Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Giving...for the Magic

Last week (in October, 2013 for any historians that find this blog post in the future), I attended the MRF Miles for Melanoma Raleigh Walk (the 3rd Annual Amanda Wall – Corey Haddon Memorial Walk).  The event had a near miraculous feel about it.  Nearly 225 walkers participated and over $45,000 dollars was raised!  That is so many more people and so much more money than any of us expected.  While the majority of walkers were local, several traveled many miles from Northern Virginia and Charlotte.  Compared to last year’s Amanda-Corey Walk, this had a much more “Big Event” feel.

Last year in November, 2012, I participated in the Charlotte AIM for a Cure Walk.  That event raised a lot of money as well plus also had many walkers.  Right after the walk, I wrote a blog post reflecting on the event.  My closing paragraph read as such:

 This AIM walk is one of many…and AIM is one of several organizations that host such events.  EVERY walk is special.  Each event raises funds and awareness. Don’t let all the blogs and Facebook posts make you think that this was the ONLY event in which to participate.  Hardly.  It’s one of many, and I encourage everyone to find such an event near you.  AIM.  MRF.  Miles Against Melanoma.  Outrun the Sun.  Each one helps our campaign to raise awareness.

I have the same thought today.

I guess what I’m trying to say is…walk.  Attend an event.  Go to a golf tourney that raises funds for melanoma awareness or research.  Attend a free MRF or AIM seminar and give yourself the gift of knowledge.  Teach a middle school class about sun safety.  If you participate in an event with others, even stranger and particularly with survivors and warriors, you won’t regret one second.

In this day and age, it’s hard to give.  Money is tight (boy don’t I know that recently) and time is tighter in our busy schedules.  But I encourage you to make a moment available to give something.  Save 25 cents a week to donate some day in the future.  Pencil in one weekend out of the year to give time for a walk.  Spend 5 minutes of your Facebook time each night sharing articles on awareness.  Send a “thinking of you” text to a survivor/warrior.

Give.  Not “til it hurts,” but until you can’t stop smiling.


I have many friends walking in the 2014 Charlotte AIM for a Cure Walk next month.  I won’t be able to attend this year (which is why I pour so much of myself into the MRF Walk), but I ask that you support one of the AIM walkers.  It doesn’t matter which…the money will go to the same place.  Click here for the donation page.

There is also another event in North Texas affiliated with the Miles Against Melanoma organization.  Click here for their donation page.

I invite you to check out my “Melanoma Awareness and Fund-RaisingEvents” link for many such events.  I’ll be adding 2014 events soon, but there are still plenty of 2013 events scheduled.  Look for one near you!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Speech

I was nervous.  I don’t like being out of my comfort zone and public speaking qualifies as being WAY out of my comfort zone.  But I had a message I wanted to share, so I spoke.  I shared Jeff’s story and message to a crowd of around 200 walkers who were anxious to start walking.  I wondered if I would be heard…if the message would be heard.  I wondered if I would pass out.

But Timna spoke before me and did a fabulous job.  And I knew she was nervous…beyond nervous.  But she shined and thus gave me confidence to speak.  (Thank you Timna!)  

I wish I had my speech on tape.  There was a camera crew on site to film a video about the entire Amanda Wall – Corey Haddon Memorial Walk experience, so perhaps one day I’ll have it to share.  Such a tape would catch the adlibs while the train whistle blared behind me…and when I challenged anyone to debate on the (lack of) health benefits of tanning.  Oh, and I was wearing a tutu the entire speech.  But until I have such a video, I’ll share what I wrote for the speech instead.

One more thing the copy below doesn’t share is the joy I felt when someone approached me afterward, promising to make an appointment for the dermatologist on Monday morning.  That, my friends, is exactly why it was worth stepping far from my comfort zone.

The Speech:

A little over a year ago, I was fortunate enough to meet Don, Rebecca, Chap and Diane.  I never met Amanda or Corey, but through their family and friends, I discovered that both were amazing girls that were taken from us far too early by melanoma.  Like many of you, I walk here today in their honor.  But I also walk in honor of my brother Jeff.

In 2004, Jeff had a large ugly mole on his back.  His wife convinced him to see a dermatologist.  He diagnosed it as early stage melanoma and had it surgically removed with clear margins.  That means the melanoma was completely removed.  But that was to be expected…after all, it was just skin cancer, right?  I mean, you just cut it out and go on with your life…no big deal.  At least that’s what everyone thought…me included.

But Jeff knew it was a big deal…he knew the seriousness of melanoma.  He knew that he dodged a bullet.  He knew he had a new lease on life, and he started to live more healthily.  He lost weight, got his diabetes in check, exercised more, and stopped smoking.  He encouraged others to be sun safe and convinced many to see their dermatologist…including me.  He became involved with the Special Olympics and Relay for Life.  But at the Relay for Life, he’d never visit the survivor’s table to get a special ribbon or t-shirt.  Jeff felt that he wasn’t worthy of being called a survivor because he hadn’t undergone the radiation or chemotherapy that so many others had. But he was wrong.  He was a survivor because he suffered the mental anguish of knowing he had cancer.

In 2010, Jeff visited his general practitioner for a physical.  The doctor said Jeff was in the best health that he’d seen in years, and he asked Jeff if he had any questions or concerns.  Jeff responded that he felt great, but that he had some dizziness, that letters would seem to move as he was reading, and that he was having memory lapses.  The doctor joked that it was probably due to getting older, but decided to order an MRI to make sure things were okay.

What they found were three one-inch tumors in Jeff’s brain and numerous tumors in his lungs.  The melanoma was back.  You see, for anyone that has had melanoma, there is a one in three chance that it will reoccur.  This is exactly what happened with Jeff.

So in August of 2010 after an otherwise healthy check-up Jeff was diagnosed with Stage IV melanoma.  In November, three months later, Jeff died.

I visited with Jeff in September, only one month after his diagnosis.  His health has deteriorated quickly.  He was bloated from the steroids, his hair was gone, and he was using a walker because he was rapidly losing his motor skills.  When he talked with you, he would stare through you…partially because he was slowly going blind and partially because he had trouble recognizing people.  I had to remind him who I was several times.  But we still had some good conversations about our childhood and other misadventures. 

He told me a story about how he went to the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Center for cancer treatments.  He visited the gift shop to look for anything related to melanoma.  Because the color for melanoma is black, he sought out black ribbons…black wristbands…black car magnets.  But all he could find was pink.

Jeff and I both have family members and friends that have battled breast cancer, so we had nothing but respect for the pink breast cancer awareness campaign.  But Jeff told me that he was SO disappointed that there was nothing black at all.  Jeff said to me, “Alan, I wish that just once, black would be the new pink.”  I have a blog for melanoma awareness and that’s what I named it to honor my brother…Black is the New Pink. 

But I’m not here to promote my blog, I’m here to share Jeff’s message which was the next thing he told me in our conversation.  Jeff said, “People need to know.”  That’s all he said, but I knew what he meant.

 People need to know about melanoma.  People need to know that one person dies from melanoma every hour in the U.S.  People need to know that 1 person out of 5 is diagnosed with potentially disfiguring skin cancer, and 1 out of every 50 will be diagnosed with melanoma in their lifetime.  People need to know that melanoma is the number two cancer killer for people ages 15 to 25…so it’s not just an old person’s disease.  People need to know that Bob Marley died from melanoma on his toe…so it’s not just a fair-skinned person’s cancer and it can occur anywhere on the body.

But people need to know that you CAN go out and enjoy the sun.  Jeff loved the outdoors.  He hiked, geocached, golfed and worked in his garden.  He wanted people to know how to be safe in the sun.  People need to wear sunscreen…every day…even on cloudy days.  People need to wear hats.  People need to wear sunglasses, because melanoma can occur in the eye!  People need to stay away from tanning beds because there is not one healthy benefit to using a tanning bed…period!  But most importantly, people need to know to see their dermatologist.

Your skin is your largest organ!  Your skin is you most exposed organ!  Your skin is your most damaged organ!  You visit your dentist once or twice a year... you visit your family doctor once a year, so it only makes sense to visit your dermatologist once a year.  If you haven’t seen your dermatologist in a while, I encourage you to call and make an appointment Monday morning!

People need to be aware of melanoma.  But people also need to take action against melanoma.  You are taking action today by participating in this walk.  Please continue to take action after today by sharing the stories you hear today.  Take action by wearing sunscreen, avoiding the tanning bed,  and visiting the dermatologist, and encouraging others to do the same.  If you have to wear a black tutu to get their attention, please do it!  Do so in honor of Amanda, Corey, Jeff, and the many thousands who are touched by melanoma every day.

Thank you.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

No Man is an Island

It’s hard to believe that it's been three years since I last hung out with my brother.  I shared that weekend with you before.  And I’ve certainly shared this photo with you many times:

There are several reasons I’m so attached to this photograph.

  • It was the last photo taken of just me and Jeff.
  • It’s a damned good photo of us both.  Jeff doesn’t look like a man who only had three months to live.  Despite the cane, he looks strong and happy.
  • We’re hugging.  That might be the only photo of us hugging…ever.  I think that act alone was a wordless way of saying we knew this photo was to be the best one.
  • We were geocaching together…something we both shared a joy for at the time.  (I’ve rarely been caching since his passing.  One’s passion lacks, well, passion when the person you enjoyed it with has passed on).
  • I like where it was taken.
Back to the caching.  We were on a quest to make my 300th cache find the one he had placed for other to find.  I wanted the milestone to be his cache.  However, I had about 293 cache finds thus far, so we had to grab a few before his.  Number 299 was this one.  Here’s an aerial view of the location:

The island of No Man is an Island

I had taken photos of other cache finds that day, but something told me that I needed to take our photo here.  On this island was a picnic table on which to place my camera at the perfect angle.  It was like the photo was meant to happen.  After the photo, we found the cache in the lone tree on the island.  We read the title.  “No Man is an Island.”  I smiled and said to Jeff, “kind of appropriate, don’t you think?”  He responded that he agreed, and we did an awkward one-armed hug as I stabled his stance as we turned around to leave.

I reminisced about this day and decided to check in on this geocache on the official website.  It turns out that mere weeks after we found this cache, the tree was cut down and the cache disabled.  We were nearly the last to find it.  It’s as if the geocache location remained just long enough for us to find it and have out last photo taken. 


I wrote this piece on September 26, but wasn’t able to share my thoughts with you until tonight.  Since then, my wife Kim and I shared our 17th wedding anniversary.  The best man at my wedding was Jeff:
Jeff choking me..."Don't do it!"  :)

Kim and I spent our anniversary (with the kids in tow) with a weekend at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.  While there, we had the good fortune to meet up with my sister-in-law Debbie, Jeff’s wife.  Debbie took Jeff’s death very hard…VERY hard.  But I’m happy to say that she is well and loving life again.  She’ll always love and miss Jeff…as we all will.  I hope that Debbie realizes that no man is an island, and we’re here for her.
Kim to my right and Debbie to my left.