Melanoma? That’s it?

Since May is Melanoma Awareness Month, I’ve invited others affected by melanoma to guest blog on the 7th, 14th and the 21st. I’ll wrap up the month by blogging again on the 28th. Today’s blog is written by Molly Menard.

 

I am not a blogger. I had to google what blogging is all about. I am sure this is not your normal kind of blog, but here it is. I am sharing with you the dates I replay over and over again in my head. Many things that happened in between are painful and I don’t like to think about them. Hell, the stuff below is painful. But is there anything about Melanoma that’s not?

January 2007.

Mark, my husband, walked out of our bathroom one night in his boxers. I remember it just like it happened a minute ago. “I think my mole is changing” he said. I could not tell, but then again, I never paid it any attention, it was always there. We googled moles and came across pictures and at that time, the ABCD’s of Melanoma (sometime between 2007 and 2011 they added the E to the ABCD’s of melanoma). His mole did not look like anything we saw. So we did not worry.

Mark Menard family42010

A few months later I said to Mark, “I think you’re right; your mole is getting bigger. Maybe you should call and get it checked out.”   He put it off.   We were not too worried.

June 2007.

One day in late June, Mark was wrestling around with our youngest daughter Stacy who was 7 at the time. Mark grabbed his abdomen and dropped to the floor. Stacy’s foot had rubbed against her daddy’s mole, ripping it off. Mark decided to have it taken off. His appointment was right before the 4th of July.

July 2007.

A few days after the 4th, the phone rang, “Hello, this is Dr. Smith from the dermatology clinic at Balboa Naval Hospital. Is Senior Chief Menard available?”   I knew right then that something was wrong, because really, how often do doctors call you at home? She told me his biopsy results were in, he had melanoma. She had already made his appointment with Dr. Chan, the surgical oncologist. I remember thinking, “If he’s going to get cancer, at least it’s this one.”

Before July was up, Mark had surgery – a wide incision and lymph node biopsy. Dr. Chan gave us the news that one lymph node from his groin came back positive, the melanoma had traveled. Another surgery was scheduled in a few weeks. They were going after more lymph nodes, this time in his leg. That is when we knew it just got serious.

Mark Menard sandiego walk2010

December 25th 2009.

It had been two and half years since Mark was diagnosed with stage III Melanoma. In that time, Mark had a number of surgeries, scans, treatments and we lost count of the number of doctor appointments.

After putting the kids Christmas presents under the tree, Mark and I crawled into bed shortly after 1:00am.

I woke up almost an hour later. Mark was having a seizure. The next thing I knew, I was on the phone, repeating over and over 10182 Voge St, our address. 14 minutes later, the paramedics arrived. I hung up the phone with the 911 operator. Two paramedics and six firefighters were crammed into our bedroom and the hallway outside. I sat on the hallway floor shaking. Mark finally came too. He was confused. His first question to the paramedic, “Where’s my wife?” All that is going on with him and he was worried about me.

5:00 a.m., I call our moms from the hospital, crying, begging for them to pray.

6:20 a.m., Christmas morning, four hours after Mark had his seizure; I sat next to my husband, holding my husband’s hand, trying to be brave. The ER doctor sat on the other side of Mark’s hospital bed. Mark looked scared. I was scared. We knew what was going on. We knew what the doctor was going to say

“The CT scan shows one tumor in the……..” I have no idea what he said after that. I was rejoicing! One tumor! Not multiples – just one!   Thank you God, just one! We can fight one! It was a small victory for us. Thank God! Just one!

I called “the moms” with the news. Both moms had already booked their flights, they were on their way. Our neighbors loaded all of our Christmas presents into their car, along with our daughters and brought them to the hospital. By 9:00 am, we were celebrating Christmas on the floor of Mark’s hospital room. I was praying, begging God, “Please don’t let this be our last Christmas”. Shortly after the presents were opened, Mark’s best friend came to pick up the girls. We had no idea what was going to happen next and we did not want the girls to see it.

December 27th, 2009.

5:50 a.m., they came into the room to get Mark. They were taking him into surgery to remove the tumor from his brain.

December 25, 2010.

We are all smiles. The girls (ages 10 and 13) are sitting on the floor waiting for daddy to pass out their Christmas gifts piled under the tree. I am thanking God for giving us this Christmas. Mark was doing well. He had retired from the Navy in November after a 22 year career. We moved from San Diego and bought our very first home in Iowa. He was on a successful BRAF study. Things were looking up. I was thanking God.

Mark with his kids June 2011

July 14th, 2011.

10:03 p.m., four years after being diagnosed with stage III melanoma, 8 surgeries and 5 failed treatments, my husband died. Mark died at the age of 41. Mark died because of a mole.

It has been almost three years since we lost Mark. I think back to the phone call with Dr. Smith often. I had no idea. Mark had no idea. How could a stupid mole he had his entire life kill him?

I tell people about doing self-skin exams, I tell them about the ABCDE’s of melanoma. I have set up free skin cancer screenings for anyone who wants to come. I warn parents and teens about the risk involved when using tanning beds. I have gone to local schools to talk to students and staff about melanoma. I have planted trees at our local school, so the kids can play on a shaded playground.

I am still fighting melanoma.   I promised Mark I would not stop fighting.

– Molly Menard

Mark Menard

The below photo is of Molly and her daugher Sarah, taken on Saturday, May 3rd at the Steve Yates Melanoma Awareness Golf Tournament in Waterloo, Iowa. Molly and Sarah held a free skin cancer screening at the event where nearly 50 people were checked for skin cancer by two dermatologists from the University of Iowa, Dr. Amanda Tschetter and Dr. Krishna Mutgi. Keeping that fighting promise to Mark, Molly coordinates a free skin cancer screening each fall in her home town of West Branch, Iowa. This year’s screening is scheduled for Saturday, October 4th.

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I’ve Got You Under My Skin

Since May is Melanoma Awareness Month, I’ve invited others affected by melanoma to guest blog on the 7th, 14th and 21st. I’ll wrap up the Melanoma Awareness month by blogging again on the 28th. Today’s blog is written by Tom Armitage. Enjoy. 

 

Do you know how men never want to go to the doctor? No matter what! “Oh, it will go away and besides it doesn’t hurt.” Well do I have a story for you! One day I noticed a small lump on my scalp under my rapidly receding hairline. But worse than that, my wife also noticed it. Before I knew it, my family doctor was looking at the lump. He said it’s a common cyst and should be removed before it causes trouble. Well, it wasn’t a cyst but instead it was termed a “vascular mass” and sent to the lab. It was not cancerous but the margins around the mass contained some melanoma cells. Was I surprised!

After receiving a diagnosis of 4th stage melanoma, the first thing I did was to find out as much about the disease as possible. It didn’t take long to learn that it wasn’t a pretty picture. The second thing I did was to realize that cancer may change my life at some point but I wasn’t going to change my life because of cancer. So, I didn’t. I continued to do everything that I would normally do. After all, there is nothing on my bucket list. No need to skydive, sail the 7 seas, or run with the bulls in Pamplona.

But, there I was, 64 years old and wondering what the hell was going to happen next. After all, I had no symptoms and the melanoma was discovered by accident. Then I met Mo. He kept telling me “this is not a freight train” as we explored my options and I became more anxious about doing something, anything to start a treatment. Another test? What was he waiting for? I began to realize that I was on a journey—–through a jungle and Mo was my guide. Although I knew Mo was an oncologist he was more like a mentor who was priming me to succeed. Mo made me feel that we were a team. We decided to try a new drug called Ipilimumab.

Here I am, 67 years old, minus one pituitary gland, and cancer free. I’ve graduated to a PET scan every 6 months. So as far as I am concerned, I have no worries until the night before my next scan. I go through long periods of time not thinking of my diagnosis. Am I afraid it will come back? Not really, I know it will. I have a healthy respect for my situation but until it changes, I will follow the good advice of a friend that I walk with three mornings a week. Right Foot!…..Left Foot!……Breathe!…..Repeat!

So, what’s with the positive attitude? In my early thirties, I was pretty sure I was going to die. No, seriously I thought I was going to die. It was traumatic. There was no medical evidence to support my contention and anyone who could dispel it was no longer living. When I was three, my father died at age 38, his father at 36, and both my namesake uncles at 28 and 34. Was I next? I grew up without a father and so did my father. My biggest worry was that my two young children would have this same experience. After I passed 38, I felt thankful and never looked back.

Thirty years ago I realized that every day was a gift and after being diagnosed with melanoma, I am continuing to enjoy each day as it occurs. I am thankful for all my blessings and Doctor Mo.

-Tom Armitage

Tom Armitage

 

 

May is Melanoma Awareness Month

Dear Friends,

May 1st kicks off Melanoma Awareness Month. Guest bloggers will take over my blog on May 7th, 14th and 21st and share their stories of melanoma. I will wrap up Melanoma Awareness Month by blogging on May 28th. Monday, May 5th is Melanoma Monday and the American Academy of Dermatology asks that we all wear black to bring awareness of this disease. Take a photo of yourself and upload it to my Facebook page, Melanoma Iowa, on Monday to show your support.

Stay out of trouble

Mo

7 Days of Jim

It was my first day to meet Jim. He walked in and sat down, a well-appearing middle-aged man. I introduced myself and said I was just going to look at his scan and I would be back to discuss what I saw. In the back room, where patients sometimes wonder what we do I examined his CT-scan. His tumor had wrapped itself around his windpipes. I made a few calls and then walked back into the room and sat in front of Jim. He barely knew me. I had a solemn stare as I walked him through the scan and my fears that this might occlude his breathing pipe soon. I explained in detail that I would like a specialist to perform a procedure to look down his pipe to see if they could give me a better assessment. I also shared that they could do this today. With a trusting tone he agreed to have the procedure done on the same day. Until today I wonder why?

To do this procedure, he had to be placed on a ventilator –a breathing machine. I got a strange call from my specialist. “The procedure went well”, but he explained to me that they could “not remove Jim from the breathing tube”. They were worried if they did this that his lung may collapse, and he was being admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) on a ventilator. I confess this is not the outcome I wanted. This patient came in walking and now was on a breathing machine in the ICU. I finished my clinic and made my way up to the unit to see how he was doing and to think up a plan. This is when I was met with all his family. “Get out of this one” my mind said. It was surreal. Many eyes were staring, asking me questions, wondering who I was and trying to understand why their loved one got instantly sicker after he had met with a doctor for the first time in the clinic.

I was going nowhere; I pulled up a chair, and sat down. I talked to Jim’s family, honestly and with great care and empathy I chose my words. Jim stayed in the ICU for 7 days. During these 7 days, I watched his family’s emotions, their courage, their faith, and their gratitude. As he lay there sedated and intubated, his family made difficult choices for him. Through this tumultuous period we bonded. With their help the tumor shrank with the treatment I had thought would be best. When Jim woke up, he could not remember any of it. His voice was hoarse, he did not know me, did not recall a thing that he went through, could not understand the days that had gone. It was ironic how the diagnosis, the ICU, the procedure and the waiting was an affair of his family and not him.

I have seen many things in my life, but the miracle of a family is something I appreciated that day.  I believe the days that Jim could not remember were long and memorable by those who are alive today. To Jim it was a mirage that we could only tell him about never felt or seen, for the family and I it was how we got to know each other.

Mo

 

 

 

Joy

Three years ago this week, my brother, sister and I lost our Dad, Jim White. My Mom lost the love of her life. My boys and my sister’s kids lost their grandpa, my uncle lost his little brother…former ball players lost their favorite ex-coach, and a community lost a friend and local business man. He was taken from us by melanoma.

Jim White's Family

I do not pretend to understand what it is like to fight cancer. I have nothing but admiration for those that fight cancer so bravely all with passionate determination and hope in their hearts.

My family experienced what seemingly so many have experienced or are experiencing this very moment, losing a loved one to cancer. It sucks. It is hard. At times I become selfish, and personally feel that memories that had yet to be created were taken from me and my family. My faith and heart know that he is in a better place, yet it is hard for those left behind when amazing people leave us to soon.

Rather than dwelling on the moments that he is missing, it seems to be better to channel that energy into passion.  That passion to pick up the fight where he and so many others left off.

I feel I can speak for my Dad’s family and close friends when I say there were so many lessons we all learned being there with him as he battled melanoma. I feel compelled to share them in hope that other families might also look for all the positive moments, even when there are days where they do not necessarily shine through.

Here are three that stand out with a clarity that is still as sharp as it was 4 years ago when his battle began:

Live in the Moment – As hard as it was spending so much time in ICU, the hospital stays, and towards the end, at Jim’s home under the care of Hospice…those times gave us amazing memories, due to us being together as a family. Uncles, Aunts, brothers, sisters, cousins, nephews, nieces,  mother-in-laws, father-in-laws, close friends…we all were focused not on the daily tasks of work, challenges that we face day to day, or outside conflicts, but rather on LIFE. His LIFE. Our LIFE as ONE Family, and ONE community, all supporting my Dad’s one goal. To LIVE. And living only in that moment, striving to help him achieve that ONE goal, was fulfilling and beautiful. Life matters most when you are fighting for just 1 extra week, day, or minute. The Future literally becomes the Present, and the Past is a gift.

Faith – Faith in God. Faith in the human spirit, Faith in Dr. Mo, and his team. Faith that all this suffering has meaning. Faith in each other and Faith in what it means to fight one’s final battle with dignity and integrity.

And lastly:

JOY – That is a word I honestly, never gave much thought to prior to 2010 when my Dad was diagnosed with Recurrent Melanoma. But the word has not escaped me since he passed in 2011.

Almost 600 people attended my father’s visitation. I bet 500 of them used the word Joy or Joyful, when describing my father. And as hard as it was, we listened intently to each one of them, absorbing the power of that word that described how my Father’s Joy made a difference in so many people’s life.

Photo of Jim from Vietnam

As human beings we have great days, rough days, and everything in between. But I saw Joy in my Dad as he fought this terrible disease for a year. He honestly never complained. And I saw Joy in others at the Holden Cancer Center at the U of I as they fought their own battles. Whether they were 63 years of age like my Dad or 5 years old as some of those kids were when I walked through the Children’s Cancer wing.  The Joy shinned through them.

Do not overlook the power and difference you can make by extending Joy to others as we reside on this planet.

I am honored to be able to share in this time slot that is typically filled by such an eloquent writer and amazing person such as Dr. Mo. Wednesday is the day that my Dad would write his own blog through Care Pages, sharing his Joy of life to hundreds, giving them a little extra inspiration for their week. Now that same WED is the day I look forward to reading the brilliant and intimate words of a man who genuinely cares about the human spirit and his patients. Those whose battles have ended and those still fighting seem to feed him energy to press forward and keep fighting the good fight. With JOY in his heart.

I would like to end on an excerpt from one of Jim’s Care Page entries:

“Looking back to March 28th when I was released from UI Hospital after a 13 day stay (7 in ICU) I remember making some short term/intermediate goals…*attend Easter Mass w/ my family *celebrate grand-daughter Hailey’s birth *participate in grandson’s (Jaden, Tyler, and Dylan) birthdays in April, May and June *traditional Father’s Day golf outing and cookout *4th of July (special to me)…except for the birth of Hailey these occasions are nothing new, but they’ve never meant more to me. Guess what I’m trying to say is this month I’ll be 63 yrs old, but I’ve learned how to live, enjoy and appreciate life to its fullest just in the last 6 months.”

Thanks for taking the time to peak into a bit of Jim and his family’s story. Writing it was somewhat therapeutic for me. If you have lost a loved one to cancer, keep telling their stories. As cancer is just a small chapter in their amazing book of how to live life to the fullest.

-Jay White

Follow The Jim White Foundation on Facebook.