Martha and I had the pleasure of participating in a Melanoma Town Hall meeting in Phoenix a couple months ago. Just before the meeting started, Martha sat down with the host, Andrew Schorr, to tell her story and give hopeful advice for other cancer patients out there. I’m terribly biased, of course, but I think she did an amazing job!
While not a new rule for us, this clip is certainly worth a watch.
November has always been a reflective month for me. It hosts my birthday, my wife’s, and good ol’ Thanksgiving. For the past several years, it’s also hosted the annual melanoma walk at The University of Arizona Cancer Center.
Another year has gone by. I don’t say that sentence without considering the weight of it.
This year, Team ¡Mela-NO-MAS! didn’t push for a huge team or make new t-shirts. Instead, Martha had the idea to make ‘race bibs’ for folks to wear and declare who they walk in honor or memory of. It turned out to be a great way to connect with other participants as they left the registration tables.
I was caught off guard by a woman that stopped to write a name on a bib for herself. As she talked with Martha about her husband that’d passed away only two months before, she was overcome and began to cry. Her story began to eat at my heart… That could have been me telling some woman at an event table that I’d lost my love to melanoma. As I looked back on some of the more dire days we’ve seen over the last five years, I hid behind my sunglasses and wept. In that moment I was an ugly mess of mourning and relief… I whispered “no mas” and mentally added another name to the already-too-long list pinned to Martha’s back.
That first part of the event is always the toughest. Meeting up with folks you saw at last year’s walk. Catching up on how they’re doing. Being confronted with bad news and good news.
But then we move into the staging area in the parking lot and you can feel the mood change. We mingle with other melanoma warriors, our friends and family, the Walgreens pharmacy staff, our oncologists, nurses, and local vendors that come out in support of the fight. As we set off out of the parking lot, there’s this feeling of significant purpose. And even though we know the money has already been donated — the job is done — it’s as though each step we take is physically getting us closer to even better treatments than we have today and possibly even the c-word… a cure!
As the walk drew to a close, I couldn’t help but thank God for where we’ve been and what we’ve come through. As attractive as the future is… right now is beautiful.
With the recent release of iOS 8, Apple is using a different data provider for its built-in Weather app. Next time you pop it open, scroll down to the bottom of the details and take a look at the current UV index for your area. Use this to avoid sunburns — even if it’s cloudy!
Our family knows the hell that melanoma is all too well. Use this tool, know when to slap on the sunscreen, and reduce the risk of melanoma in your family!
Here’s a guide for interpreting UV levels duplicated from the epa.gov’s Sunwise site for your convenience:
2 or less: Low
A UV Index reading of 2 or less means low danger from the sun’s UV rays for the average person:
- Wear sunglasses on bright days. In winter, reflection off snow can nearly double UV strength.
- If you burn easily, cover up and use sunscreen.
Look Out Below
Snow and water can reflect the sun’s rays. Skiers and swimmers should take special care. Wear sunglasses or goggles, and apply sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. Remember to protect areas that could be exposed to UV rays by the sun’s reflection, including under the chin and nose.
A UV Index reading of 3 to 5 means moderate risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure.
- Take precautions, such as covering up, if you will be outside.
- Stay in shade near midday when the sun is strongest.
Me and My Shadow
An easy way to tell how much UV exposure you are getting is to look for your shadow:
If your shadow is taller than you are (in the early morning and late afternoon), your UV exposure is likely to be low.
If your shadow is shorter than you are (around midday), you are being exposed to high levels of UV radiation. Seek shade and protect your skin and eyes.
A UV Index reading of 6 to 7 means high risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure. Apply a sunscreen with a SPF of at least 30. Wear a wide-brim hat and sunglasses to protect your eyes.
- Protection against sunburn is needed.
- Reduce time in the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Cover up, wear a hat and sunglasses, and use sunscreen.
Made in the Shades
Wearing sunglasses protects the lids of your eyes as well as the lens.
8 – 10: Very High
A UV Index reading of 8 to 10 means very high risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure. Minimize sun exposure during midday hours, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Protect yourself by liberally applying a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. Wear protective clothing and sunglasses to protect the eyes.
- Take extra precautions. Unprotected skin will be damaged and can burn quickly.
- Minimize sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Otherwise, seek shade, cover up, wear a hat and sunglasses, and use sunscreen.
Stay in the Game
Be careful during routine outdoor activities such as gardening or playing sports. Remember that UV exposure is especially strong if you are working or playing between the peak hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Don’t forget that spectators, as well as participants, need to wear sunscreen and eye protection to avoid too much sun.
A UV Index reading of 11 or higher means extreme risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure. Try to avoid sun exposure during midday hours, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Apply sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 liberally every 2 hours.
- Take all precautions. Unprotected skin can burn in minutes. Beachgoers should know that white sand and other bright surfaces reflect UV and will increase UV exposure.
- Try to avoid sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Seek shade, cover up, wear a hat and sunglasses, and use sunscreen.
Beat the Heat
It is possible to go outside when the UV Index is 11 or higher. Make sure you always seek shade, wear a hat, cover up, wear 99-100% UV-blocking sunglasses, and use sunscreen. Or you can opt to stay indoors and take the opportunity to relax with a good book rather than risk dangerous levels of sun exposure.
What about you?
Have you ever been burned when you didn’t expect it? Need sunscreen advice?
Truth be told, we’re all dying.
It just happens to be that my wife has been dying faster than I have for the past several years. In some ways, after speaking with doctors and nurses in those first horribly confusing and frightening weeks, it felt like she suddenly had a “best if used by” sticker on her. And yet, Martha recently hit the five year anniversary of her melanoma diagnosis.
She’s done an excellent job taking a glance back while continuing to move forward. Here’s a tidbit from her post:
It’s been five years, seven surgeries, six biopsies, ten treatment approaches, nine chemotherapy and immunotherapy drugs, tumors come and gone through treatment and surgery and two years of dealing with brain tumors and their aftermath. We’ve come a long way, baby! – M
We have come a long way. Long enough to joke that she’s «past her expiration date». Thankfully, with her incredibly fortunate access to a clinical trial (the recently approved Keytruda) a little over a year ago, things are looking really, really promising for her at this point. She’s still got tumor load, but most of it is stable or even shrinking. Most importantly, she hasn’t had any new growth in over a year — and she’s survived longer than she was supposed to.
It’s an interesting stage. There is a lot of talk in the cancer world about survivorship and dealing with life after cancer. It’s a wonderful problem to have. But the flames of cancer have left us dirty and reshaped. Rebuilding is going to be a new kind of work. It’s daunting. We don’t have a blueprint yet. We are interrupted by the work of the embers still smoldering. We are weary. We are hopeful. We have survived. Five years.
I can’t wait to do the next five years with this woman.
We had a great turnout this year and all told, it sounds like all the teams raised a total of $50,000 for local melanoma research.
Say no to tans and wear your sunscreen, people.
Today’s the day.
While it’s been really rough at some points in this roller coaster ride since Martha’s diagnosis in 2009, we’ve been covered by the grace of God and surrounded the the love of many. Over the last four years, it’s really overwhelming anytime I think of the hugs, meals, gift cards, rides, emergency kid coverage, hugs, hangout sessions during Martha’s surgeries, shirts, car repair assistance, hugs, support from co-workers, laundry, house cleaning, more hugs, phone calls, texts, emails and other acts I’m a terrible person and failing to recall… It’s wonderful doing life with you friends and family. You take us out of the dips in our roller coaster.
At last year’s walk, Team Mela-NO-MAS! had more than 70 people walking. That was awesome. This year, at last count, we’re up above 100 (even a few in other parts of the world! Long distance hugs, Semmens family!) We’re so encouraged.
In a few hours, my family will head down to The University of Arizona Cancer Center – North Campus to join hundreds of other people in an effort to raise money for local melanoma research – Melanoma Walk ’13.
Melanoma really is a black beast. Say no to tans and wear your sunscreen, people.
May 6th is «Melanoma Monday». It’s part of Skin Cancer Awareness Month and it’s a perfect opportunity to get a free skin check that could very well save your life.
Check yourself; Protect yourself
I wear black for my wife, Martha . She and I urge you to take the risk of melanoma seriously and use this day or this month to take action and get a full body skin check. We pray you don’t find any signs of melanoma but if you do, find it early! In addition, wear sunscreen… and be smart about how you wear it. Martha’s got some tips for you.