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!!!
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!
Posted by Danielle at 6:34 PM