I read string of FB comments about a friend of a friend who commented that they were too pale and needed to tan for the summer. This person also stated that her mom “has melanoma real bad” but she has to be tan to go to a wedding. The initial poster on FB asked what others would have said in response. Some commented that perhaps the daughter (or even the mother) simply didn’t understand the cause and real details of melanoma. A few days ago, I would have thought it unbelievable that someone with melanoma wouldn’t understand the dangers. But now I can completely relate.
I talked with my sister-in-law the other day…Jeff’s
wife. We hadn’t talked in a long while,
and even then our conversations were mostly emotional venting about my brother’s
passing. His death has been hard on all of
us, but particularly hard on his wife.
Anyhow, our conversation this past weekend was a little bit more normal
and chit-chatty. Since we both seemed
stronger to tackle a deeper discussion, I asked her a little about Jeff’s
initial melanoma diagnosis in 2004.
My family isn’t the best at sharing personal or “bad”
news. And my worst personal flaw is
maintaining close contact with anyone.
So the information I had about Jeff’s melanoma diagnosis in 2004 is
sketchy at best. All I recall is that he
said he, “had melanoma on his back and they were going to cut it out.” Later on, he mentioned that the surgery went
well…”it was over before I realized it.”
That was pretty much all I knew about it. With such info, I pretty much figured
melanoma could “just be cut out. Knowing
what I know now, I asked my sister-in-law exactly what the diagnosis was back
then. Was he Stage 1? Stage 2?
What other procedures were done?
The answer stunned me.
They were told he had malignant melanoma, but no stage was
ever mentioned. In fact, she never used
the word “oncologist” at all. She stated
that a plastic surgeon performed the removal and the melanoma as pronounced
fully removed. Case closed. Jeff was to visit the dermatologist every 6
months and that was it. No scans. No MRIs.
When the melanoma came back (with apparently no resistance
at all) in 2010, it appeared on his face.
A “chemo cream” was prescribed and that was that. Of course, in August 2010, it was discovered
to be riddled in his brain and lungs.
My sister-in-law expressed anger. “They never told us anything! We had no idea that melanoma could spread to
other organs! Jeff was smart enough to
now not to tan and was very careful with the sun, but we were never told to do
any follow-up procedures! She went on to
tell me that when they visited MD Anderson, Dr. Hwu expressed total shock at
the lack of common protocol followed.
Based on what my sis-in-law shared, they just didn’t know. And this scenario reminds me of another blog
I read recently which discussed the difference between awareness and
education. Jeff and his wife were “aware”
of melanoma, but they weren’t properly educated about it.
Let this serve as a reminder…to you and to the friend of a
friend…that melanoma is a killer and it’s so much more than skin cancer. Making people aware is important…making them
understand is critical.