed circle with all instruments facing in.  Then the band turns during a drum roll and a part of “Fanfare for the Common Man” kicks in and the crowd goes wild.  A louder more enthusiastic rendition of “Simple Gifts” starts back up again as the band members march out in expanding circles.  I can’t really say why, but this has always been a goose-bump inducing scene and always will be.  But this year, it’s even more stirring.
My brother was a manager for the football team when he attended school in the mid-70’s.  He loved working the practices and the sidelines during the games.  He made lifelong friends with many of the team (and he got me a great autographed football for my 15th birthday that I still have today) and followed the team closely for the rest of his life.  A couple years ago, he shared with me that the pre-game show was on YouTube, and we both would watch “Simple Gifts” every day for the week or two prior to the new season.
It was about a year ago that he discovered that his melanoma had returned and knew that he had a very VERY difficult fight ahead.  He posted the news in Facebook on Friday, September 3, and attended a WVU game the next day.  Despite the devastating news…or perhaps because of it, he insisted on watching his Mountaineers play.
Two or three weeks later, he attended his last game.  The two hour drive to see a game got to be too much and I believe he knew it could be the last time he saw the blue and gold.  When I talked to Debbie (Jeff’s wife) months later, she told me that Jeff had the most incredible time, despite the fact that his body was failing him.  She said that during the pre-game show, he started to bawl.  Jeff admitted through his tears how much he truly loved the university that gave him his education, transformed him into a man, and introduced him to his life-long love, Debbie.
My cousin Steve Dunlap (yes…we have a lot of cousins in West Virginia) is a defensive coach for the Mountaineers.  He had heard of Jeff’s condition and invited my brother to the locker room after the game.  Steve gave him a true behind-the-scenes tour.  Jeff met players, saw facilities seen by only a select few, and was presented with an official coach’s shirt and hat.  He called me when he got back home and I had never heard such excitement from my brother.  This tour was truly a dream-come-true.  It was an incredible gesture from my cousin and the university that Jeff loved so well.  It meant so very much to him and gave him such great joy. 
One couldn’t ask for more from such a simple gift.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Where To Look

I was looking through the Melanoma Education Foundation website (check it out) and found a good graphic on where melanoma originates on caucasion males and females:

©Melanoma Education Foundation
 It astounded me that half (50%) of all melanoma found on men occurs on their trunk...and mostly on their back.  (That's where my brother first found it on him).  It's important to use a mirror when checking yourself...or better yet, a partner that can check for you.

And for readers and friends of darker tones, the MEF has this to share:

"Common locations of melanomas in the Asian, Hispanic, and African-American population are on the soles of feet, palms, between toes and fingers, and under toenails and fingernails (especially the large toenail and thumbnail)."

Below is a photo of a melanoma spotted under a toenail that might be mistaken for toenail fungus:

©Melanoma Education Foundation

Check yourself monthly and have a board-certified dermatologist take a look at you annually!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Gorgeous Tan?

The other day, I was at the grocery store when the male teenaged check-out clerk looked past my shoulder and muttered, “Wow!”  I turned to follow his drooling gaze and saw an attractive young woman walking into the store.  She was wearing a light blue spaghetti-strap top, white summer shorts, and flip-flops; had short dark hair; and sported a gorgeous tan (with tell-tale tan lines near her neck).
Oops…I said a bad word there…didn’t I?  Put down the heavy objects and let me continue (this includes you Chelsea).
I admit that I always had a “thing” about tanned girls.  I also had an attraction to freckled girls as well.  I grew up in a “baby-oil as sun-block” environment, so I pretty much everyone of the opposite sex was either tanned or freckled in the summer.  Basically, I was programmed to appreciate sun-kissed skin.  And this was my initial impression of this lady walking into the grocery store.
But then the black wristband twisted my arm a bit and I reassessed my thoughts.  Did I really think she had a gorgeous tan, or was she a gorgeous girl with a tan?  As I think back now, I was as attracted to certain girls in high school and college in the sweater-bundled winter months in West Virginia as I was during the summer months.  It wasn’t the tan after all.
My point is that one doesn’t need a tan to look attractive.  Take a look at these two famous celebrities:
© and ©
Can you imagine what Nicole Kidman or Anne Hathaway would look like with a tan?  Neither can I.  Their natural tone is so incredibly beautiful that anything other than “natural” would be a negative distraction.
But it’s not just about being pale.  Can you imagine these beautiful women with unnaturally lighter skin?
© and ©
No matter the shade, dark or light, it's the natrual look that's best.

I’m not the only one to think this.  I ran across a website asking which of Angelina Jolie’s “look” below was preferred:

A whopping 70.74% of the voters chose the “pale,” more natural look.
Again, it’s all about NATURAL tones.  One should embrace one’s natural skin tone.  Staying out of the sun, AND TANNING BEDS, helps keep your skin naturally beautiful.  It also reduces skin aging and inhibits the formation of wrinkles.  Keeping one’s skin naturally beautiful might even make this crew a little more attractive:

Remember, getting a tan just makes you more tan…it’s doesn’t make you more beautiful.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

An Awful "Legacy"

A potential legacy of cancer

If you recall from an earlier post, I get my hair cut at a local salon that also owns UV tanning equipment.  I returned again today (wearing my BITNP t-shirt) and decided to poke around a bit (with my camera) while the rest of my family was getting their locks trimmed.  I’ll have a more detailed post later, but I had to share this one discovery.
There’s one tanning system they have called “The Legacy.”  It’s a “tanning tube” in which one inserts their legs only as they sit in a raised chair at one end.  I suppose this is catered towards the female clients that want those glowing tanned legs as they wear summer shorts.
Can you believe it?  The only legacy this machine will make is an increased risk and occurrence of skin cancer!  Considering that 38 percent of melanoma on women is discovered on the legs, this is an appalling apparatus.  I just couldn’t believe it!
Again, I’ll have more to share later on solariums, but I just wanted to share this ironic and shocking discovery.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Continuing the Work

The company I work for had a lay-off earlier this week.  Fortunately, I wasn't directly affected and I still get a paycheck.  However, one of my colleagues was let go, so now our under-staffed engineering group is even more overloaded.  His presence will be missed, not only professionally, but personally as well.  It's always a "hit" when someone has to leave.  You lose another opportunity to share a joke, chat about the weather, or just have someone else present during your work day.  But despite the lay-off, the real fact is that we have to keep working that much harder to ensure the success of our company's mission.  It's a cruel bump in the road, but ultimately, we have to move on and continue the work.

Also earlier this week, one of the more inspiring and sharing melanoma warriors passed away.  Eric and Jill Sizemore shared Eric's struggles in his last months, documenting the aweful affects of full-scale Stage IV melanoma.  Their videos were informative, heart-felt, and sometimes horrific to watch.  Their message was a must-see, must-read for anyone that just doesn't have a clue about the seriousness of melanoma.

Of course, Eric will be truly missed...more so by those that actually knew Eric...and especially Jill.  He was an advocate against tanning beds and for melanoma awareness, but he also seemed to be someone with whom almost anyone could get along.  I could tell he had a good sense of humor as well as a good sense of faith.  His fight to the end was as inspiring as anything I've witnessed.  He will be missed.  And Jill and family could use your prayers.

But like my work place, Eric's work needs to continue.  We need to continue spreading the word about sun safety and tanning dangers.  We need to document our own struggles...either in blogs, videos, or just sharing our stories with friends and strangers.  Those of us who have simply accepted the fight on behalf of a loved one, or those of you who fight a similar struggle as Eric's need to not give up.  Great advances have been made in treatments in the last few months.  But the best treatment is prevention...and that's what Eric's message has been.  That's what ours needs to be.

Eric's passing was a cruel bump in the road, but his work...and our work will continue.

Eric Sizemore