On Friday, July 1, I got a phone call from my dermatologist telling me I had melanoma. That was 8 days ago. Since that call, life has been quite a whirlwind. Everything feels different, and all I want is for everything to feel the same.
The day before was my 35th birthday. It was wonderful. I had an amazing 90-minute massage from this fabulous woman, Jennifer, at the Jade Day Spa on 34th Street, and an unforgettable dinner at the Four Seasons Restaurant – a place I’ve always wanted to go – with my husband, Sacha. We rationalized that we should splurge on such an extravagant meal since we were also celebrating our 5-year wedding anniversary, which followed two days later.
I spent my birthday feeling such an overwhelming sense of renewal, of creation and creativity. This birthday felt very significant to me, maybe because it fell in the midst of new beginnings in my life. We had just started our first round of IVF (in-vitro fertilization) two days earlier (after multiple attempts at conceiving through IUI since April 2010). I had just launched this blog a week earlier, and have been thrilled with the response. The level of readership my blog is getting is blowing my mind – and readers’ comments have been so thoughtful and honest. 2011 has marked a time for me of taking risks, embracing my passion, freeing my inner rock star and letting her come out and soar. My mojo has been making a comeback, and I’ve been feeling on top of the world.
So what’s a girl to do with this news? Skin cancer at 35? I mean, seriously, what the f$&#?!? Breathe. Breathe in and out. Repeat. Breathe, and act.
After a few days of radio silence, I realized that if this blog was going to get any action anytime soon, I was going to have to write about being diagnosed with melanoma, having no clear idea of what I was going to say.
And so it goes.
I’m doing well. I am scared, but I am working hard at being stronger than the fear, lest it overcome me. I quickly had surgery by a dear friend – a very talented and generous friend – who rearranged his schedule to see me at the first opportunity. Dr. Portnoy excised the area all around where the tumor was. Fortunately, it was a very small tumor on my right shoulder, so I’ll have stitches for a week, and it’s already healing quite well. We’re looking forward to getting clean pathology reports back, hopefully in the next week.
Telling friends and loved ones has been the hardest part, mostly because of the fear I hear in their voices and see in their faces when they get the news. I quickly learned that others’ expressions of fear or anxiety is no good for me, as I’m working overtime to keep my own fears at bay. I feel best when life around me feels normal. That said, while I’m trying to keep things as normal as possible, I’ve also implemented some major life changes for me and my family, and I hope many of you will too – particularly if you’re fair-skinned like me.
Some of the changes:
- SPF 30+ always
- Sun protective clothing (a regular t-shirt is the equivalent of SPF 4 – not enough for me)
- Hat protection always
- Sunscreen on any uncovered areas, which for now is just my face and hands, since I’m keeping everything else covered
- No junk food
- No artificial sweeteners
- No more Diet Coke or Diet Pepsi
- No red meat
- Taking Vitamin D and Calcium supplements (already take a very good multi and omegas)
- Keeping my little guy better protected (more diligent about sunscreen, making him wear his hat, his sunglasses, covering more of his body in clothing even though it’s summer)
- No more sexy swimwear; now it’s a long-sleeved UPF 50+ shirt and board shorts
I’m sure there will be other changes. I will share those as well as they come. Some people will think I am being too extreme in the protective measures I’m taking. I would understand that sentiment, as I have long been a champion of moderation in pretty much all areas of life. But to those critics, I say, this is moderation for me. Right now, not wearing a face scarf and gloves is my version of moderation. Allowing myself to go outside and be in the sun is moderation – as long as I’ve got my protections in place. My grandfather died of melanoma that metastasized to his brain. I’m not going to let that happen to me.
Since I’ve implemented these changes this last week, I’ve lost 4 pounds. I’ve always eaten healthy stuff, but I’ve always loved a little bit of junk thrown in there as well. But those days are over, and my body is quickly appreciating the difference. It seems this new lifestyle, implemented out of necessity – a need to LIVE – is right in line with that big ‘ole sense of renewal I was feeling on my 35th birthday. From this day forward, I am living a healthier life. I am endeavoring to wholly embrace every beautiful thing in my life. I cannot take anything for granted, and neither can you.
Take responsibility for your skin. Only you can know if your moles and freckles have changed, or itch, or bleed, or have darkened… If you’re fair-skinned, get your moles checked regularly by a dermatologist. Wear good sunscreen (many of the big brands are actually quite toxic, so check yours in the EWG’s sunscreen guide). Protect your children. Be smart. Our children need us, and we are not invincible. And please, honor your dreams and your passions, love yourself, nourish yourself and your family, and live your best life. I sure as hell am.