Thursday, June 28, 2018

Wear The Pearls!

I’ve wanted to write this post for a while, but I’m a very private person so I held off. Today I made the decision not to stay silent. So here goes...

Do you have a string of pearls, a gorgeous set of earrings, or an awesome outfit you’ve been saving for the perfect occasion? I’m here to tell you to dig those things out and put them on – right now. Why are you saving them? We’ve all seen memes and inspirational posts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and magazines about living life to the fullest because tomorrow isn’t promised. I’ve always nodded in wholehearted agreement and continued to scroll on to something else or flipped the page. Recently, I found out firsthand about the truth behind those words. Even more profound and honest is how life can change in a blink.

In 2017, I had this weird discolored stuff growing out of my belly button – nothing too big, but it wasn’t supposed to be there. Like many people do, I researched online for information. I discovered you can get infections in your umbilicus because it’s a dark, moist, warm place. I bought antibiotic ointment, thinking it would clear things up. It didn’t.

Being blonde and fair complected, and having been born at a time when sun block products were unheard of, I got my share of sunburns. I’ve had hellacious burns on my scalp, back, shoulders, torso, and the top of my feet – and all the spaces in between not covered by a swimsuit. I recall having huge water blisters from the burns. I was a kid who loved to play outside and didn’t give the sun much thought. The sunburns were no big deal – until now.

When the strange growth didn’t go away, I visited my family doctor who sent chills up my spine when she suggested I see a surgeon. One look by the surgeon and I was scheduled to undergo the knife. He removed my belly button and surrounding stomach area. Post surgery test results: melanoma stage 2.

Shock and fear doesn't begin to describe the mental trauma of such a diagnosis. Many of you reading this post know exactly what I’m talking about. Your breath hitches in your lungs, you get a little lightheaded, tears sting your eyes, and you want to scream, “No way.”

Those first test results led the way to a whirlwind of scans and other procedures, which took me to a second, more invasive surgery. An oncologist came on board as well.

Second surgery results:  Everything came back clean!!! The cancer had not spread!!! No treatment was necessary!!! Thank you, Lord!!!

As an adult, I’ve taken good care of myself. I ate right (mostly), always made time for exercise, only drank an occasional alcoholic beverage, and never smoked cigarettes. Yayyy for me! I should’ve been the poster-child for good health. BUT...the one hidden factor that changed everything came from my past. I wasn’t a sun-worshipper per se. I was just a kid, teenager, young adult who never thought something as great as the sun could be so wicked – especially since I live in a northern state, where we cherish days with sunshine and warm temps.

Did I mention that melanoma of the umbilicus is rare? My surgeon and oncologist teamed up to find the best way to proceed. They could only find 100 documented cases worldwide.
Thanks to modern technology and research, I’m still here to write this post. Do I fear that melanoma will resurface? Yes. Will I allow that fear to rule my days? No. What I’ve gained from the physical pain and mental trauma of the past several months is a new perspective. Some days will suck, some days will be great. I've learned to embrace  and accept the challenge of both. My personal experience has opened my eyes to the plight of others who are dealing and struggling with health issues – not just cancer related. I have a family member also battling cancer, not the same type as I had. She’s strong and positive in her treatment, but I’m fully aware of her fear and struggles. I pray for her continued strength and that God will demolish the disease within her and guide her through this process. And I've recently found out another relative is also being challenged by this horrible disease.  

I didn’t compile this post to gain sympathy. I wanted to share my journey to enlighten those who take the sun’s rays for granted. Don’t be Jan! Smear on sun block. Wear a hat. (I hate hats, but I’m getting used to them) Don those sunglasses. Fit those arms into long sleeves when you can. Employ umbrellas at the beach or lake. Monitor your time in the sun and how long your skin is exposed. 

Pay attention to what your body is telling you – it will give you hints that something isn’t quite right. Suck up the discomfort and cost of going to the doctor, your life depends on it.

Tell people you love them, find peace in your lives, and be kind always. Don't wait for scheduled special occasions to wear the pearls, because every day is special. 

Big love to all of you,