Monday, September 26, 2011

"People Need To Know..."

It was a year ago today that I last saw my brother alive.  After his announcement a few weeks earlier of having Stage IV Melanoma, I decided I’d best go pay him a visit.  My father encouraged me to “do it soon.”  So I drove myself 5 ½ hours from the Raleigh, NC area to near Charleston, WV to stop by my dad’s.  He then drove me and my step-mother three hours more up the road near Akron, Ohio.  It was a long trip with a lot of time to think.
I hadn’t known how sick my brother Jeff was.  After all, it was less than a month earlier that he made the announcement, with the proclamation that he “felt fine.”  The only symptoms he had at the time were some memory loss and eye problems.  His humor and attitude over the phone was always upbeat.  But then again, my family has never been one to share bad news with me.  Maybe because I’m the baby…maybe we’re all just that way.  Whatever reason, I came to realize that Jeff’s condition was pretty bad.
On the way up, Dad asked me to call Jeff’s wife, Debbie to let them know when we’d arrive.  It was then I found out that Jeff had just arrived home from the hospital.  He had been having complications from his medicine due to his diabetes and had spent two nights under observation.  (His balancing of diabetes and cancer was eventually to be his biggest challenge in coming weeks.)  Dad also made an eleventh-hour statement that I might not recognize Jeff when we arrived.
We arrived around dinner time.  Neighbors were just leaving after having brought over some food to eat.  I actually talked to the neighbors and Debbie before I saw Jeff.   I recognized him.  He was bloated from the steroids, his head was completely shaven, and he had a dazed expression, but he still had the same smiling eyes and mischievous smile.  He was still my brother.
We stayed for two nights.  Our “purpose” was to help winterize their yard…gather the lawn ornaments, sweep the deck, clean the flower pots, store the deck furniture…that kind of stuff.  But the truth is we just needed to visit.  We all knew what this trip was.  We (mostly Jeff and I) were hopeful that there would be a recovery…that he would fight and win.  It was just skin cancer, right?  Boy…did I learn otherwise.
Jeff’s attitude was nothing short of amazing.  We still shared quirky little inside jokes.  When we’d play cards and he lost the hand, he would joke that it didn’t take much to beat a man with cancer in his brain.  When he'd cough (the cancer had spread to his lungs as well) he'd say, "I hope I didn;t cough up any cnacer on you."  When there are moments that he obviously didn’t recognize me (which happened often that weekend), he would laugh and say “oops…my brain just farted.”   I don’t think my dad appreciated the humor, but I did.  It was something Jeff and I always shared and it was refreshing to witness.
At some point during the visit was when Jeff made a comment about wishing the black awareness ribbon could be as popular as the pink breast cancer awareness ribbon.  “I don’t have breast cancer, but all I can find is ‘pink stuff.’  I have melanoma…and people need to know.”  It was that moment, that VERY moment that I became aware of this disease.  I had no idea what I’d do (and I still don’t), but I promised him I’d do what I could to let people know about melanoma…what it can do…and how to prevent it.
On the morning before I left, Jeff and I went geocaching together.  I’ve mentioned geocaching here before, and I’m sure I’ll mention it again in the future.  It was one activity that probably drew us together more than anything else in years.  He had hidden one cache not far from his house, and I wanted to find it.  I wanted to make it my 300th find…it deserved a “milestone” status.  He took me to several others that day…trying to remember the tricks to some, and laughing at me when I struggled to find a few.  I did indeed find his, as my 300th.  We had a good time and shared a lot of geocaching stories while driving around.  Sadly, a week later, he had no recollection of our time together.  This awful disease was eating him alive that quickly.  Thank God I was smart enough to take a photo of us together that day…my favorite picture of us ever.
After returning to his house, we had a quick bite to eat and then loaded up dad’s car for our return trip to West Virginia.  We’re not a hugging family, but Jeff and I shared an awkward hug.  I told him I’d see him again and he made some joke about my dad’s driving and that I should be more concerned for my own life than his.  We smiled...never really shed a tear…but we knew.  We both knew.
Obviously I miss my brother, but I very much want to continue his words, “People Need to Know.”  People need to know…that they can prevent the occurrence of melanoma by making sun-smart choices.  People need to know the dangers of tanning and tanning beds.  People need to know that it’s important to get your skin checked by a dermatologist.  People need to know to learn your own body and know when something’s not right.  And people need to know that melanoma kills.  You, dear reader, most likely know all these things.  But you have to spread that knowledge to those who don’t…and let people know.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Slip, Slop, Slapping into Autumn

Autumn begins September 23, 2011.  That means that summer has ended and sunscreen can be put away into the medicine cabinet for several months until warm weather returns.
Or does it? 
Think about it.  Particularly in North Carolina and the rest of the south, most people stay inside during the summer.  It’s hot.  Not just a little warm…but HOT!  Sure, the swimming pools are open and there are plenty of outdoor activities, but your main concern is to find air conditioning.  But now that it’s late September, the temperatures rise only into the 70’s and 80’s.  It’s the perfect weather for getting outside in your shorts and short-sleeved attire.  It’s great weather for golfing, playing tennis, hiking, or attending a college football game.  It’s a great time to be in the sun.  That should be your first clue that you still need to protect yourself.
But what about when the weather gets colder?  You have to remember that UV radiation is not dependent on the warmth of the day.  If the sun is shining, it’s dragging UV radiation along with it…even if it’s freezing outside.  This also includes cloudy days.  If you can see your hand in front of your face, there’s enough UV radiation to cause sun damage.
Make sure to always follow the basic rules of sun protection:
·         Slip on longer sleeves and/or protective clothing
·         Slop on the sunscreen (and apply more than you think necessary)
·         Slap on a hat (your scalp gets more sun than any other part of your body!)
·         Seek shade
·         Slide on some sun glasses (yes, you can get melanoma in the eyes!)
“Slip, slop, slap, seek, and slide.”  Remember it…year round!    

Monday, September 19, 2011

A (Hopeful) Sign of Things to Come...

I apologize for having not posted many thoughts lately.  As I alluded to in a previous post, we had a “work force adjustment” at my company.  Luckily, I survived the cut, but my workload has near doubled as a result.  I have been simply too physically and mentally exhausted to keep up any fresh thoughts on this blog or my Facebook page.  But things are stabilizing now, so I should be back to my blogging self in no time.
I want to share something quite exciting.  This past Saturday, my family and I went to our family haircut.  As I mentioned before in yet another post (wow, I never realized I shared so much of my personal life here), my wife, kids and I all visit the hair stylist every six weeks or so as a group.   I had a little dilemma in that it was a hair AND tanning salon.  We really like our stylist Shannon, but there was something about the tanning booths in the back room that gave me the willies.  However, this past weekend, we were greeted with the following sign inside the shop:
          “Sorry to announce we will no longer be offering tanning…”
Sure enough, I saw that the “Legacy” and other tanning equipment sitting in the back unplugged.  My immediate reaction was to say, “Yea!”
I asked Shannon why they decided to quit the tanning business.  She went on to explain that there were three reasons.  First, there’s the recent 10% federal tax on tanning.  Secondly, the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Division of Radiation Protection apparently has significantly increased the fees to operate radiation-inducing equipment.  And finally, the recent introduced legislation to require teens to have a doctor’s prescription to use a tanning bed was the last straw.  Oddly enough, although that legislation sits in limbo, it still had a direct effect on closing down one tanning operation.
A part of me was a little disappointed at first in that this was a small local business being adversely affected by government regulations.  It’s tough enough for small businesses to make it nowadays, so I felt some sadness that their livelihood may have been affected.  But when I asked how much business was lost, I was told, “not much…just spotty business around prom time.”  My guilt flittered away immediately and I happy to know that (a) a local business will most likely continue and (b) a few prom-aged girls might be unknowingly spared a horrible disease.
A fourth reason for turning off the beds was cited:  the big-named tanning salons in town.  These are the places that truly need to be regulated more…but we’ll take one victory at a time.
Finally, let me just say that Shannon is not the business owner, so the decisions one way or the other were not hers.  But I found two comments she made during my haircut rather interesting.  First, “I’m kinda glad those things are turned off…I have to wonder how safe it was to work here.”  And secondly, “my husband’s mother (I think) died of melanoma…so I’m not unhappy to see them go.”
Neither am I…neither am I.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


September 11 is a day for remembering.  It’s the National Day of Remembrance and Service.  The reasons are obvious.
We all remember where we were 10 years ago.  It was one of those days that you can specifically answer the question, “what were you doing when….?”  I was at work when I heard…the infant internet was so slow due to so many people searching for information.  We found a TV and turned it on.  Work came to a stop as the world paused for hours.  We all went home early to be with our families.  I had no kids at the time, but my wife and I went to church afterwards…then spent the evening watching the news.  What a day…to always be remembered.
What does this post have to do with melanoma awareness?  Nothing…and everything.  Today is not the day to preach about anything other than remembering.  But I ask that you remember those who have fought melanoma, worked to raise awareness, and were lost.  Like the terrorists, melanoma is a cowardly attacker with no concern for the person attacked or their families.  It’s vicious…and it needs to be stopped.  It took an awful act 10 years ago to make this country aware of the threats against us.  It took the attack of melanoma on my brother Jeff about one year ago to make me aware of the disease.  It’s best that we don’t wait for another attack…but prepare and increase awareness.  We need to take precautions.  Security in the airports…sunscreen in the sun.
I don’t mean to ride the coattails of this day of remembering…on September 11…and I apologize if my choice to make such comments on this day is offensive.  Our focus TODAY should be on the events that reshaped this country.  But I ask that on other days, remember the Tinas, Erics, Tabithas…and Jeffs.  Remember those who were attacked by melanoma…and take action to prevent this from ever happening to others.
Always remember…

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

T-Shirt Update


The T-shirts (and coffee mugs) are NOW AVAILABLE!  Please visit the store at

When I first started this "Black is the New Pink" awareness campaign, I figured I'd just write a few words in a blog and that would be that.  But then I saw so many t-shirts announcing various causes and charities, so I thought a BITNP t-shirt would be a nice way to spread the word even more.  I bought a $2 black t-shirt from AC Moore and a pack of printable iron-on sheets from OfficeMax and made my first shirt.

Frankly, it looked like a home-made printable iron-on t-shirt, but others seemed to like the design and idea.  So I made another...this time with the BITNP header on the back and the black ribbon on the pink field on the front.  I liked this did others, but it still had that iron-on look.

I had other ideas.  My "Skin Cancer IS Cancer" design seemed to get a lot of positive feedback as I've found it plastered proudly on many blogs and websites.  Unfornuately, I couldn't recreate that design successfully with an iron-on...I needed professional help.

In the meantime, I've been receiving inquiries..."Where can I get that shirt?"  "Are the t-shirts for sale?"


I was very frustrated.  I could think of no better way of spreading the BITMP message than with t-shirts, hats, or other such trinkets.  But frankly, I'm an engineer, dammit...not a marketing director.

I was told to visit CafePress...a website where one can set-up one's own online store.  They'd manufacture the merchandise, sell it, ship it, and offer a little commission, which I'd gladly forward onto MRF or the Skin Cancer Foundation.  It seemed like a winner to me, so I started to set it up.  I decied to go with my black design with the header on the back and the ribbon on the front.  I felt that this was the best design for mass appeal.  However, once I got it designed and set-up, CafePress assigned a price of $29.99.  Yikes!  I can't ask strangers to shell out nearly 30 bucks for such a shirt when I really don't know what the quality would be.  So, I decided to not pursue this particular site.

Ironically, I logged onto Blogger to share this evolution of the BITNP t-shirt, but was side-tracked by reading a couple of other blogs first.  And wouldn't you know it, on Chelsea's blog was an ad for VistaPint...a t-shirt and merchandise website.  I quickly submitted the same design and came up with a price of just over half of the other site!  Whoo hoo!  The only problem is, they don't seem to have an "online store" system set up like CafePress.  Not to be denied, I've emailed VistaPrint with my problem and hope to hear something positive soon.

Anyhow, my original intent was to petition you...the readers...and ask if any of you have any suggestions.  Personally, I don't have the time to hand-make every shirt...and I don't have the financial means to stock-pile and ship shirts myself.  The CafePress online store concept is ideal...but I can't very well charge $30 for a t-shirt...$20 maybe, but not $30.  Heck, I can get shoes cheaper than $30.  (Have I mentioned that I could use some fashion help?)

I look forward to your comments...and I really REALLY hope to have something soon so that you might be able to wear your BITNP message as much as I do!