Tuesday, January 29, 2013

This Time Last Year

I'm getting really excited about the up and coming Melanoma Educational Symposium put on by Melanoma Research Foundation and UNC, Chapel Hill Division of Surgical Oncology.  I figure that must sound a little strange to get charged up by something like that, but since my first diagnosis, I tend to find all things melanoma quite interesting.

There are two reasons I'm feeling the adrenaline pump through my body as I near this event.  First, I am a seeker of knowledge, and love the opportunity to learn new things whenever I can.  Second (and more embarrassingly), I am being given the chance to experience this event differently than I did last year.

So, here's how it went a year ago....

I get to the event, pen and notebook in hand, not really knowing what to expect.  I choose my seat (in the front, of course), surrounded mostly by very old people.  I spot my surgical oncologist (he's running the show) and watch him prepare to start the symposium.  I'm brimming with excitement at this point.

During the presentations, I was writing down everything, listening intently, with my eyes wide open, in total awe of these people presenting.  I know that if I saw my own face during this moment, I'd look like some star-struck girl watching the Academy Awards in the front row.  I was most enthralled by the Dr. Georgina Long from the Melanoma Institute Australia .  She's brilliant, beautiful, articulate.......I could go on and on.

While sitting, listening, and writing, I happened upon a piece of information that was pretty much my admission ticket to a ride I had NO idea about.  I saw these words: Tomorrow is the melanoma symposium for DOCTORS.  FOR DOCTORS!  And with that nugget of info, my mind was rocketed into another dimension (one you might call, Crazy Town!).

No, I am NOT a doctor....well, maybe about as much of a doctor as Doctor Dan the Bandage Man,but at that moment in time, my thoughts went like this:  Dude!  If hearing these doctors speak today is so amazing, just imagine what tomorrow's event will be like. MORE opportunity to learn.  MORE time to hear Dr. Long.  MORE questions to be asked.  Just.....MORE.

Yep, my brain sometimes (often) thinks that if something is good, than much more of it is even better!  As Aristotle said, "All men (and women) by nature desire knowledge."  And for me, that is true.  However, I did not know what I was about to get myself into...with this idea of mine.

Fast forward to the next day...DOCTOR symposium.  I'm here....ready to learn all that the doctors know.  First of all, the looks on some of the faces when I walked in, were far from welcoming.  I saw a mother of one of my son's friends who is a doctor and was presenting...she looked at me puzzled, and said, "I didn't know you were a physician."  I giggled uncomfortably and said, "Oh, I'm not."

Quickly, I began to feel like an I Love Lucy episode, where Lucy gets herself into some crazy situation and right away, begins to notice there may be something wrong with the picture.  

Once the presentations began, I knew I had made a mistake.  The information given was so overwhelming, so scary, so depressing.  I was having such cognitive dissonance over it all, because on the one hand, I wanted to know EVERYTHING...yet on the other hand, I was starting to get queazy and not feel good (a vasovagal response beginning!), knowing that leaving was probably best.  
my notes

I did end up leaving before it ended...well, really, I ended up running out of there, with sweaty palms and a racing heart.  

Knowledge is power, however, there is a fine line between knowing and knowing too much.  For each of us, that line is different.  It's important to locate that balance and make use of it.  

Today, I know that I have a strong need to know, but at the same time, I also know that I don't need to know everything.  Next week, when I attend the MRF Melanoma Symposium, I will savor what is offered to me at the PATIENT session, and will not go near the DOCTOR session....yet another chance to witness personal growth.  Yippeeeee.

"You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough."
~William Blake

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

HOW Can We Teach Them? Benjamin Franklin Knows!

How do we teach children and young adults about sun safety and really get through to them?  I think about this a lot, as the question presents many challenges on various levels.  Today, I came across a quote I find brilliant, by Benjamin Franklin that, for me,seems to provide a great place to start...

"Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn."

I am a teacher by trade.  I attended Columbia University Teachers College for graduate school, which, luckily for me, was rooted heavily in a hands-on learning approach. I'm not a "traditional" learner.  I need to be active in the process, able to be creative, and engaged in the act of making something meaningful.  That's how I learn best. 

Every one of us learns differently.  And, as Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner states, there are many different ways we learn, involving multiple intelligences.  One of these intelligence types is musical intelligence.  

Recently, I worked with my daughter on a way to spread the sun safety message via music.  My household happens to be chock-full o' musicians, and therefore music is a huge part of our everyday life.  My thoughts, when grappling with the challenge of how to reach our children in terms of melanoma awareness, gravitated right to...song!  

Let's create a song...something catchy...something simple...something that others can learn, share, and enjoy.  Let's make this engaging and interactive for those we are trying to reach.  And so, my daughter and I worked to compile lyrics to the cup song (from Pitch Perfect, the movie).  Now, I know I will never be able to learn how to do the cup rhythm part...as that is NOT how my brain works, but, I can tell you that I have not stopped singing this song (much to my husband's dismay).

Check it out...

My daughter's friend (a TEEN!)was beyond thrilled to participate in this endeavor..and now she too is singing this song all over the place!  If this type of song is not your cup of tea, a punk version is coming soon from my son's band, The Hissy Fits (also TEENS!).  Yup!

We must think in terms of casting the widest net possible, when it comes to educating young people about practicing safe sun.  Reaching them all feels like a daunting task, but if each of us uses our talents to create ways to engage youngsters, encompassing as many learning modalities as we can, we are bound to spread the message.

Respect the Rays has created an "event" on Facebook to get as many people as possible singing this Respect the Rays cup song message. On Wednesday, February 6th, Sing It! will take place!  Our hope is that all across the globe, we can all sing out to teach!  Go to the Sing It! event page and sign up to "attend"...share the event...learn the lyrics...and spread awareness!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Children Are Brilliant. Their Questions Are Remarkable.

I've always been the type of person who is awestruck by the things that my kids ask me.  Even a simple question from one of them can get my mind going in ways I had no idea were possible.  And then sometimes, there are those insanely deep, endlessly complex, unanswerable questions that come.  Those are the moments when my feet halt, my heart seems to pause, and my brain comes to a standstill...for a split second.

I had one of those experiences recently.  On December 29th, I was sitting on a beach, under an umbrella, with a big hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, and a long sleeve  UPF shirt, watching my daughter play in the ocean.  She looked so carefree, smiling, finding joy in simplest acts- jumping, running, splashing.

I decided to take a "quick peek" at Facebook.  It was then I learned that a melanoma warrior very close to my heart, had ended her journey here on Earth.  NO!  I'm sure I yelled out loud.  Jillian, the brave, inspiring, 23 year old was now with wings.  I cried.  I watched my daughter and cried more, feeling so broken hearted for Jillian's mother, Susan,  a woman I have come to love and admire so much. And right there, I remembered something from one of Susan's blog posts...I remembered that she had asked her own father, before he passed away, to watch for Jillian in Heaven...and that thought was very comforting.  The idea that she was being greeted by her grandfather was calming.

My whole family "knows" Jillian.  My kids walked "with Jillian" at the AIM at Melanoma walk, Jillian and Susan "are in" my office...

I knew telling my kids about Jillian's passing would be difficult...probably more of a challenge for me than them.  Kids are so amazing.  

With Ella, we were walking along the beach, holding hands and I decided to tell her that Jillian had gone to Heaven.  She stopped.  She looked at me....and said, "She's gone?  Just like that?  That's it?  But she was so young."  And I responded, "Yes, her body is gone, but so much of her is still with us and will be forever.  She was so young; you are right. And now it's our turn to educate people the best we can to help prevent others from going through this."  We started to walk again...and she said, "I'm so sad."  I nodded and told her I felt the same way, squeezed her hand a little tighter and told her how much I love her.

With my sons (teens), it went like this...
Aidan was silent.  That was his reaction.  Just a sullen look.  Oh how I wish I knew what was going on in that mind.
Max said what I think some think they are "supposed to" say, "I'm sorry, Mom.  That's really sad."  But then I could see in his eyes the wheels were turning...no words...just thoughts...and then came the question!  "Hey Mom, how is it that you know about Jillian and not the other 25 who may have passed away today from melanoma?"

Now there's a whole topic that can be explored- the idea of sharing one's journey.  We all have our ways of dealing with our cancer, and for some of us it's sharing our experience in hopes of educating others.  For some, that is not part of the path.  The same day Max asked me that, I got a private message from someone who wrote to tell me she loves the Respect the Rays page and what it provides for her, but that she can not "like" the page because no one knows about her cancer, except for her husband.  It's ALL ok, whatever we choose.  To answer Max's question, I told him just that- that some of us chose to share the journey, and that Susan decided to share Jillian's journey via Jilly's Jems and Jillian Hayes~Fall Seven Times, Stand Up Eight on Facebook and through her blog Jillian's Journey with Melanoma- A Mother's Story.

Jillian, her baby niece, & Susan

With this sharing from Jillian and Susan, I have learned so much about courage, grace, faith, love, and a deeper meaning into the proverb "fall seven times, stand up eight".  I love you, Jillian and Susan!

"Rest high above the clouds, no restrictions......" 
~Dave Matthews, Satellite