Sunday, August 25, 2013

One Family. One Fight.

Erika Lynan had a mole on her left arm several years ago.  After it became asymmetric, she saw a dermatologist who performed a biopsy.  It was low-stage melanoma.  Her mole and the surrounding area were excised with clear margins and all seemed well.

A few months ago, Erika, a 43-year old single mother of 3, had flu-like symptoms.  She visited her doctor in Alabama and it was discovered that her melanoma had returned.  Stage 4.  Her marrow, her brain…her melanoma seemed to have metastasized everywhere.  Her situation can be considered challenging at best.  Erika has a hard fight before her.

Her sister Mary lives in Raleigh, NC.  After emotionally “dealing with” Erika’s diagnosis, Mary felt she had to do something...anything...but wasn't sure how from so many miles away.  Her husband encouraged her to seek the support of her family…her Raleigh family.

Mary tends bar at the Backyard Bistro in Raleigh.  In the shadow of both the PNC Arena (home of NC State basketball and Carolina Hurricanes hockey) and Carter Finley Stadium (NC State football), the restaurant/bar is a popular gathering place for the NC State Wolfpack Club and pre-game crowds.  Sports aside, the management reached out to Mary and offered to organize a fund-raiser for Erika.

In three short weeks, they called their key contacts (including Wolfpack Club rep Bob Bell) and arranged fantastic raffle prizes and silent auction items to raise funds.  They provided a catered lunch of BBQ and low-country crayfish while music was provided by The Magic Pipers.  And magic indeed was the event.

Well over 100 people attended the event and quite a bit of money was raised from the aforementioned raffle and auction. Signed hockey jerseys and posters, rounds of golf, original artwork…many incredible prizes were claimed…with all proceeds going to Mary’s sister.

I have attended a hand full of melanoma awareness/fund-raising events and have been touched by the magic of each.  People from all walks of life show up to these events, and today’s event proved no different.  And what was most magical was that some walked away more aware…knowing to be more diligent in the sun and realizing they should make annual appointments to see their dermatologist.

Below are some photos of the event, but the true aura of this and many events simply cannot be captured on film.  I encourage all of you to seek out a local event and attend.  Whether it be a 5K walk, a pub crawl, a golf tourney, or whatever…attend and be enlightened.  Today’s event will prove to do good for Mary and Erika…and it proved to be good for me as well.

(A personal note to those I met at the event…I hope I got all the names and spelling right.  Also, thank you!  Also, please feel free to contact me at my email address at ...especially about the upcoming Miles Against Melanoma Walk in Apex in October.  And Tom…I’ll see you at the (WVU) tailgate party you won…J)

I loved this...serving some brews and offering up sunscreen!
See!  They really did have sunscreen...and people were applying it!
Folks were offering up donations while grabbing info on skin cancer.
Info from the AAD was posted all over...
...and additional reminders were everywhere you looked...
...and where ever you walked!
Black ribbons were handed out...I love this saying, "Stick it to cancer!"
Good food (BBQ and low-country boil)
Good prizes (Go Canes!)
And a Great Team!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

How can my cancer be different if I don't have cancer?

Two of my best bloggin’ buddies, “Red Carpet Chelsea” from Adventures with my Enemy…Melanoma, and “Classic Rockin’ Rich” of the Hotel Melanoma recently shared news of a new website called “Is My Cancer Different?  To quote the site, it “educates people about the benefits of asking for more personalized cancer treatment.”  Their goal is to “empower patients, their families, and friends by informing them of the advanced testing options available to them by asking a simple question, “Is My Cancer Different?”

At first, I wasn’t sure if I should become involved with the site…after all, I don’t have cancer.  But as many of you know, I hate cancer!  My mother died of lung cancer in 2005 and my brother passed away from melanoma in 2010.  I had my own scare with prostate cancer, having to undergo two biopsies to finally get the “mostly” green light that all was well.  I was told not to be surprised if prostate cancer enters my life in my 50’s.  So far, almost a year into the decade, I’m still fine.  But I still hate cancer.

So how is my cancer different?  Mine is a cancer that I hope never comes, but I still feel it’s around the corner taunting me.  The prospect of prostate cancer and more biopsies (ouch) are never far from my thoughts.  The fact that melanoma is historically shared by siblings who grew up in the same environment has me checking for spots daily.  Having been a sun worshipping lifeguard just allows the prospect of the black beast of melanoma to loom even more.  At least I didn’t choose to smoke…but what of the lingering effects of two adults and one sibling that did take up the nasty habit and allowed a constant layer of smoke to linger all around me?

No, I don’t live a paranoid or terrified existence.  Instead, I choose to enjoy my life, and fight off any cancer fears.  I try to take care of my health so as to resist cancer’s touch.  I wear sun screen and I preach the importance of annual visits to the dermatologist.  I fight by attempting to elevate others’ awareness.  Eventually that awareness will become knowledge.  And that knowledge will become a powerful weapon. 

My cancer?  If it ever shows its face, it has one hell of a fight on its hands!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Is Blocking Sunburn Pain a Good Thing?

Yesterday, my colleague Elliot showed me an article in the local paper with the following headline:

“Cure for the sunburn blues?  It may be coming: scientists have uncovered the molecule that makes sunburn hurt.”

Something just didn’t seem right with this headline.  From a pain management point of view, this was great news.  My mother suffered from Lupus (one of the most obscure diseases) and she was in a lot of pain during the last years of her life.  Any advance in pain management is good news…but in this case, something didn’t quite feel right.

The article goes on to state that the TRPV4 molecule reacts to UVB rays and allows calcium and a protein associated with pain and itching to pass through the cell walls and cause the discomfort.  The scientists performed studies on mouse paws (who knew mouse paws were similar to our skin)…they took away the TRPV4 molecule and discovered the mice felt no pain from an imposed sunburn.  “They were a lot less sensitive and their skin tissue was significantly less damaged.”

Hmmm…that last statement barely snuck in, and disappeared almost as fast.  Let’s read it again. 

“…and their skin tissue was significantly less damaged.”

Okay, so this seems like a good thing…skin is less damaged.  But the article never goes on to explain what damage was actually less.  Was it less sunburn…did removing the TRPV4 molecule act as a pseudo sun block?  Was there still damage to the melanocytes?  Was there an increase or decrease in the potential for skin cancer?  It’s not clear.

What is clear is that the pain associated with sunburn can be reduced.  But is this really a good thing?  My first thought was echoed in the article by dermatologist Dr. Margaret Boyle.  She said that a sunburn is nature’s way of telling is to get out of the sun.  “Sunburn pain acts as a warning system.  We need that trigger to help keep us safe.”

I couldn’t agree more.  I still get the occasional burnt spot because I missed it when applying sunscreen and I suffer some pain because of it.  Yes, I’d like immediate relief.  But I’m not sure it’s smart to incorporate TRPV4 blockers into sunscreen so that sun exposure doesn’t come with a little pain. 

We already rely too much on sunscreen to protect us from the sun.  We should be savvier in wearing hats and protective clothing and in seeking shade during peak sun hours.  We should seek shade as much as possible.  We don’t need a sunscreen that removes nature’s way of letting us know we’ve been in the sun too much.

Let’s hope there’s more to this study than that.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

I'm fine...thanks for asking!

First of all, thank you to those who have checked in on me.  My absence from the blogosphere and reduced presence on Facebook has inspired several folks to make sure I’m okay.

I am.  Thanks!  J 

I’ve been forced to take a little hiatus from blogging lately.  Nothing serious…just a perfect storm of family, personal and career events all taking place at the same time.  My twins started middle school in July (they go to year-round school) which starts a LOT earlier than the previous elementary school.  They have to be at the bus stop by 6:30, requiring that I get up around 5:00AM to get the familial ball rolling.  At work, my customers have become more active, so I’ve been working on more customer-related projects than normal.  Combine that with two colleagues resigning within the last few months and my responsibilities (and those of my remaining co-workers) having increased nearly two-fold, thus requiring many work days to extend well into the evening.  And then at home, there’s just the usual pay-the-bills, mow-the-lawn, feed-the-cats, fix-the-toilet activities that seem to hit a peak every few months.

What this leads to is a full day from 5:00AM to about 10:30PM where I’m running non-stop.  And when I finally get the chance to settle down to type some thoughts…I fall asleep.  Literally.  My wife has found me numerous times sound asleep while sitting straight up in my office chair.  I am simply exhausted.

I hope I don’t seem to be complaining…I’m not.  Sure, I’m wishing for a good rest and some good opportunities to write some thoughts (and I’ve had many)…but I’m not complaining.  You see, being a volunteer advocate for melanoma (and cancer in general) has made me realize that I’m very fortunate.  Not for simply not having cancer, but for having met so many that have.  So many have stated that it took “cancer” to open one’s eyes to how precious life can be…to not sweat the small stuff.  I’ve learned through your eyes that many of my exhaustive events are small stuff.  I am obligated focused on them…but except for the love of my family, it’s all small stuff.  While there’s no way I can truly see and feel the precious nature of life as seen through a cancer survivor without getting cancer (knock on wood), I feel you have given me a gift to peek just a little through your eyes.  Thank you.

So in that regard, I’ve chosen to recharge.  I’m sweeping the small stuff in a pile…reorganizing things a bit…and expecting to be back to blogging soon.  My next blog may be in a couple of days…a couple of weeks…or a couple of months…I’m not really sure.  But there are far too many thoughts and words I want to share to be away for too long.  Thoughts such as:

·        Sure Miley Cyrus was self-promoting, but the buzz about her nude pose for “Protect the Skin Your In” splattered the phrase “melanoma awareness” across the media for a good solid week.  Then again, I suppose there are limits to how much one should tolerate in the name of melanoma awareness (or any awareness).  Having someone bomb tanning salons would certainly catch attention, but the wrong kind of attention.  (That was an example…a BAD example…PLEASE don’t bomb anything…geesh).  So was Miley wrong?  I think she did a good thing…but I can see where others might have been put off.

·        I’m planning to read two books related to melanoma and cancer.  (Note, if I can’t stay awake to type, I have no chance against reading!  Finishing these books may take awhile!)  The first is “Hope Throughout Cancer” which was written last year as a compilation from many writers (including yours truly and Rich from the Hotel Melanoma) about their relationship with cancer.  So far, it’s been a very inspiring and heart-tugging read.  The other is a Kindle download called “Tanning and Melanoma” written by Mary Barrow of the SunAWARE International Foundation.  I hope to share my thoughts on both at some point…and invite you to read both and share your thoughts as well.

·        The tanning bill in North Carolina has been gathering dust in a Senate committee for months after House approval, and now the legislative session is over until the fall.  I suspect the bill has had its day in its current form and will rise again next spring with strong modifications.  I’m sure there were many lessons learned this past session…and several advocates and adversaries discovered.  I’m confident that a bill will go further next year and hope that the many laws that have arisen across the country this past year will provide additional influence to North Carolina’s…um…unique legislators.  (Oops…sorry…I really try to remain politically neutral…really)

·        After a successful wine-tasting fundraiser for MRF in memory of Amanda Wall and Corey Hadden, the 3rd Annual 5K Walk for the same group is only a couple months away!  My recent schedule has already forced me to miss a preparation meeting, but I’m pretty sure this year’s walk will be bigger and better than ever!  I believe it’s the biggest melanoma fundraising event in the Raleigh North Carolina area.  (By the way, before the walk is a fund-raising night at Buffalo Wild Wings.  Check the website for more info).

·        Just down the road eastward is the little town of Charlotte ( J ) which will be hosting an even bigger event in the AIM for a Cure 5K.  My fingers are crossed that I’ll be able to attend again this year to reunite with friends met a year ago and to meet new friends and faces.  Last year’s event was magical and I can only imagine the same this coming November.

So that’s a snippet of my thoughts and I hope to find time to share more sooner than later.  I’ll still be poking my nose into Facebook almost daily, so you can find me there.  Even so, just know that my thoughts and prayers are with everyone fighting the fight…and with those family members from whom melanoma took away loved ones.

Thanks again for checking in.  I’m fine…and you guys make me better.

PS…yes, I dosed off once while typing this.  You can thank my cat for waking me up.