Tuesday, December 31, 2013

What I learned in 2013

Usually I try to make resolutions for the coming year.  I always falter.  Case in point, last year I documented that I had hoped to lose 15 pounds in 2012 and yet I gained 8.  I repeated the same resolution for 2013, and yet I’ve gained 5 more pounds.  Clearly, I’ve learned that I’m not the best at keeping my resolutions.  But I have learned other things in 2013.

·        Elected officials are not the most intelligent people in the world…or the nation…or the state.  You would think that we’d elect the brightest of our peers (no matter the political party) to represent us when it comes to establishing the laws of the land.  But when I listened into the teen tanning debate over the North Carolina Legislative podcast, I felt like I was listening to a high school pep club arguing over which brand of tissue should cover the homecoming float.  Many of the arguments were based on hearsay and not on any real factual evidence.  Those who had no medical knowledge declared the health benefits of tanning beds.  And even some who supported the ban seemed to be a little loose on their facts.  I learned that public policy is based solely on gut feel and peer pressure and very little on fact and the common good.

·        Politics can be…well, political.  After the teen tanning ban bill died in committee, I was convinced we had lost a major battle.  In fact, I learned that the bill’s status in limbo was expected by those who introduced the legislation.  Apparently, this first run was to expose the strengths and weaknesses in the tanning ban legislation and to determine who would be the strongest allies and staunchest adversaries.  Having had the expected results of the first run, I’m sure the next run at banning teen tanning in North Carolina will be met with better success.

·        I can have a voice, even if I fall flat on my face the first time.  I was given the opportunity to tell Jeff’s story at the Miles for Melanoma Raleigh walk in October (also known as the Amanda Wall – Corey Hadden Memorial Walk).  I hate public speaking.  I mean, I really hate it.  But I really wanted to tell Jeff’s story despite my fears.  A couple of weeks prior, I had the opportunity to speak at a West Virginia University Alumni gathering to announce the upcoming walk.  I attempted to give a much abbreviated version of my speech and I froze.  I mumbled a few words and somehow squeaked out the time and date of the walk, but that was it.  So when the day of the real speech arrived, I was a nervous wreck.  I had practiced in my head many times over, but I was still nervous.  And yet when the time came, I felt as if I were in a trance…in “the zone.”  I nailed the speech and said exactly what I wanted to say with the passion in which it intended to be conveyed.  Fall seven times, stand up eight.

·        People can be very giving.  I already knew this of the melanoma community, but I have been reminded over and over throughout the year.  When it comes to donating to melanoma awareness and fund-raising, those within the community are more than willing to give.  The aforementioned Miles for Melanoma Raleigh Walk raised a record amount.  At the same time, when someone in need of support asks for such on my Facebook page, others in the melanoma community flock to assist.  It’s an amazing thing to witness and one of the main joys of keeping the BITNP Facebook page going.  It’s helping other people.

·        Melanoma awareness is increasing.  There has been more press about the dangers of tanning and the importance of getting your skin checked.  Articles and videos have popped up on television station websites.    Great PSAs are also appearing from larger organizations…with the latest from the American Cancer Society making a statement that “tanning is really bad.”  People ARE becoming aware.

I’ve learned these things and much more.  I’m excited about 2014.  While I won’t make any resolutions, I do have one hope.  While I hope that melanoma awareness continues to rise, my real hope is that real KNOWLEDGE about melanoma and skin cancer will spread.  It’s not enough to just be aware, it’s about being knowledgeable.

Happy New Year everyone!

Friday, December 27, 2013


Image: washingtonpost.com
The holiday season is a time for many things.  Family.  Friends.  Worship.  And secrets.  Everyone in my family has at least one secret during the holidays, mostly involving gifts.  My kids are both now in Middle School and they have become quite talented at keeping secrets.  Each of them picked out presents for other family members by themselves this year.  Each also have neither confirmed nor denied the existence of a certain North Pole resident.  I imagine they suspect that Santa is not a real person, but they’re keeping that opinion to themselves.  My guess is that if they announce a disbelief in Saint Nick, they believe the presents will cease to appear on Christmas morning.  At least that was my thought at the same age.  Regardless, they are both keeping this a secret from me.

Another secret was revealed to me over these last two weeks.  My ever-developing and maturing 11-year old daughter who has always adored me as a hero now has a boyfriend.  It’s just a class-mate crush, but I’m aware that such “relationships” are more complicated in this day of texting and emailing.  I don’t have a fear of my daughter having a boyfriend…just of the modern day etiquette and practices of which I’m not aware.  She finally asked my wife to share the news with me, so I approached my daughter with a smiling and understanding expression and told her I wouldn’t tease her (much) and that it was okay to have a boyfriend.  I also told her a father’s job is not to tease the daughter, but to intimidate the boyfriend, so I’d look forward to that day soon.

It was my son who surprised me the most.  He knew of his sister’s boyfriend (who happens to be one of my son’s best friends…another dynamic that should prove to be challenging down the road).  What surprised me is that he could keep a secret at all.  He’s the one that often blurts out the most untimely comments in public (think “Fire! in a crowded movie house”).  He’s always the one that crumbles under the “Daddy stare” into a fit of giggles and cries of “Okay okay…I’ll tell you!”  But within Boyfriend-Gate, he showed no signs of having knowledge at all.  I would be proud of him if it wasn’t for the worry this has set upon me.  These are the first secrets of many to come.  Many, many!

Don’t get me wrong, I have fantastic kids.  Sure, I have parental bias, but I think I speak fact as well.  They both do well in school and each has a good set of friends that also perform well in class as well as in social groups.  My kids could be more active, but their lack of involvement is as much my fault as anyone’s.  Overall, they are really good kids.  Good kids that have learned to keep secrets really well.

I predict (hope) that they will make good decisions in the future.  They know that smoking is bad (it killed their grandma) and that tanning is bad (it contributed to their uncle’s death).  But I know they’ll do things and try things of which they’ll keep secrets.  I know this because I did.  I have secrets that I would never tell my parents and that I’ll probably take to my grave.  I did things that I knew “was wrong” and yet I did them anyway.  I’ve made better and smarter decisions later in life and would most likely not repeat some of those earlier actions.  Those actions…which started when I was just slightly older than what my kids are now.  So yeah, I have to be realistic and know that my kids will make some poor decisions.  Despite being incredibly well behaved kids now, they’ll make the occasional bone-headed decision.  And they’ll keep some so secret that they’ll take them to their grave.

I have some solace in knowing that some decisions are made more difficult to carry through. I know that my son won’t be hopping in my car to zoom down the road, at least until he’s 15 or 16, because middle schoolers are too young to drive.  I know that my daughter won’t go off to buy cigarettes from the store until she’s around 18 (hopefully never) because that’s the age limit in North Carolina.  I know that neither will go off to buy a pint of Crown Royal until they’re 21, the legal drinking age in this state.  There are other such age restrictions which help to put my mind at ease.  I’m not so na├»ve to realize that loopholes can’t be found or that a friend or young adult might not sneak a drink or a smoke their way.  Still, I do know that such laws make access more difficult.

That’s why I support any efforts toward a ban on tanning beds for minors.  I know that my kids are good kids.  I know that I have parental control over these kids…now.  I also know that good kids (yes, I was a “good kid”) will purposely make a bad choice and then keep it a secret.  I’m convinced they will stay away from tanning beds.  But then again….

Kudos to our friend Chelsea Dawson for fighting for a tanning bed ban in Virginia.  Cheers to all others that have won the fights in their states or plan to continue the fight in others.  I wholeheartedly agree that parents should have the responsibility for their children and understand that every parent believes they have good kids.  Almost as good as mine.  But I also know that kids will make mistakes that can affect their lives in dramatic ways.  We might think our kids will make the right choices…but we might never know their secrets.