Ode to sun protection

With May (Melanoma Awareness Month) upon us, and thoughts of summer finding its way north (will it, ever?), I’m looking at my first true season of fun in the sun. Since I spent most of last summer, in recovery mode, this is the first season since my diagnosis when I will be truly confronted with shielding myself from UV rays.

Admittedly, I have a horrible history when it comes to using sun protection. Naively thinking my easy-to-tan skin was less susceptible to damaging rays, and not liking the sticky feeling and funky, fruity smell of sunscreen, I rarely gave the risks of sun exposure a thought, despite my love for the outdoors. The thought of a cover-up shirt on a hot, humid day was even less appealing. It’s easy to see where all that got me. An odd tan line from my camera backpack is much easier to resolve than skin cancer.

Up to the time of my diagnosis, I still fell under the misguided social notion that a tan exuded an appearance of health. Now when I see people with deep, dark tans I shudder, cringe, and divert my gaze not wanting to view the damage that can’t be undone.

So to you sun protection, I humbly bow.

I should have know when, I should have known how.

To slather, slop and smear, is by far a better route

To shield, shade and shy from the rays’ harsh shouts.

There is something stylish about a wide brimmed hat,

And broad, dark sunglasses under that,

For skin cancer knows no age, no bounds

Slather that lotion to tame it down.

Don’t like feeling like a greased pig? 

Grab a shirt, make it loose and big.

Pale is chic around the black beast

Melanoma find somewhere else to feast. 

As the Sunscreen Song, says, “If I could offer only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists…trust me on the sunscreen.”

 

 

 

 

 

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I’ve been thinking a lot about bucket lists lately. Is it conceding to mortality to pen a bucket list (as in the movie) or is it realizing the value of the days you have left and wanting to maximize each second? I’ve thought about what I would put on my bucket list, but it’s kind of like dragging your feet about writing a will for fear it will send some imminent doom crashing down on you – even though rationally you know that’s the reason you write the will.

In the past, I never placed much merit on bucket lists. If we live each moment to the fullest, what else could a bucket list possibly encompass? A bucket list may outline big, grand goals, but what about the minute details that slid past us along the way?

Last summer I spent a good portion of time recovering – from surgery, from treatments. One time I spent probably 20  minutes watching two dragonflies dart around our back yard. They danced in circles, sometimes swinging further away, then coming back, their clear, beautiful wings propelling them like miniature, silent helicopters. I would never  have thought of listing observe dragonflies as a to do item in my life, but the experience left me mesmerized by the wonder and beauty of nature.

There is no doubt that goals are important in life – ask any CEO. But so is luck, intuition, timing, raw talent, and the grace of God. We tend to forget that we are not as in control of our lives as we think we are – ask any cancer patient. So I go back to my original question. Is a bucket list a confession of, “oh hell, I’m running out of time, I better get it together,” or is it, “oh, glory there is so much awe and wonder I want to embrace every experience”?

I think if I go the bucket list route, it might be more like thinking on paper about things that would be interesting and worthwhile for investing precious minutes of my life. I’ve always thrived on being part of something bigger, of making a difference, of being the change I want to see in the world (or at least my little part of it).

With all that being said, here are a few things floating in my head for that bucket list.

Create awareness for melanoma and skin cancer. Teach teens the importance of protecting their skin. Help even one person avoid this diagnosis.

Train a service or companion dog so someone else can experience the joy and help animals can bring to life.

Record an audio book for the blind so those who can’t read the typed word can enjoy books as much as I do.

Get out my potter’s wheel again and create a unique piece of pottery for each of my children and grandchildren to remember me when I am gone.

Garden again so I can grow my own healthy, organic food, and have something to share with my grandsons. (The garden will include a mini forest of sunflowers for them to explore.)

Run a marathon. There, I’ve said it. I’ve tossed the idea back and forth, and hemmed and hawed (have I mentioned how much I enjoy the half marathon and don’t know if I’m crazy or strong enough to complete a full?) but it’s one of those things that taunts runners. Now if I can couple that with a melanoma cause, I’m certain I will finish.

Join or start a book club. I love to read. I love having time to read. I’m not at that point yet, but hopefully someday soon, I can sit and visit with people who love books as much as I do. Maybe even with other cancer survivors.

Write a book.

But mostly, hug my children and grandchildren every second I get. This is not an all encompassing list, but rather a work in progress. I’m fully aware my destiny lies in hands much bigger than mine, but sometimes you need to put things in writing to realize the potential of each moment you are given on earth.

Rest

Growing up on a farm, there was never much time for rest. We worked hard, getting more done in 12 hours than most people did in 24. We were proud of that strong work ethic. Laziness had no place in our life, nor did it gain any respect.

Melanoma (Yervoy) treatment has no respect for strong work ethics, or busy schedules. Since I started the clinical trial, my body demands rest or it stops functioning at peak capacity, grinding me down to a dim-witted simpleton with a vise-like headache. Granted, that can hold true for anyone, (maybe not the dim-witted part) but my normal level of endurance and energy is markedly lower than before treatment and diagnosis.

It’s a fact I have to live with, embrace and adjust for in my schedule. It’s hard.

For one, as a journalist, long days (10 to 12 hours) are unavoidable at times. With spring elections recently completed, election-night coverage severely minimized my effectiveness the next day, sending me home much early than normal with a headache that felt like the Hulk squeezing a melon – mine.

Aside from job requirements, in my head I’m still trying to clarify the difference between needing to rest and laziness. A day or two of solid activity with little down time usually results in a couple of extra hours of sleep and several more of rest to begin feeling normal again. I try to ignore it, yet pushing beyond my limits results in the Hulk threatening my brain matter again and me wandering around trying to focus – on anything. Pushing more makes joints and muscles join in the revolt.

As my treatments spread out to every 12 weeks during the maintenance phase of the clinical trial, the side-effects became less severe, but by no means does it take a vacation from the havoc it causes to my body. In my head, I keep thinking I can go back to my normal lifestyle, but my body continually pulls me back to the reality of the treatment and the disease.

Resting is not being lazy. I say that more to remind myself than to make a statement. My youngest son told me it’s about time I learned to rest and sit still once in a while. I know. It still isn’t easy.

Even with the knowledge of the deadliness of this disease, I keep thinking the treatment will buy me time, I won’t have to slow down as much – not yet – because I’m usually feeling fairly healthy and strong. There is no evidence of disease at this point, which is a blessing beyond compare, but will it take another spot to show up before I slam on the brakes completely? I fear it might. That’s why I try to give myself permission to rest, to take naps, to listen intently to my body.

In all reality, a day or two of hard work usually equals one day of rest it seems. The improvement I feel after that rest should be proof enough of its value, yet in the middle of life and all its demands, it’s a challenge to concede to the limits disease and treatment bring.

There is the saying, “You can sleep when you’re dead,” but if sleep and rest are attempts at extending and enriching life, why do we brush it aside so easily? Rest is not being lazy, it’s being smart.