Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Erick Davis, 10 Year Survivor

In the spring of 2004, Erick Davis discovered a lump just above his elbow. "It felt like a marble had been placed under my skin," stated Erick. At the time, Erick was training for the "Escape from Alcatraz Swim" a 1.5-mile swim from Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay. He thought the lump was just a muscle knot or some other athletic injury, fortunately his wife convinced him to consult with his local primary care doctor.

Erick grew up in Connecticut, spending long summer days in the sun. As an adult, during his years in the Air Force, he was stationed in Guam where the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation levels are very high. . 12 years ago Erick had had a stage I melanoma removed, stage I indicated the cancer is localized in one specific area, and was considered cancer free. In 2004, his physician had the lump in his arm biopsied, and when the lump biopsy lab results came back positive for cancer, Erick’s physicians sent him for further testing in San Francisco.

"I went on the Internet to do some research on my diagnosis.  That was really scary. Everything I read told me I had a 5% chance of survival," stated Erick. "When Dr. Minor told me that with biochemocherapy my chances of survival increased to 20%, I couldn’t believe it. I had two kids at home and I wanted to see them graduate from high school."

Erick entered the hospital for his first biochemotherapy treatment that summer and spent the next six months running his own personal marathon, one week in the hospital, one week at home in bed, then one week feeling pretty normal. He worked when he could, maintaining contact at his office through e-mail and stopping by the office on his good week.

By Erick's third treatment, his scans were clear and his cancer was in remission. That was over 10 years ago. Erick is a pilot, competitive long-distance swimmer, and in his free time enjoys surfing, traveling, and snowboarding.  Erick accredits his long-term success to a healthy lifestyle, especially with exercising. He also has a positive attitude and lives life joyfully. He is married with two children.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Relay for Life 2012

Relay for Life was this weekend.  This is our third year participating and our second year as a team.  It is such a neat experience.  I love meeting survivors and hearing their stories.  It is always so inspiring.  This year our team didn't put as much focus on fundraising because we had a lot of other, more important things going on (primarily starting our foundation), so this year the event was really just about having fun and raising awareness for melanoma and skin cancer.

I was asked by the Relay committee to give a speech at the Opening Ceremonies, right before the Survivor Lap kicks off.  You can read my speech here (a few people asked me to post it).  I think it went well because I got a lot of good feedback.  I always love sharing my story with others!  It is very therapeutic.

This year we planned to sleep there, in our tent, behind our booth.  The kids and Eric slept, however, I pulled an all-nighter!  I knew that if I went to sleep and only got 3 hours that I would be an angry bear in the morning, so I decided to just stay up!  It was tough, especially in the wee hours of the morning, but so much fun!  Luckily, I had a great group of friends and teammates to walk the track, watch movies, roast marshmallows, sit and chat in the booth, and pass the time with.


I am so grateful to be apart of this event each year.  It really is such a fun, amazing, and inspiring experience!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Life is so fragile

This week was a tough week.  First off, a friend that we go to church with passed away unexpectedly.  It was such a devasting, shocking, and tragic event.  He left behind a wife and two girls.  I teach his 11 year old in Sunday school.

Another friend passed away tragically in a bike accident a few weeks ago. He was killed by a car riding his bike to work one morning. He left behind 3 children and a wife. His wife is incredibly amazing and strong, and I admire her optimism and courage in moving forward with life.

Then, a fellow melanoma warrior, Steve Hock, passed away from a long, difficult battle with melanoma.  He also left behind a wife and two young children.  I didn't personally know Steve, but I followed his journey on Facebook.  He was incredibly courageous, hopeful, and determined to never give up.  What I admired most though was his openness to share his story and pictures of his journey, as to help spread awareness of melanoma to others.  He touched so many people and left a great legacy behind.  Even though, Steve wasn't a personal friend of mine, his death hit home for me obviously.  It is always so difficult to see fellow warriors not make it.

I remember a couple of years ago during a hypnotherapy session with my hypnotherapist where she told me, "Look you have the same odds of survival as anyone.  You could get a car wreck tomorrow and you're gone.  You could very well not die from melanoma!  You might live to old age, you might not, but NOBODY knows when there time is up."

The thing is, she is so right.  Life can change in the blink of an eye.  I've seen it happen in my life many times.  One day you have a job, the next day you don't...One day you're holding your healthy, newborn infant and the next day, he is fighting to stay alive.  One day you're living a fairly normal life with worries centered on getting your To-Do list accomplished, and the next day, your worries are turned to cancer and "Am I going to die from this disease?".

Life changes so quickly.

If there is one thing I have learned, it is that.  I used to be such a planner, and yes, I still am in a lot of ways.  But not in the big ways, the-planning-out-your-life kind-of way.  Sure, I have dreams.  I have goals.  But I am more flexible now.  I have learned to not plan so much, to enjoy the "now" a bit more, and to worry less about the future.  The future is unknown for nothing is guaranteed.

There is a quote that I read recently, that rings so true to this very thing:

"Life's impermanence, I realized, is what makes every single day so precious. It's what shapes our time here. It's what makes it so important that not a single moment be wasted."

Life is not to be wasted.  Live every day like its your last.  That way, you live with no regrets and are grateful for what you have now, not wishing for a better life.  When you live this way, you are truly happy.

"If you are depressed, you're living in the past.  If you are anxious, you are living in the future.  If you are at peace, you are living in the present."

 As hard as it is to watch friends and comrades leave this life, I am also thankful for the constant reminders as to how fragile life is and to cherish your loved ones each day.  Those reminders keep me grateful and keep me humble.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

What a Survivor Is

This is my speech that I gave at the Relay for Life event this year. A few friends asked me if I would share it, so here it is...

At my first Relay for Life event three summers ago, I had just been hit with a Stage 4 Melanoma diagnosis.  It was probably the hardest time of my entire life.  I was in the middle of making some major decisions on treatment and choosing a doctor and as some of you know, that is not an easy process.

So, I came to Relay not really sure what to expect.  I remember signing up for the Survivor Lap and getting my t-shirt.  I’ll be honest—I didn’t really feel like a cancer “survivor” yet.  Here I was, walking amongst all of these incredible cancer survivors of all ages and different diagnosis, people who really had something to celebrate, people who had defied all odds and were living miracles and yet I didn’t feel as though I belonged.  In my eyes, I wasn’t a survivor YET, right?!  After all, I was just beginning this fight, the fight for my life.  As a 32 year old wife and mother of 2 young children at the time, I had a lot to live for, yet I wasn’t sure of my fate.  I was frightened to death because I didn’t know what to expect in the upcoming months and years.  Would I have success with treatments?  Could I handle the side effects?  How much would life change?  And most importantly, would I be around to see my kids grow up?

I can thankfully say I had success with treatments and I am now in remission.  It is an enormous milestone and one that I don’t take for granted.  I am living proof that miracles indeed exist!  And I give full credit to God for getting me to where I am today.  I now know that I am a “Survivor”!

In the last couple of years, I have learned a lot about myself and what it takes to be a “survivor”.  I have met many courageous cancer survivors and heard their remarkable stories.  What I have found is that survivors have a lot of commonalities!  So, what does it take to be a “survivor”?

Well, I took the word SURVIVOR and made an anagram out of it.   And so, here are some attributes that I believe are within every survivor.

S stands for Support.  I think we can agree that, as survivors, we couldn’t have made it through cancer and everything that it entails physically, mentally, emotionally without support.  I know that I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for the “army” of people standing along side of me—my family, friends, healthcare team, church, community, and of course, God at the helm.  Having a solid support system is critical!

U stands for Unconquerable spirit.   All of the survivors I meet have this amazing attitude on life after they have gone through cancer.  One of the things that I have learned over the last couple of years is that, “We can do hard things”.  We are stronger than we know!  A winning attitude and sheer determination gets you far in life, but I have found that it is crucial when you are going through something like cancer.  Survivors, simply put, are WINNERS!

R stands for Resilient.  Resilience is the ability to adapt to different situations.  When you have cancer, as you know, things can change quickly.  Test results are sometimes not what we want or expect, treatments can alter, plans can change, but we learn that we have to adapt along the way, adjust our sails, and keep on going!

V stands for Vivacious.  Cancer survivors are full of life.  You might think that cancer patients don’t appear to be “vivacious” going through chemo—the bald head, the lack of energy and appetite, and all the other unpleasant side effects that occur from treatments, but think of it this way:  When you are fighting cancer, you sometimes have to dig deep to find your will to live.  And as a survivor, your will to live is all you really need to get you through the hard stuff.  Being vivacious is not only being full of life, but living life to the fullest!!  And I believe cancer survivors do just that.  They have learned to not let life pass them by and they truly live in the present.

I stands for Inspirational.  You hear all these stories of triumph against cancer, often against all odds, and they leave you feeling humble and grateful, moved and inspired.  I believe that every story is inspiring and every cancer survivor is a miracle!  Look around you, there are cancer survivors everywhere of all ages—there were grandmas, middle-aged men, teenagers, and what struck me the most during my first Survivor Lap was seeing the young children and even babies that had been touched by cancer!  It hit me that cancer doesn’t discriminate and that was a humbling realization.  Even though I didn’t know these survivors, to me, they were courageous and inspiring and I was honored to walk with them.  They helped me, during a difficult time beginning my fight, to keep going.  They helped me realize that I could beat this.

V stands for Victorious.  Cancer survivors are victorious!  Every clean scan, every good test result, every milestone along the way is a victory in it of itself.  Most importantly, cancer survivors have the perseverance, determination, and drive to keep going which is important in reaching that end-goal:  N.E.D!!!  And what a sweet victory those three little letters are.

O stands for Optimistic.  I think that most everyone would agree that having a positive attitude is probably the most important quality to have when you are battling cancer.  Remaining optimistic, even despite the challenges and set-backs is crucial.  Keeping your eye on the prize.  Focusing on the good things and blessings in your life.  Ignoring the odds and statistics (a big one!).  I also think that being optimistic is also being hopeful.  Hoping for success.  Hoping for N.E.D.  Hoping to beat the odds.  Hoping for that miracle!  Hope is a vital component to being a survivor.  And we must never give up hope!
R stands for Remission.  Remission to a cancer survivor is the golden ticket.  It is what we are striving for and what we are striving to stay in.  The first time I heard the words “remission” from my oncologist, I wanted to jump up and kiss his face!  Even though I knew very well that I was by no means “out of the woods”, I also knew how important that milestone was.  For someone with Stage 4 Melanoma and only about a 5 % rate of survival, I knew remission was a pretty big deal.
To close, we must know that we are all survivors!!  No matter if we were diagnosed 10 years ago, 5 years ago, or 5 weeks ago.  If you are here today, you are a “survivor”.  So, wear your shirt proudly, be grateful that you are alive today, and relish in the joy that is life.

I am a cancer survivor.  And I relay for myself, my family members and loved ones who have battled cancer, my husband and two boys, and all the melanoma warriors and angels.

Thursday, July 5, 2012


This is a post that I have wanted to write for awhile now.  Not that it is anything new or different really, just some thoughts of mine that I wanted to share...

Cancer transforms you.

Some might argue that cancer changes you in some not-so-good ways, like you never really feel like your "old" or "normal" self again.  Maybe your hair is different.  Maybe you never fully re-gain your energy or strength like you once had.  Maybe your taste buds are different.  Maybe you have lingering side effects from treatments that last long-term.

Even with the bad though, I think that cancer transforms you for the better.  Call me a "glass is half full" kind of person, and sure, maybe there were times when I couldn't see the good things about having cancer during my journey.  But looking back at all that I went through, I see so many good things that more than make-up for the bad.

It's not like I'm a different person now.  I am still me.  Just a better, stronger version of me. 

Cancer helped me realize how tough I am. You don't really know how strong you are or what you are capable of handling until you go through something really challenging in life, like cancer. Before my diagnosis, I never would've imagined that I had the physical, mental, and emotional strength and courage to get through things like treatment, scans, side effects, doctors visits, waiting for results, etc. Sure, I still get nervous for those things, but I know now that I can handle them.

Having cancer, especially at a young age, helped me gain so much more empathy for others and it taught me how important it is to serve.  Not that I didn't have empathy before, but now, I really feel and know what others might be going through.  And that is a true blessing to be able to understand and help people during hard times.

It's interesting but in my darkest moments I would find comfort in knowing that my trial was not just for me. It was to help others.  Its purpose was something greater than myself.  And what a reassurance it was to know that my purpose here on Earth was not fulfilled yet.

Cancer changes your perspective on life.  I am a total Type "A" person, going 100 mph in 20 different directions all the time.  I am always thinking about what is next, what lies ahead, and how to plan for that future.  Very rarely would I just sit back and relish in the "now", enjoying the moment, and not worrying so much about the future.

The future somehow takes care of itself the way it is intended though.  I know that now.  Things just have a way of working out.  I still have goals, but I don't plan so much.  I don't put so many expectations on myself.  I live in the moment and find so much more joy in living for TODAY, and not waiting for a better tomorrow.  If anything, I want tomorrow to SLOW DOWN.  I want to enjoy my life now, enjoy my kids now, and even try to enjoy the challenges that come our way.

Cancer taught me that I do not have complete control over ANYTHING.  Especially my body.  For someone that is used to that, control was a very difficult thing to give up when I got cancer.  But surrendering to God was what I needed to do.  I needed to do my part, yes, and take care of myself, but I needed to relinquish control and just have faith that He would heal me.  He would make up the difference.  He had a plan for me.  This was and is a very hard lesson for me to learn.

I have learned not to take ANYTHING or ANYBODY for granted.  I more fully appreciate and recognize my blessings, tender mercies, and the many miracles in my life.  I always knew how blessed I was to have the family, friends, and support that I have, but going through cancer magnifies that LOVE from your loved ones even more.  I am so completely grateful for my family, all of my many friends near and far, and the community of people that have rallied behind me, rooting me on.  I simply would not be here without them.

When you go through something really challenging like cancer, all of the previous trials in your life are put into perspective.  You learn to not sweat the small stuff so much.  You are more patient and understanding.  You have more love for others.  You have more faith and hope.  And you have more confidence in yourself and in God.  "WE CAN DO HARD THINGS." was often the quote that came to my head when I doubted my ability to get through the hard times.

But probably the greatest thing that I have learned is how much my Father in Heaven knows me and loves me.  Never in my life before have I felt His love for me stronger and more apparent than when I was going through difficult times throughout my journey.  His love is what carried me through so many tears, worries, concerns, and doubts about my future.  His love lifted me through so many ways-- through my children, my husband, my family members, through friends and even strangers.  His love was and IS always around us.  I didn't always recognize that, but now I do.  I know that He shows his love in so many different ways, but often through other people.

When I think about that, I am overwhelmed with how much my Heavenly Father truly loves me because I feel so loved by many.

The transformation takes place when we recognize all of the good and growth in our life despite our hardships and we then practice and apply that wisdom that we have gained.  And that is truly a beautiful thing.