And the Soul Wears Out the Breast…

Death can come in an instant, or it can be a long, lingering process as the soul fights the body for just one more day.

When my stepmother died it was nine days from beginning to end, and I didn’t actually believe she was going to die until the day she did. I’ve always thought it was a blessing that she went as quickly as she did, both for her and for my family. Watching a loved one suffer and deteriorate is ravaging to all.

If it’s a sudden death, though, you feel robbed. Robbed of time to say everything you want to say, robbed of one more look, one more smile, and you’d give your right arm for just one more hug. If you believe in G-d, as I do, it’s hard to understand why He would want anyone to linger. Perhaps He’s giving people time to resolve their lives, or perhaps sometimes He thinks the soul has more work to do (have you ever seen the movie Defending Your Life? Go rent it!), or perhaps He thinks someone has more of an impact to make.

That last can certainly be said for Randy Pausch, the computer science lecturer at Carnegie Mellon University whose “Last Lecture” became a huge sensation when it was posted on youtube. I’m sure Randy hoped he’d make an impact on those present, but I doubt he could foresee that his speech would be viewed nearly 4,000,000 times, not to mention the news coverage and clips millions of others were lucky enough to see.

So, yeah, he definitely had more of an impact to make.

Job well done, Randy, but now you can rest.

Thank you for sharing, Randy.

Moles and Skin Tags and Cancer, Oh My!

It had been eighteen months since my last full-body dermatological scan. That’s six months later than it should have been.

I’ve had skin cancer twice in the last ten years. One was squamous cell and one was basal cell carcinoma. Found early they are little more than a nuisance. Ignore them and they can disfigure or, in very rare cases, kill you. Luckily I have not had melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer) but am at high risk for it. Both of my skin cancers have been easily taken care of with some very minor surgery done right in the doctor’s office.

So, today I had my body scan. One suspicious mole and five skin tags (not dangerous, just nuisance) were removed, plus several red, scaly (and undetected by me) pre-cancerous spots were frozen, including one right on my forehead.

I think the mole is probably a cancer. It was on my back, another place that’s hard to see. If it is then that will mean another visit while they remove the surrounding tissue to prevent any spreading. I’m not very anxious about it. The doctor didn’t seem overly concerned.

Being skin healthy pays. After the appointment I went to my insurance office and put in a claim on a wonderful policy that I have that pays me $112 for outpatient surgery. Removal of even one skin tag is considered surgery. So while I paid a $25 copayment to the doctor, I’ll get $112 from my policy. So I got paid $87 to go to the dermatologist. I’m going to write a post about that policy soon.

So, my friends, please go to your regular dermatologist for a full body scan, or take advantage of the free scans being offered.

And please, wear sunscreen.

Next time I won’t procrastinate. From now on June is Skin Health Month on the BeThisWay household. Why not in your household, too?

Warm, Fuzzy Socks

My cousin is dying. She has a recurrence of leukemia and chose not to treat it this time.

She’s in hospice today, almost four months after she got the news. She lives 1000 miles away, and I have plans to go see her in three weeks for the event she really wants to attend – her nephew’s Bar Mitzvah. I spoke to her last week and her numbers were still good. We laughed and joked and talked about the serious stuff. We talked about the warm, fuzzy socks I sent her, and how they’re like a hug for your feet. We talked about me staying with her for the Bar Mitzvah (she offered, I declined), and we looked forward to seeing each other again. I was sure there was plenty of time.

I was wrong.

I spoke to her yesterday, and the day before. The warm, vital woman I’ve looked up to since childhood is there one hundred percent. She doesn’t sound sick. She’s lived for many years with Multiple Sclerosis, she’s beaten the cancer once. My heart wants to believe it’s a mistake, but my head knows it isn’t.

We’ve had her for longer than we thought we would. She’s had a rough road physically, but she’s also had many blessings. A wonderful husband, a gorgeous son who is already a man at fourteen, family and friends that adore and admire her.

I’m not going to be there when she dies. I’m not going to be there for her funeral.   I’ve decided to go for the celebration of her nephew’s Bar Mitzvah that we’ve all looked so forward to.  We’ll celebrate my little cousin becoming a man, and we’ll celebrate the life of my cousin, his aunt, who loved us all.

In the meantime, I hope she’s wearing the warm, fuzzy socks.

The Sunscreen Controversy

In two weeks I go for my annual skin cancer screening.

I was always the one would could get a sunburn on a cloudy day. My Dad would say, “Impossible!!” even as the Solarcaine was being sprayed on my tender, red skin. In those days people put oil on their skin, not sunscreen, and since I was the only one in my family with very fair skin I was the only one who suffered.

I’m a huge believer in sunscreen, despite the controversy surrounding it, which Wikipedia sums up pretty well.

From the Mayo Clinic’s website:

No studies have proved that ingredients in sunscreen are linked to breast cancer. However, some animal and laboratory studies have shown that some ultraviolet (UV) filters in sunscreen may mimic estrogen, which could disrupt or alter your endocrine system. No evidence has shown that exposure to endocrine disruptors in low levels, such as those in sunscreen, leads to health problems.

One study with human volunteers found that the UV filters in sunscreens were absorbed into the skin, but they didn’t have an effect on the health of the volunteers, or their levels of estrogen or any other hormone.

Further studies are needed to see if humans could be harmed by the ingredients in sunscreen. For now, the American Academy of Dermatology still recommends these precautions before heading out in the sun:

  • Use a sunscreen with UVA and UVB filters with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 on all exposed skin.
  • Wear protective clothing, such as a long-sleeved shirt, pants and a brimmed hat.
  • Stay in the shade if possible.

If you’re still concerned about the risks of traditional sunscreens, you can use a sunscreen containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as an alternative. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide aren’t absorbed into your skin, and don’t mimic estrogen.

More good info is at the Yale-New Haven Hospital site.

I’ve had two instances of skin cancer, one basal cell carcinoma and one squamous cell carcinoma. Luckily neither were melanoma. Still, I go for yearly skin cancer screenings, and am very committed to Son never having a sunburn. At three years and roughly three hundred days he has never experienced one. So far, so good.

Not only am I a believer in sunscreen, I’m a believer in using it daily. Whether you live in Fairbanks or Fort Lauderdale. There are moisturizers and cosmetics with sunscreen, so you don’t even need to add any steps to your daily routine.

I know there are risks, talk of a possible link between sunscreen and other cancers. But skin cancer is a reality for me, not a possibility. I’m more likely now to get more skin cancers, and that makes Son more likely to develop cancer himself. Since my Dad (of the darker skin) has also had skin cancer, Son is even more more likely to experience it.

Whether you agree with the use of sunscreen or not, I urge you to get a skin cancer screening. Today’s Deal of the Day tells you how you can get one for free.

Free is good. Free health care? Really good.

Please help spread the word.

Deal of the Day May 19, 2008

Here’s the first medical Deal of the Day, courtesy of Vanessa:

Olay and the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery are offering free skin-cancer screenings ffrom May through July across the country. To find a participating dermatologist in your area, log on to www.SkinCancerTakesFriends.org.

Check back tomorrow for another great deal!

Subscribe to my RSS feed to make sure you don’t miss a thing!

The Choice

I have a cousin who is the bravest person I know.

She hasn’t had it easy. She was diagnosed with MS in her thirties, but wouldn’t let her doctor write it in her chart until after she was approved for the adoption she wanted so badly.

She got her wonderful son, and he has brought so much joy to her, and to our family. Her disease progressed to the point where she can’t see all that great, and she’s needed help walking. But still she lives life to it’s fullest. Always has.

Then a couple of years ago she was diagnosed with leukemia. She fought it, hard. It took a toll, but she was well enough to kvell at her son’s Bar Mitzvah last year, and she clawed and scratched her way into remission.

Then, today, I got a call from my Dad I hoped to never get. The leukemia is back.

Of course we are all devastated. My Dad asked me to call my brothers and sisters, as he just was having a hard time with it. She is his first niece, and has always held a very special place in his heart. With my stepmother’s death just seven short months ago, the knowledge that he will soon lose another woman he deeply loves has left him bereft.

And lose her we will. She doesn’t want the chemo this time.

That’s a hell of a decision to make, isn’t it? Either path promises pain and sadness and tears and sickness and heartbreak and death. How do you choose between spending as much time with your child as possible or spending less time, but hopefully feeling better? Just making that choice shows more courage than I have.

I’m just filled with sadness that we’ll lose her, sadness that her son won’t have her holding his hand into adulthood, sad that I won’t be getting her silly/beautiful/poignant e-mails.

Sad that my aunt and uncle will suffer the loss of their daughter, every parent’s biggest fear.

But there’s really no time for that. We could have her another six months, at least I hope so. I won’t waste another moment.

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