Wednesday, August 15, 2007

This one's for all the Girls

You would think that after all the phone calls and emails that I receive from people touched by melanoma (and cancer, in general) that I would know exactly what to say to speak comfort, peace, hope, light, friendship, and love to someone's heart. Alas, I find myself, like I did this afternoon, fighting back tears that sting my eyes and sending a silent prayer Heavenward. The only words I know to say are in the form of prayer (and education).

Last week, we issued a press release asking for stories about melanoma warriors. Today, I received two emails - both stories about two beautiful women in their 20s; one survived Stage IV melanoma, while the other succumbed to Stage IV melanoma. (Stage IV meaning that the melanoma had spread to other bodily organs and into the lymph and blood vessels). I went from joy and excitement when reading a story about survival, to sadness and humility when reading a Tennessee mother write about her daughter, Scarlet, with the bright and friendly smile. Scarlet passed away a year ago. She passed away just one day shy of her 28th birthday. I'm 28 and single with no family, but Scarlet was married with a brand new baby girl. And melanoma robbed her of the chance to raise her baby. Having lost my mother to cancer as a teenager, I weep for Scarlet's baby and I ache for her. You see, I have memories of my radiant mother [but] Scarlet's baby will have only pictures; no memories of the beautiful and brave mother who, against the odds, fought to give her life while losing her own life to melanoma--the deadliest form of skin cancer.

Ladies, this Blog entry is for you (especially to those of you in your teens and 20s). When you hear reports issued by the American Academy of Dermatology that say melanoma is killing more women ages 20 - 39 than any other cancer; when you hear me beg and plead with you to avoid tanning beds and be vigilant about proper, regular, year-round sunscreen use; when you read about melanoma warriors such as Scarlet or Charlie or Colette, and many others, please remember that melanoma is very real and very serious, and very dangerous -- even deadly. Remember, too, that melanoma is PREVENTABLE! Please, please, please protect yourselves and protect your loved ones. Consider the heartfelt plea of a Tennessee mother named Cheryl who lost her daughter to melanoma. (And while you're encouraging the young women in your life to be proactive about sun safety and skin checks, don't forget the guys in your life, too!)

"I wish I could say that my daughter was a Melanoma survivor, but that is not the case. Here is her story:

Scarlet Lawrence Akins was 27-years-old, a college professor, married and pregnant with her first child. She had a small mole on her right thigh, just above her knee that changed shape/size. She told me, she was not sure if it changed size and she shaved the top of it off or if she shaved it and then it changed. Either way, it would not stop bleeding. It would bleed off and on for a while. She kept a Band-Aid on it all of the time. When she got pregnant she was so sick, of course everyone thought it was due to her being pregnant. She continued to teach, the entire time having little strength and being so sick that she would throw-up in the trash can in her classroom. She started coughing in Jan. 2006 and the doctors still didn't know what was wrong. She was given blood every week because of her "counts" were "off". On April 4, 2006 we finally found out that she had Stage IV Melanoma. The cancer was on her spine, three tumors on her brain and so many tumors in her lungs that according to her oncologist, her x-ray looked like a "snowstorm".

She lived exactly four months to the day. She died on August 4, 2006 one day before her 28th birthday. While she did go to the beach every summer, she was not a tanning bed user and did not every tan. She would just joke that all she did was turn red, then back to white. Scarlet delivered a healthy (cancer-free) little girl that weighed 3lbs and 8oz on May 9, 2006. Scarlet hardly got to be with her child at all. It breaks my heart that her daughter will never know what a wonderful mother she had. Never get to have her to hold her hand, give her a hug or fix her hair. We will never understand.................

We did just pass the one year mark of losing Scarlet and we did a Run From the Sun Memphis 5K in her memory and to raise money for Melanoma research, education and awareness. Since she was an educator, we wanted to do something to bring awareness to this awful disease.

If Scarlet could change anything, I think it would be this; if you have a strange spot, a mole or if you just don't feel "right" don't just settle for accepting that the doctors know everything. You know your body, and you need to manage your own health. She would probably had still succumbed to this, but maybe we would have had her longer.

MD Anderson has sent education packages to every school in the "Sunbelt" in the south. We live in Tennessee and I don't believe that this is being taught in any health or science class. I think that we have to get to these young people before they get into tanning. Educate parents to not take your babies to the beach without sunscreen and not in the hours of 10-4. If is taught at home first then in the schools maybe we could save some of these young people.

If you could get Oprah or Dr. Phil to do a story on this that would be a tremendous boost in awareness. I personally sent Oprah, Scarlet's story, her obituary, her memorial CD and all of the press that was covered about her story and I heard nothing. Maybe you would have better luck.

Thank you for your efforts and if I can be of any assistance please feel free to let me know."

Thank you, Cheryl, for opening up your heart and allowing me to (in a very small way) share in your sorrow and pain. I promise you that all of us here at The Cancer Crusaders Organization, though we are small group of 20-somethings volunteering our time between school and work, we will do all that we can to fight this deadly, but preventable disease. I, personally, pray each day for Strength, Insight, and Guidance from Above to know how best to serve you, and others like you, to honor the memories of those we have lost, and to best educate other young adults; to effectively reach and teach them about skin cancer prevention, detection, sun safety, and hopefully - with His Grace and Assistance - help save lives. I know that many of my fellow "skin cancer crusaders" at other melanoma foundations share in that commitment and passion, as well.

That said, if you are a woman in her 20s or if you know and care about a woman in her 20s, please share with her Scarlet's story, the facts and statistics about young women and melanoma (and the fact that every five minutes a woman is diagnosed with a form of skin cancer), and share with them information about skin cancer prevention/sun safety. I know that tonight, as I say my prayers, I'll be thanking my Heavenly Father for the gift of good health and safety, of blessed and beloved friends, of tender mercies and , of course, for "this unique gift called life." I just can't believe that I have outlived yet another young woman who gave so much of herself to those around her and who had a bright future ahead of her. It is, in a word, humbling. And it breaks my heart.

Let this be a reminder of how precious life is, and how much work we have to do to fight this UNNECESSARY EPIDEMIC!!!

In humility,

PS: If you would like to share your story for the special edition of ONLY SKIN DEEP? An Essential Guide to Effective Skin Cancer Programs and Resources, please feel free to email me. Thank you, and God Bless!


Anonymous said...


Thank you so much for your kind words and for sharing and including Scarlet's story in your book. I know she would be so happy. Please let me know when/where the book will be available.

God bless,

Cheryl Moore

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for the rememberance of Scarlet on your website. I was a journalism student of hers and she was by far my favorite teacher. I can only hope to accomplish half of what she did in her journalistic lifetime. Thank you again.

Whitney Hall

Anonymous said...

I met Scarlet when she was an adorable 2 year old. She grew into a lovely, happy, gifted young woman. Her death was cruel and senseless...but undoubtedly her story will help prevent this tragedy from happening to another family. It can't be said enough...malignant melanoma is curable if detected early. I know, because I had one removed in 1990, and another in 2000. The first one, which was above my knee, did not look suspicious at all, but it itched off and on, like a mosquito bite. The second one was the size of the period at the end of this sentence, but it was on my face, dark, and it was brand new. Both times I noticed them and went to the dermatologist Both times I was told they were probably nothing, but then the biopsies proved otherwise. Each time, a second procedure was performed to remove more surrounding skin, but then no more treatment was necessary. My advice is this: If you have suspicions, don't wait for a mole or spot on your skin to change shape or size or color...go ahead and check it out. Lastly, I just want to commend Scarlet's parents, husband, and family for their wonderful strength and bravery.

Kathleen Bartholomew

Anonymous said...

It's amazing at all the lives Scarlet managed to touch in her short time here with us. Scarlet battled this horrible disease with so much courage, a strong faith and a positive attitude. She continues to be an inspiration to us all and your story beautifully captures her memory. Thank you for sharing.

Many Blessings,
Cheryl Gardner

Kirb said...

Scarlet and her family continue to be a blessing to me. I admire their strength, courage, and willingness to serve others through Scarlet's story. Truly, she is forever missed. However, her legacy lives on. Much love to all of you and God Bless.

Anonymous said...

I worked with Scarlet briefly at Northwest. She was already getting sick by the time I knew her, but I could still see her will and determination to make sure that Madison came here strong and healthy.
Madison was born on the second anniversary of my daughter Lauren's death, and Scarlet believed that Lauren had been Madison's guardian angel.

Thanks for remembering Scarlet so beautifully. I believe that something good comes out of everything, and if a young woman learns from this story, then Scarlet's death will not have been in vain.

LaJuan Tallo

cchampion said...

Hello All. My name is Carrie. I have been a friend of Scarlet's for longer than I can remember now! Words can't express how generous, kind, whole-hearted, full of life, and just down right funny this woman was! As the years passed, we found ourselves growing closer and closer as friends. I was one of two bridesmaids in her wedding. We used to say that there were no such thing as friends.. we were all family! She was the kind of woman that would do anything to make sure you were having a great day, if this meant doing a funny dance in the middle of a store, so be it! I can remember her diagnosis like it was yesterday.. Her mom called me while I was in a meeting for work and informed me of the tragic news.. I left right away and headed over! We really thought she would beat this!! I never even thought to grasp that this could kill her.. even until the morning of August 4 at 7:40ish that she was told to Rest In Peace my dear friend.. It was just skin cancer, is what I told myself.. that can't kill someone.. it is only skin deep.. it can't spread! Well was I in for a wide awakening! It can and will kill you! I will never forget that day as long as I live.. It took me almost an hour to gain the strength to walk into the room and kiss one of my best friends goodbye forever! I remember trying to make light of it by commenting on her perfectly manicured fingernails.. painted the color,"I'm really not a waitress", it was her favorite! I just didn't want to let go! I told her that I loved her and I would see her again one day.. This disease has made us all take a pause in life and be thankful for the things we have! Her husband Jody and I were looking at a picture of their daughter, Madison, last night and I had to fight back tears.. She smirks just like Scarlet! It was just another reminder that life is too short. I can only hope that my life will impacted as many as Scarlet's did in such a short amount of time she was given on this earth. I miss you and love you Car Car!

Vann Moore said...

Educate, educate, educate! We must not let Scarlet's passing be in vain. Everyone should know of the dangers of tanning and melanoma.

Thanks Danielle for keeping Scarlet's memory alive.

Peace Be With You,

Vann Moore

Jody said...

Thank you for including Scarlet's story on your website and in your upcoming book. She continues to touch people's life and that is what she would want. I hope that we can continue to spread the awareness of Melanoma to everyone....I know that is what she would want.

Thanks Again...JA

Jody said...

Thanks so much for including Scarlet's story on your website and in your book. I know she would be glad that we are spreading awareness of this deadly disease! Look forward to your book.


Jen B. said...

Scarlet was so truly beautiful inside and out and as all of us, who knew her in life, are so glad to know that her story will help people become more aware of the causes and effects of skin cancer. She was taken too soon, but I know she would be happy to know her legacy will help to educate and prevent others.

"It is one of the greatest gifts for me to know that I have purpose beyond myself."- Pat McCormick

I miss you Scarlet!
God bless!

Anonymous said...

My name is Erik Hollander, better known to Scarlet, her family, and friends as VEETA. I am her "northern brother" living in wisconsin.

I was close friend of Scarlets, having the pleasure of meeting her through her brother Reese. We met back in the summer of 2001 and since I have been slowly accepted and adopted into her family as a Northern brother. Again, I am originally from and reside in Wisconsin. My reason for mentioning this again is that it proves no matter the distance between people, hearts and thoughts are always closer than any distance.

In my short-time knowing this amazing, caring, distinct, intelligent, and genuine woman we know as Scarlet; she used to call me and email me to "check-up" on her northern brother. I continue to miss those conversations in which I was given guidance, acceptance, and purpose to what I am doing miles away.

On many occasions I have driven and flown down to see Scarlet, her family, and friends. Since she was diagnosed we kept up with one another on her health. But, I will never forget the phone call from one of her best friends making me aware of her immediate situation back a year ago this August.

As any good friend or family member would do, I immediately drop all of my things to drive down. My only concern was Scarlet. Not my work, my friends, or my family in wisconsin. My only concern was for a dear friend that was not doing well.

I will also never forget two more moments. When I walked into her room that Thursday morning, her face just lit up as she called my name. She was unaware that I was going to be in town to be by her side. But for that moment, just that moment, I saw the smile on her face I that reminded me of my dear friend. My other moment was only hours later as gathered by family we all prayed for Scarlet as she passed before us.

As it is difficult for anyone to be in that moment, I could only stand there and take the pain I could from how sad her family was. It was sad but in the same moment a sad happiness for Scarlet was finally at Peace. I was rest-assured that she was in a better place.

I can never repay Scarlets family for their open hearts, open arms, time and money. More importantly, I can never forget the footprints Scarlet has left in my sand. Scarlet was a sister, was a great friend, and best of inspiration!!

God bless the strength, drive, and hope her family continues to strive for keeping Scarlets life right in front of us for all to learn from. I love my sister and my southern family, god bless you all!!

Forever grateful,

Erik Hollander,

sybilll said...

Scarlet is my niece. Always will be. I hate we lost her, and, perhaps, it could have been prevented. Scarlet, I think, was worried about worrying others, when the mole became troublesome, as she was independent. But, I think I can safely say that she would agree to "See a doctor" if your moles, freckles, or skin shows a change
I could go on for days about her attitude during treatment, but, I think she would rather I emphasize, to "See a doctor" as soon as you think something is suspect.
I hope her story will save others, and I know she does, too.
Watching Jeopardy is not the same without you, Babydoll.
God Bless you for helping to educate.
Leigh Lawrence Pleasant