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Monday, May 4, 2015

Here Comes the Sun

Every year I have a scary day and it came today.  The day I have to take myself to the dermatologist for my annual "mole check".  I know you're thinking "C'mon, Kristin, it's just a check up" but it's so much more than that for me.  Much more.

I was never a sun worshiper or one to lay out for hours in an attempt to get the "perfect tan".  I've never been to a tanning salon though I wasn't always so good about wearing my sun screen when I was a kid.  It wasn't anything I was remotely considered about. 

Until . . .

I was a senior in high school when it all changed.  It was fall and a typically seventeen year old who was waiting for her college acceptance letters and gearing up to take the SATs again.  So much to look forward to and I couldn't wait for any of it to come. 

Until . . .

My father found a spot on his back by his shoulder.  Was it something?  My mom wasn't sure but suggested  he get it checked out anyway.  Just in case but probably nothing to worry about.

It was something.

On October 18, 1996 -  the night of what would have been my final homecoming dance as well as my sister's twelfth birthday my father underwear surgery to remove the lymph nodes from underneath one arm.  To clear out the cancer that had spread from the malignant melanoma. 

I didn't go to the dance though my fifteen-year-old brother did.  I had offered to take my sister to the movies for her birthday but my mom wanted me to stay close to the phone.  Just in case.

It was a hard road after that.  There were many trips to the pharmacy to pick up my  father's prescriptions.  Lots of wondering but the road to recovery is a long one and he was well on his well.

Until. . .

March 7, 1997 - my 18th birthday party.  By this time I'd been accepted into all of  the schools I had applied to but was leaning toward my first choice - Cedar Crest College.  My friends had come over for a night of pizza and movies.  Just a simple gathering.  Everyone was on edge because my father never made an appearance the whole night and was grousing from his bedroom upstairs.  No one knew what was going on.

A few weeks later we found out he had a tumor in his spine.  That had been the cause of his foul mood when my friends had been over.  The tremendous pain he was in and a group of rowdy teenagers.  It took twenty-two straight hours of surgery to remove the tumor but the cancer was spreading faster than the doctors knew how to handle it.  It became more about managing the cancer rather than eradicating it.

Spring came as did my high school graduation.  My father was in the hospital at the time and was unable to go.  Friday, June 13, 1997 and I was the 13th graduate (I wish I was making that part up).  It poured so the ceremonies had to be held in the gym instead of the football field.

Summer was followed by fall and my heading off to college.  It was an odd time for me since I never knew if I was going to be suddenly called back home.  When it was going to happen and how quickly would I be able to get back.

The semester ended without that phone call coming and I headed home for Christmas break.  By this point my father had tumors all over his body.   He could barely see me thanks to one in his eye.  A hospital bed had been brought into the house because there wasn't anything the hospital could do anymore.

I was so excited to tell him I'd me Phillies Rookie of the Year Scott Rolen at an autograph show but he was unable to see the picture with it's signature.  After a few days of being home he couldn't seem to place who I was.  But, he knew I had gotten "too big".  He couldn't recall my mother's name but knew she was his wife.  He didn't want his morphine and kept trying to tug out his oxygen tube. It wasn't long before he fell into a catatonic state.

Until. . .

On December 24, 1997 the doctors told my mother to call the family and the priest came to the house.  My mother had the four of us kids go to mass on our own and I remember sitting there huddled with my brothers and sister - unsure of what we were going to come home to. 

Until. . .

On December 25, 1997 he woke up.  He wasn't speaking and couldn't even move much.  But he was aware.  He showed as much excitement as he could over our gifts  My sister showed him this and that and he nodded as best he could.  All was well.

Until. . .

My mother's brother and his family were coming for dinner on December 26.  The kids hadn't seen my father in quite some time and they wanted to see him before he passed.  But, they didn't make it in time.  While they were driving up from their home in South Jersey my father lost his battle with cancer.

Everything changes when you're father dies when you're still in your teens but you push on the best you can and do the best you can.

Since then I've had two "abnormal" moles removed but both have come back benign.  I take very good care of my skin and am very careful about the sun.  I wear a very high SPFm have UV hats, and limit my time outside.  People come up to me and ask if I'm sick or comment on how pale I am.  While my father was what is known as "black Irish" - darker complexion, darker hair, and dark eyes.  My complexion is full on Irish - pale, pale, pale.  But, you know what?  I may be pale but most everyone I meet things I'm at least ten years younger than I actually am.  I'll take that.

Today's "inspection" went off without a hitch and I am pleased to report that nothing concerning was discovered.  The doctor was surprised to hear I had been in Los Angeles and Las Vegas only a few weeks ago.  You'd never know it by the state of my skin.

So, this is my PSA.  Take care of your skin.  Sun is good for you but too much can cause lots of damage.  So, as we wander deeper into spring and as summer approaches make sure you've packed a good bottle of sunscreen lotion (don't buy the spray - you're just inhaling aluminum and nobody wants that).  Get all your spots - top of the feet, ears, neck.  And get some sunscreen chapstick - Blistex makes one that's SPF 30.

But, no matter how careful I am one of those childhood sunburns could still rear it's ugly head.

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