Sunday, March 31, 2013

One year...

Amy Dunn passed away exactly a year ago today.  All day I thought of her sweet family and dear friends and how hard this must be.  It's so crazy to think that it's been a year.  When we first met the Dunn family a year ago, we were so touched by their kindness, support and courage.  And we are so grateful that our friendship with them has continued to grow...
Here we are, embarking forward with our non-profit.  We dedicated our foundation in honor of Amy because she inspired us through her story and legacy.  We hope that her story will continue to impact the community in a positive way.
Each time we speak in the high schools and share Amy's story, we can feel her smiling down on us.  We know we are doing the right thing and we will continue to make her proud by educating others on melanoma and helping to save lives.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

To Do List

Check. Check.
 (Is there really anything more to say?!)

Friday, March 22, 2013

Kathy Palmer

“Melanoma can be disfiguring”


That word: Melanoma… Dr. Lee was saying I had melanoma!
For years I had seen dermatologists for treatment of basal cell carcinoma under my right eye.  Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer and is treated by cryosurgery, which uses liquid nitrogen to freeze the area.  During a routine visit in March of 2008, I pointed out a small darkish spot on my left cheek.  My physician, Dr. Lee, performed a punch biopsy to get a small sample of cells.  A few days later, I got a call from her office asking me to come in again.  Dr. Lee informed me that the lab needed more cells and so she cut more tissue out of the area and put in four stitches.
A week later I went back to have the stitches removed.  It was then that Dr. Lee broke the news that I had MELANOMA CANCER – the kind that can kill you!  That moment will always be a defining moment in my life.  I was scared as she explained the next steps and it was hard not to panic.  Upon leaving my doctor’s office, I first called my husband and then my mother.  “I have cancer!” and “Why me?” were thoughts swirling around in my head.  From there, I went directly to the hospital for chest x-rays to see if the cancer had spread.  The whole time throughout the scan, I kept saying, “O God, please don’t let it show up!” 
The next morning I had a blood test and made my first appointment at the UCSF Melanoma clinic.  My emotions were all over the place as I waited for my appointment.  I became angry and very depressed.
At the Melanoma clinic, the specialist, Dr. Vinna, came in and introduced himself.  After a very uncomfortable head-to-toe exam, the doctor came back to explain to me that my melanoma was past early Stage 1.  Now I was really scared.  It hadn’t quite reached Stage 2 though, and he drew a diagram showing how large and deep an area would have to be removed.  
My first surgery was to remove the cancer. It was alarming to be awake during surgery, even though I was completely numb in the area they were removing.  Although there was no pain, I could feel the pressure of the scalpel and the cutting of scissors.  Afterwards they burned the blood vessels to stop the bleeding.  Smelling my own flesh burning was sickening and was definitely the most frightening part.  When it was over they brought a mirror so I could see my face.  The sight was horrible!  There was a two-inch circle cut down to the muscle and it was blackened from the burning.  A pressure bandage was put on which looked like half a baseball tightly taped to my face.
My husband was very caring and empathetic and took good care of me that weekend.  My mother and children called often to check how I was doing.  They also sent cards, emails and most importantly prayed for me.  I am so thankful that my family is my support system. 
A week after the first surgery I went back for facial reconstruction.  Thankfully my surgeon said the pathology report showed that all the cancer was removed and that the margins were good.  I had assumed they would now sew the edges of my incision together, but they gave me a mirror to show me they would be cutting a giant ‘S’ from the top of my ear to below my lip.  The skin from under my chin would be pulled up to fill in the hole.  My left eye was pulled down and my lip was pulled left.  Never in my life did it occur to me that a little “spot” or freckle on my cheek would later in life disfigure the entire left side of my face.  What a humbling experience.
Ten days later I was back at UCSF to have the stitches removed.  Doctors kept commenting on how good my face looked, but I wanted to yell “Are you CRAZY!  Look at what you’ve done to my face!”
The eyes may be the windows to the soul, but the face is what others see first.  The left side of my face is disfigured.  I see the scars every day in the mirror and can feel them with my hands.  I’m still self-conscious and there are still people who see the scars and turn away, but more that don’t.  There will be another surgery in a few months to do further reconstruction which means stitches and bandages again.  Every six months for two years I will go the Melanoma clinic at UCSF, undress and be checked for cancer.  Melanoma will always be a part of my life.
But like the television ads say… “I might have cancer, but it doesn’t have me.”

Written by:  Kathy Palmer, Stage 1 Melanoma survivor, California

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Sol Survivors is growing!

Almost two years ago, Lisa, Janice and I (all co-founders of Sol Survivors) got together and formed a support group for melanoma survivors and their caregivers here in Boise.  We knew there was a great need in our community and so we forged into unchartered territory, not knowing any other melanoma survivors/warriors in our community other than ourselves.
But you see, miracles continue to happen though.  And at our very FIRST meeting, we had two new people!  One gal, Robin, was someone I had met at the gym recently and who was a two-time melanoma survivor.  She came because she felt that she lacked that support in her life, from people who knew the physical and emotional toll that melanoma had taken on her, and wanted to see if a melanoma support group would possibly fill that hole in her life.
And then there was Ruby, whom we didn't know was coming prior to our meeting. She had heard about our support group through Amy Dunn.  (Unfortunately, Amy Dunn passed away a year ago.)  Ruby had recently been diagnosed with Stage 3 and was seeking treatment options in L.A. with a melanoma specialist.
Fast foward two years, and we have made incredible friendships with these gals and strengthened our bonds with each other...And we have also added a few more members to our group since then!!  It has been such a blessing in our lives to meet each month and be strengthened from one another, empathize with our struggles, and celebrate our successes.  I count these women in my life to be crucial to my own support system, but not only that, life-long friends as well.  I also know without a doubt that we were all destined to cross paths and meet.  Do you ever feel that way about people whom you meet?  Once again...
I strongly believe that we don't just meet people by chance or coicidence.  God puts people in our lives for reasons.  Sometimes those reasons are for us, to help us in some way and other times, they are for the other person, in whom we are meant to help.  With these remarkable ladies, or 'Sol-mates', I believe we have all of that.  We all help each other.  We lift each other.  And we have each other's backs (not to mention melanoma's back!). 
And that is what it is all about.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

HB 286

Well, it's that time of year again.  And by that, I mean our state's legislators (House and Senate) are in session again.  Last year was the first year that the "tanning bill"was introduced (a bill that would prohibit minors from using indoor tanning devices) and unfortunately, it passed the House, but then was dropped in the Senate.
Now, the bill is up again on the agenda.  Here's to hoping it passes this year.  Because let's face it, we have a problem with teen tanning in Idaho (compared to the national average), and we need to do something about it.  We also need to do a better job educating others on the dangers of these cancer-causing devices as well.
Just as we did last year, some of the Sol Survivors were able to testify in favor of the bill at a hearing held on Wednesday by the House Health and Welfare committee.  It is always an intriguing, enlightening experience!  While I am grateful and humbled to get the opportunity to listen in on these hearings, as well as speak and share a little of my own personal story with melanoma and tanning beds, it is also disheartening to hear the other side of it--the people against the bill.

Robin, Lisa and I--some of the Sol Survivors

Me, Robin, and Blake (the guy who headed up the bill)
Those people come out guns a'blazing and it gets pretty nasty.  As I listened to them testify, my blood pressure and heart rate went through the roof, my palms and armpits got sweaty and clamy and I wanted to punch someone! ;)
Let's hope our legislators get smart this year though and pass this very important bill.  We need to change the way we think Idaho!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Born again

As you can tell by now, I am a big fan of inspirational quotes and such.  When I find a good one, I want to share it with everyone because it always brightens my day or reminds me of what is important in life! :)
I love this particular quote because once again, I reminded that the only thing that truly matters is what we do today--not tomorrow, not one month from now, not one year from now, and not even 10 years from now.  Only today counts because when you think about, it could be your very last day!  My goal each day (even on my bad days) is to make someone happy.  To make someone feel loved and do something nice for someone else.  Often times it is just my family, but I try to go outside of that and reach out to the people in my circle of friends, network, extended family, community, church, etc.  Even if it is just a smile or a compliment, it makes me feel good.
To me, that's what matters most.  Serving others, helping others, and being selfless.  I have a long way to go truly be selfless, but I'm trying and I know my efforts aren't in vain.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Heaven gains another angel

It's a sad day in the melanoma community (and for a dear family) once again.  I hate posting stories like this, because I want my blog to be uplifting and encouraging for those reading and maybe in the midst of their fight with the great beast, melanoma.  But, occassionally I come across these stories of fellow warriors whom I either personally know or whom I have followed, rooted for, and prayed for...and so I share.
Another former blogger, Jen, whom I have followed for quite some time, has gained her wings and joined the angels above.  Her story is so devasting to me because like myself, she was a young mother who was full of life and joy for her family.

This woman was a wife to mother to a sweet boy and so it is always heartbreaking to hear this news.  Her story is remarkable and she was truly a beautiful, courageous soul who gave everything to her family and lived a good, happy life.  You can read more of her story here.

Monday, March 4, 2013

C.S. Lewis was wise...

I strongly believe this.  We control our attitude, our perception of ourselves, our choices and decisions, and ultimately, how much (or how little) we love ourselves.  There have been times in my life when I have struggled to really love myself, but the older I get, the more comfortable I am in my skin, the less I care about what others think (about me), the more confident I am in my strengths, and the more forgiving I am on myself when I fall or make mistakes.
To me, this statement needs to conclude that simply, we are "children of God".  When we have a firm belief that we are created in God's own image, that we are His children or offspring with divine heritage and worth, it helps us know that we are loved greatly and unconditionally by God.   If we can believe this about ourselves, than we can love ourselves better and then in turn, love others more fully too.