Sunday, August 25, 2013

I'm Moving!

Hi All,

Yikes!  It's been a while, huh?  I've been busy dealing with and healing from my third melanoma surgery.  My doc has cleared me to return to work though, so after a 9 day not-at-all-fun hospital stay and a few weeks at home, I must be doing okay.  =)

I wanted to let you all know that I am moving my blog to ChicagoNow.  Someone who blogs there saw my blog; messaged me to suggest that I pitch my blog to the ChicagoNow, and they accepted it!
Wuhoooo!  I'm about to publish my first post over there.  But I cannot keep my blog on this site active, so I will not be posting here any longer.  I REALLY hope you all will consider following me over there.  Here is the link to the new location:

Peace, love and lots of SPF to you all!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

There it is again...

You know...that thing that happens that forces you to really consider your own mortality.  Talia Joy Castellano, an incredibly courageous 13 year old, passed away Tuesday after her war against cancer.  And now another young warrior in the melanoma community, Tim Vandermolen, has passed away.  I'm sending prayers of peace and comfort for their families.  

Last week, when Jim and I were in Houston, I was scrolling through Facebook and saw a picture of Talia in her hospital bed curled up in a ball...her mom on one side of the bed and her sister on the other; it was clear that she was close to dying, and I just lost it right there in the car on some Texas interstate.  All I could see in that picture was me.  And all I could think about was the pain my family and friends would feel if it were me in that hospital bed.  Trust me...I'm doing all I can to not let that happen.  But if I'm being honest it could, at any time.  And that's hard; for me, and for anyone who cares about me.

So please me a favor.  Put on a boatload of sunscreen, wait 20 minutes, and then get out there and enjoy the hell out of your day!  You never know when it's your last.  Oh, and don't forget your hat!  xoxox!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Two years...really?

I'm sitting in bed tonight, about to embark on what I hope will be an "excellent adventure" to MDA in a few hours for some guidance on how to beat the beast.  Two years ago today I met my surgeon, DJ Winchester.  He is the kindest, most skilled surgeon ever, IMO. Of course, we all have our favorites. He saved me from myself. That day in his office two years ago, he took a look at what was on my back. He biopsied it, but in reality there was no need. It was melanoma. No doubt. The only question was whether it had spread. He performed a fine needle aspiration under my right arm.  I wanted to kick him in the groin. He said he would get me on the surgery schedule next week. Really?  I was really hard to psych myself up to come here...and you want me to wait til next week?  He would be right back, he said. When he returned, he asked me if I was free Wednesday, two days away. He would remove the lesion on my back (which was large and would likely require a skin graft to close), then he would probably remove all the lymph nodes under my left arm and check out the ones on the right. There would be dressings, and drains, and pain...but I would get through it, he said. 

Before he left me to dress, he asked whether there was anything else I needed or questions I had. I told him that my 50th birthday was a little more than 3 months away. Can you get me there, I asked?  He promised me he would. He did, and what a party we had! 

A few hours from now, my best friend in the world and I will head down to Houston so that I can see one of the best melanoma docs in the world. After my most recent PET scan, I am most likely looking at surgery to remove another tumor...this time from my colon. The tumor in my brain is necrotic and dying, according to my neuro-oncologist, (Thank you God!) and there was nothing new on my PET scan yesterday. That alone is something to cheer about!

I've spent a lot of time mulling over the last two years in my head. Three days after my first surgery was my sister Claudia's birthday. No way I could go they brought the party to me. My Jimmy, the best husband ever, never left my side.  He changed dressings, and emptied drains, sat with me until I fell asleep, and drove me to every follow-up appointment. And then toward the end of August, the Saturday night before I started my yearlong course of Interferon, a whole lot of important people to me partied it up at a local bar because we all knew it would be a long year. It was a rough night, to say the least.  I lost a flip flop that night. One of my friends found it, earning me the nickname of Cinderella!   A couple of months after that, my family threw me the best 50th birthday party ever!  All my friends, old and new, were there, and my family...including my niece Sydney, who I got to meet for the first time.  What a night! 

There have been way too many doctor appointments to count, far too many scans, lots of sleepless nights, a few biopsies courtesy of my dermatologist, and three surgeries. While I would gladly give up the melanoma, I would never give up what I've learned, the people I've met, and the love I've felt when facing hard times. My family and friends have been there for me no matter what, and so have my new melahomies, and for that I'm eternally grateful. 

More to come from Houston.  Love to all. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Quiet Room Chair

If I count correctly, today is my 7th PET scan since being diagnosed with melanoma in 2011. And as I'm sitting here in the Quiet Room waiting for this radioactive stuff to meander through my veins and attach itself to anything cancerous, it occurred to me...who else has been in this chair?  Do they come alone?  Do they bring a friend or family member?  Do they sit and worry or read and try not to think about what could be?  I tend to use my time here to reflect. Sometimes I write. Sometimes I read. And I wonder about those other people. How they're doing. Whether they're afraid. Whether they're NED (hope so)!

My dermatologist recently shared with me that she has a melanoma patient who still tans. In a tanning bed. Mind blowing right?  Most of us are fighting for our very lives and this fool is basically committing suicide by tanning bed. Ugh. Makes me nuts. 

Anyway, I think tonight when I hit the pillow I'll say a prayer for him, and all the other people who've been in this chair in the Quiet Room. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Cool App for all you SPF users!

Just found a good app that tracks the UV index where you are, reminds you to reapply sunscreen, and suggests what sunscreen to use.  Seems pretty cool.  Check it out!  It's called Coppertone-My UV Alert.  Oh, and best of's FREE!!!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

No need to hide inside.....

Sunscreen and the right clothing will protect you while you're enjoying what seems to be the shortest (and in my opinion the best) season of the year.  It's mega-important that we all wear sunscreen EVERY day, but during the Summer it's even more important.  The sun's rays are stronger, and UV indexes are higher.  You're getting reflection from the pool or the lake...and from the sand at the beach.  God, would I love to be on a beach right now (under an umbrella of course)!  Do try to avoid sun exposure at peak times of 10am and 2pm and seek shade when you can.

Here are some tips and tricks for finding the right sunscreen for your family from EWG, the Environmental Working Group, and some tips on clothing that helps protect you from UV rays from the Skin Cancer Foundation.

So slather on some sunscreen, throw on a hat and get out there!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Scariest One Yet

I've been in a bit of a funk as far as my baby blog goes.  I've had a busy couple of months to say the least.  Having been diagnosed with a brain met (stupid melanoma) on April 3, really messed with my head.  I never saw it coming.  And mere weeks before my daughter's wedding.  Freakin' seriously melanoma?????  I've got STUFF to do!!!  And do stuff I did.  I met with a neuro-oncologist, a radiation oncologist and a neurosurgeon.  All were in agreement that SRS (stereotactic radio surgery) was the best way to treat my tumor.  So I scheduled "simulation."  On that afternoon my mask was made, I had a CT with the mask on, and then an MRI, all in preparation for the real deal.  I hated that thing being on my face, and then having it secured to the table, but I got through with a little bit of pharmaceutical assistance.  =)

Once that was done, I had the joy of getting refocused on my daughter's wedding.  It was one of the best weekends of my life, hands down.  My daughter and son-in-law are utterly and completely in love (see pic below), and we're all so very happy for them.  We're also pretty darn happy for ourselves because we have a great new member of our family (love you David)!

Alas...the Monday after the wedding it was back to reality with an MRCP at 8am, and then results the next day with my surgeon.  As usual, I had myself convinced that I was full of tumors.  According to my doc, however, my belly was "pristine!"  The IPMN and hemangiomas were unchanged and there was nothing new.  Wuhooooo!!!

Then I had 2 weeks to wait until the next MRI of my brain to find out what (if anything) the radiation had done to that stinkin' tumor.  The MRI was June 4, and my appt. with my neuro-oncologist wasn't until 4:30 the next day.  Ugh.  All melanoma patients who have scans know how scary they are.   The anxiety pretty much grips you for the few days (at least) before and then until you get the results.  I'm here to tell you that the 32ish hours between that MRI and meeting with my neuro-oncologist were some of the hardest hours of my life.  I know that time took its toll on others too.  The waiting for this scan was like no other for me.  I was flat out terrified that the SRS hadn't worked or that there were more tumors. I've read the stats on brain mets.  They're not pretty.  So the relief I felt when my doc said that the tumor, while causing more swelling in my brain for now, appeared to be dying...was incredible.  Waiting for the results of this one scan was worse than all of the others combined.  I don't know if I'll feel the same way about future scans.  Time will tell.  Next one is in August along with another MRCP, and a PET scan in July.

In the meantime, I've got a life to live!  =)

Saturday, May 4, 2013

On Generosity, Kindness...and being Grateful

Having cancer sucks.  It just plain does.  I'm not is what it is, and I'll deal with it.  Just stating a fact.  But here's my problem, or one of them anyway.  I've always had a problem with Superwoman syndrome.  I can do it.  No matter what else is on my plate, I can do it.  You need me to _____?  Sure!  No problem.  Of course!  Well, having this stinking melanoma has changed that for me.  I have had to admit and accept  (boy, that's hard) that I can't do it all, especially around the house.

I was never Suzy Homemaker in the first place.  I'd rather play with the kids or watch TV or work on some project that I'll probably never finish, than take care of the house.  It's not dirty...just a tad messy.  It always needs picking up.  And having stupid cancer hasn't helped that situation.  While I was doing Interferon it was damn hard to do anything, let alone any big projects.  

So when my friends found out recently that my brain MRI showed the stupid melanoma had taken up residence in my head, they did some really nice things for my family and me.  I won't say what or who (you know who you are).  But I will say just how grateful I am for those people, and for their generosity and kindness.  You've made my life a little easier, and for that I am very, very grateful.  

Monday, April 29, 2013

May is "Skin Cancer" Awareness Month

May is almost here, and you all know what that means...or maybe you don't.  May is skin cancer awareness month.  Of the 31 days in May, only ONE is specifically set aside for Melanoma.  It's Melanoma Monday.  Next Monday.  May 6.  

All cancers have colors associated with them:


Clearly, the color that is associated with Melanoma is black.  Yes, American Academy of Dermatology...BLACK.  Not orange, as this uber silly campaign suggests.  Instead of listening to many of us in the melanoma community, they are persisting with this silliness, and I know I'm not the only one who is offended.  

The Melanoma Prayer Center on Facebook created an event for Melanoma Monday to paint Facebook black...the color it should be!  At last count, over 20,000 people had been invited, and almost 3,300 were attending.  Last I heard about the AAD event, about 600 people were attending.  What does that say?  It says that we're a very close community.  I can't understand why the AAD wouldn't listen to what we had to say.  

Anyway...Facebook will be BLACK on Melanoma Monday.  The only time I wear orange is during football season for the Bears.  

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

YES! Just one more vote to go!

So happy to wake and find this in my Inbox from Samantha Guild!  We're almost there!  So hope to be standing next to Gov. Quinn as he signs this extremely important legislation!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Wait....I have what?

Life has been pretty crazy lately.  I've testified twice in Springfield this year trying to get a teen tan ban passed statewide for Illinois; we have taken in our grandkids as our oldest daughter fights against another beast (alcohol addiction); we've been pretty busy with plans for our younger daughter's upcoming wedding and having a blast doing it; friends have had scary health stuff going on, and then the usual day in-day out of normal life for our family.  But life for a melanoma patient is anything but normal when scan time rolls around.  Even so, I dutifully scheduled my regular PET scan for April 1 and my brain MRI for April 2.  Oh yeah, and I'm due for a mammogram so let's get that out of the way too.  Had that done right before the PET.  I made an appointment with my oncologist for results on April 3.  

On April 2, the Breast Center called and said there was something on my mammogram they hadn't seen before and would I please come in for a second mammogram on April 3. Sure I said, I can "squeeze" (hahaha) that in right before my appt. with my oncologist.  After the second mammo, they said I needed to have the area of concern biopsied.  Great.  Just what I needed.  

So, I mosey down the hall to Kellogg to see my oncologist.  Blood draw, vitals, yada yada yada, and then I'm shown to an exam room to wait for the king of melanoma docs (in these parts anyway).  He comes in, sits down, and asks me how I'm feeling.  I start blathering on about how irritated I am that I have to have a breast biopsy like I don't have enough on my plate, and I realize that he has an odd look on his face.  That look stopped me mid-sentence.  I said "What?"  He hesitated, and then said "Your MRI."  Oh, my God.  The room is spinning.  Then his PA, Tiffany, comes in and I can see that she has been crying.  Brockstein says, you have a tumor in your brain, maybe 3.  We're not sure.  I want to run.  I want to throw up.  But all I can do is say f*ck over and over. I will never, ever forget that moment. And then I started to cry.  After a couple of minutes, I pulled myself together and said "Okay.  What do we do about this?"  We have made you an appointment with a neuro-oncologist for tomorrow so that you can discuss your options.  He told me he would be aggressive, that he would fight for me.  I said you better, because I'm not going down without one hell of a fight.  I have a family.  I have a life to live, and I'm GOING to live it.

Then it dawns on me that I have to make those God-awful phone calls to my family...again...and tell them that the melanoma is still sneaking around in my body and has landed in my brain this time.  This is harder than anything.  

I have so much anger.  But it's all directed right smack at me.  I waited to get that thing on my back checked out.  I KNEW what it was, and I was terrified, and I just couldn't go.  But now that fear and that failure on my part to go see a damn doctor is costing my family...and costing them big.  It's costing them tears and heartache and fear, and that is killing me.  Because I did it to them.  I try not to beat myself up.  After all, I can't change the past.  But it's hard, because I love them and to know that I did something that hurt them is almost more than I can bear. forward to neuro-oncologist.  He's a nice guy.  My sister, Claudia, is awesome enough to come with Jimmy and me and take notes so it won't all be a blur later (thanks sister...xoxox).  My tumor is in a "good" spot.  There are two more very small spots, but they were also on my prior MRI, so they might not be melanoma.  But they might be...and the ipi is keeping them small.  They'll watch them.  Neuro-oncologist refers me to radiation oncologist to talk about the ins and outs of stereotactic radio surgery.  Then radiation oncologist has me meet a neurosurgeon, and we talk about the possibility of conventional surgery to remove it.  It would be easy to "pop out" he says, but feels SRS is best.    

The consensus is that SRS is the way to go.  My research says that's the way to go too.  So Monday, I will go and have one of those crazy masks made, have a CT and an MRI, and then a team of crazy over-achiever types and some incredibly complex software will plan my SRS, and on April 22 they'll zap the hell out of the stupid melanoma that's taken up residence in my brain.  

Aside from my daughter's upcoming marriage and the thought of little Biddles running around, and my older daughter conquering her addiction, I can't really think of anything that would mean more to me than that teen tan ban being made law in Illinois.   

For anyone who might be reading my little blog for the first time, please know that spending lots of time in the sun and in tanning beds is what got me Stage IV melanoma...but you can prevent ending up in this position.  Use sunscreen every single day, and for God's sake stay out of those tanning beds.  They're really coffins with UV lights.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Angie...and scanxiety...from last Fall

The nuclear medicine tech's name is Angie. She's gotten me ready for all of my PET scans, and she's the bomb-diggity IMO. She's nice, knows how to start an IV sans pain, and is as big a Blackhawks fan as I am. The lapel of her lab coat is speckled with Blackhawks pins. I'm still trying to get her to give me her Halloween pin...the Blackhawk Indian head wearing a witch hat (it's soooo cool), but she won't budge. 

Angie:  Here for a follow-up scan today?
Me:  Not so much. Had an abnormal MRCP last week. There's something there. The scan today is to see if there's anything else. 
Angie:  Oh, I'm sorry. 
Me:  Me too. 

So the life of a Stage III (or is it IV) melanoma patient goes. Scans every few months, regular visits to the dermatologist and frequent visits to the oncologist. I would have been perfectly happy to continue on that path. The stinking melanoma, however, had another plan. 

I don't think the scan results today will show a single mass. I think there will be more. I pray that I'm wrong, but either way this f'ing (yes, the word of the day is still the "F" word) melanoma is in for a big fight either way. I'm terrified of what that might mean in terms of treatment, but I'll fight like hell to kick melanoma to the curb. 

I found this during my flight to Vegas to see my buddy, Denise. I remember typing it the day of the scan after the injection while I was waiting for the radioactive stuff to attach itself to whatever cancer it might find. I guess I got so caught up in what came after the PET scan that I forgot to post it. 

I WAS wrong, thank God. But that was 5 months and a few days ago. I have scans coming up again in a few weeks, and it will start all over again. The doubt, the what-ifs?...the outrageous, obnoxious, undeniable fear. And I'll take it. Because if I get to keep having scans it means I'm alive. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Melanoma...the Connection with Family and Friends (Part 2)

Continuing the theme of how melanoma affects the family and friends of the patient.  This from one of my oldest and dearest friends, Denise.

"This will be hard to put into words, but I will try.
Donna and I were great friends in our younger day.  Somewhere along the line, we lost touch.  Years went by, and often I would wonder how she was doing, but as the busy world went by, and I dove into my own life and difficulties, I didn't make the effort to seek her out to find out how she was.  Then, the feared "Class Reunion".  Donna and I touched base, and made sure that each other would be there and we would spend some time together.  Since then, we have spent time together, remembering how important our friendship is, and catching up on all aspects.   
My 50th birthday was approaching, and my life was in a bit of turmoil.  A 50th party was being given to me at my sister's, and Donna was going to be there, along with some other dear friends.  I was excited to see them all.  During the party, I knew something was going on, but Donna, in "Donna Style", tried to hide it and make sure my birthday was fun for me.  She tried to explain it away with some reason, but I knew something was wrong.  After returning home, she called me to tell me she had cancer.  The first thing that came to my mind was what an idiot I was to wait so long to get our friendship back, and then how strong Donna was to call me and tell me, instead of emailing or texting (as we all tend to do now in this impersonal world).  We cried a few tears, and then decided that she was too damn strong and stubborn to give in to any of this. 
Now, to the reason I was asked to write this.  Nobody can say that this has affected them as much as Donna herself, but I would say this experience has changed how I look at and feel about things, a lot.  It isn't all the "life is short - do what makes you happy" thing, although that is a part of it.  The main way this affected me was it awakened all my emotions.  In having some major disappointments in my life, I had kindof put a smile on my face and was just going through the motions.  Do it, take it, let it happen, just smile and make people believe you are strong.  Donna gave me, and others, the privilege of going through this with her.  I have learned so much from her.  I have learned the things she wanted to teach me about tanning and cancer, but she has taught and shown me so much more than she can know.  I know it's OK to cry for myself and for someone else, and it's not a sign of weakness.  It's alright to be angry, but you have to direct it to do good things.  She has reminded me that a real friendship never ends, but sometimes just takes a time out, but that person is always in your heart.  This experience also reminded me that every day IS a gift.  It may be a gift you didn't ask for, but it is a gift none-the-less.  To abuse it, is an insult to those who are working and trying so hard to get another "gift".  This might all sound sappy, but with every tear I have shed for Donna, with every prayer I have said for her, with every sleepless night I have spent afraid for her and her family; for myself because-it CAN happen to me, I have been thankful and amazed at how I have grown from all of this. It isn't easy to face all your emotions, and unfortunately Donna has been forced to, and in that, she has allowed me to.  Now, to put it into perspective, good things did come from bad, but it would be a better world if the roller coaster wasn't ridden to get to this point. I am not going to say, as thankful as I am, that it has been easy."

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Melanoma...the Connection with Family and Friends (Part 1)

It's been a while...I know.  I've been avoiding my little blog again.  It's been a really rough couple of months in melaland.  On December 29th, Jillian Hayes Wagner passed away after a heroic battle with the beast.  She was 23, and one of the most courageous warriors I never got to meet.  We've lost several more since then, and two of our molemates learned recently that there is nothing more for the doctors to do.  One just returned from her honeymoon to discover that in spite of very recent clear scans, her melanoma has spread.  Another one of my favorite people has tests this week to determine if her melanoma has returned, and I have an upcoming MRI that, given what happened the last time I had an MRI, I am completely freaked about.  The good side of these scans is that if we don't know what's there, we can't fight it. Anyway...I digress.

After my recurrence in October, I heard from more than a few people that my post had a big impact on them.  Someone used the word powerful.  But it occurred to me that what was far more powerful than anything I could talk about, was the effect my diagnosis has had on family and friends.  There are so many people who still tan, and I think that maybe if they knew how hard a melanoma diagnosis would be on their family...they would stop.  So, I e-mailed my family and a few other people I'm really close to and asked if they would be willing to put into words how they felt.  I knew it was a difficult thing I had asked them to do.  I've gotten some responses.  My family has struggled mightily with this. I've been told it was a very difficult process to put those feelings into words.  I just hope that it's as hard for people who are still tanning to read when they realize that this is probably just how their family would feel if they were diagnosed with melanoma.

From my sister, Claudia:

I remember that day like it was yesterday.  I got off the plane at O’Hare and turned my cell phone on.  I instantly saw that I had several missed calls and text messages from my sister, Donna.  All of them just said, “Call me.”  I thought to myself, “This can’t be good.”  I was standing in baggage claim when I called her and she told me what was wrong.  “I have melanoma and I’m having surgery tomorrow.”  I could hear in her voice that she was being positive, so I was too.  I didn’t know anything about melanoma except that it was skin cancer.  “OK” I thought.  “So they’ll take it out. “

I spent that evening on the internet learning about melanoma.  I was in tears before long and decided not to get ahead of myself so I stopped reading.  What I did learn is that melanoma is almost always caused by exposure to UV light, in other words, tanning: indoors or out.  I had just spent the last week laying on a beach in Florida and had to show up at the hospital the next day with my “fabulous” tan.  Although I had used sunscreen all week, I had intentionally been exposing myself to the sun.  I felt like an idiot.

That was a year and a half ago and so much has happened since that day.  If you read Donna’s blog regularly, then you know that Donna had the melanoma removed from her back (approximately the size of a baseball), and 29 lymph nodes removed.  Only one node was positive, but that one node put her at Stage III.  Not a good place to be.  She went through a year of Interferon treatment.  Although she would say she tolerated it pretty well, there were days she was exhausted, dizzy and nauseous, and she had a constant headache.   Every day that I talked to her and learned what she was going through tore me up.  Do you love your sister? Brother? Parent?  Spouse?  Friend?  Then you know that you never want someone you love to go through anything bad.  And there were some bad days.

A couple of months ago Donna went in for a routine scan.  There was something on her gall bladder.  A PET scan revealed a likely tumor.  It was melanoma.  And now Donna is stage IV.  She recently started a new treatment (Yervoy) and I pray to God it works.  

Soon after Donna’s diagnosis, I went to the dermatologist for my first overall body check in years, and she asked if I had ever had a bad sunburn.  “Of course, I grew up in the 1970s!  We used to sit out in the sun with baby oil and tin foil!”  I also used tanning beds occasionally.  I thought they were supposed to be SAFER than being out in the sun.  Back then we didn’t know that UV light might one day kill us.  Now I know more about melanoma than I ever cared to.  Now I know better.  There is no such thing as a safe tan.

Donna asked me to write about how her diagnosis has affected me.  There have been good things to come from her diagnosis which are easy to write about.  Donna and I were close before but now are closer than we’ve ever been.  The inner strength she has displayed has been inspirational to all of us: family and friends alike.  My quiet sister who doesn’t like public speaking stood in front of the Chicago City Council and told her story.  She helped Chicago pass legislation banning minors from using tanning beds.  Her courage and positive spirit have been an amazing influence on me.  To say that I’m incredibly proud of her is the understatement of the century. SHE ROCKS!  Donna has educated me on the dangers of UV exposure and I’m passing that knowledge along to my friends and family.  Please believe me when I say that it could be your sister next; or your mother, your daughter, your brother, your husband, your father or your son.  Or you.

The horrible part of Donna’s diagnosis is just that: horrible and inconceivable.  I know this is going to be hard for Donna to read.  It’s hard for me to write.  Actually it’s excruciating and I’m crying as I type.  I’m scared.  My sister has Stage IV melanoma.  Google it.  The prognosis is not promising.  What if it was your sister with Stage IV melanoma?  What if it was you?  All for a tan?  I’m hopeful, as I know Donna is, about new treatments and longer survival rates for Stage IV melanoma patients.  HOPE.  I just have to HOPE! 
Believe me I get it!  I used to love the way I looked with a tan.  But looking good is not worth the price my sister has paid.  If you want recommendations on self tanners and tinted moisturizers, let me know.  I can still look “healthy” and be safe from UV damage.  So can you.

Donna and I have a younger sister.  Our maiden name is Hicks, and we refer to ourselves as the “Hicks Chicks.”  We’ve joked about being together as 80-something grandmothers doing water aerobics together and laughing about our sagging skin.  But there are three “Chicks” in that vision of the future.  I’m scared to lose my sister.  I haven’t said that to her because I’m always positive when we talk.  But she’ll see it now.  And I’m saying it to you.  I’M AFRAID I’M GOING TO LOSE MY SISTER.  And that is unimaginable to me.  I don’t know how to live in a world without my big sister in it.  I don’t want to know.

The best way that Donna’s melanoma diagnosis has affected me is that my entire family has now begun regular skin checks.  Both of my children have had suspicious moles removed (benign, thank God).  And they’re on the lookout for changes in their skin.  I, too, have regular checks and just recently saw a fabulous dermatologist who Donna recommended.  After a very thorough exam, the doctor sat down and asked me about a spot on my face, just below my left eye.  I thought it was an “age spot” from being in the sun.  I’ve been looking for products to fade it.  The dermatologist thinks it may be lentigo maligna, a precursor to melanoma.  She will look at it again in 8 weeks and will then likely biopsy it.   Let me say that again.  My doctor thinks I may have Melanoma in-situ on my face.  In-situ is Stage 0, so I will be lucky if, in fact, it is melanoma.  My sister, Donna, may have just saved my life.  For that, I am eternally grateful.

Please listen!  Do not think that this can’t happen to you.  Learn about the different kinds of sunscreen and use it PROPERLY.  Find a GOOD dermatologist that will do a THOROUGH body check on a regular basis.  Stay out of tanning beds and protect yourself when you’re outside.  And love your family and friends because you never know when one of them might be diagnosed with the FASTEST GROWING CANCER IN THE US.  Or maybe it will be you.

P.S. from Donna:  Claudia had a biopsy on the spot on her cheek and it was BENIGN!  Thank God!

More to come.  Stay tuned....