Before my dermatology appointment, I stopped to get a quick manicure. I'm not really sure why I feel the need to tell you that I get manicures for "medical" reasons...meaning, that if I don't, I bite my nails with great vivacity, which in turn gives me severe headaches. Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to duck out of having vanity issues, because, yes, I've got some of those, but my nails are not one of them. Ok, now that we got that out of the way...
So, I was sitting near a young, cute girl, who was getting some type of fake nails that utilize the UV lights as part of the process. I looked at her. She was very tan. I was assuming she was a tanning bed goer, but could not be sure unless I asked...and I didn't want to just flat out ask...so instead, out of my mouth came, "You know those lights you are putting your hands under, are like little tanning beds sort of?" And she smiled and said, "Yeah, that's ok, after this I'm going over there..." pointing to the tanning salon.
Perfect! She said it! I didn't have to ask! That was the lead in. And there began our conversation. We talked. I asked her questions. I told her about me, and that I was on my way to my dermatology appointment, showing her the scar on my arm, etc. She asked questions. I learned a lot. And I hope she leaned something too.
These dialogs are very important. Both sides (those that know the truth about melanoma, and those who don't) need to listen. As Earnest Hemingway said, "I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen." We need to listen to those who don't know, so we can better educate them. For me, the hope is that I can listen and learn, and so can the other person. It's imperative we understand what people don't know.
In thinking about this interaction on my drive to the cancer center, I drew some conclusions. Here's what I learned:
~It's not just teens that think nothing bad can ever happen to them. This beautiful young woman was 26, and told me (BEFORE I explained what melanoma was), "I can't live my life like that, worrying about everything." At first, I thought to myself, "WTF!?"...but then realized that it took me until I was 38 to realize that bad things can happen to me!
~So many people really do NOT understand what melanoma is! When she said that she "knew tanning was bad for her", I asked her if she could explain exactly what about it was bad or what could happen. She had NO idea death was a possibility! NONE! When I asked, "Oh, do you think it's just about the skin, and that if you get cancer, they just cut it off and it's done?" And she said yes. Right...I too used to think that.
~People are willing to listen. This woman was very engaged in our dialogue. She had questions. She was extremely present (one might find this evident by the look on her face when I mentioned that melanoma can spread to your liver, lungs, and brain)! It's what comes after the listening that I'm not sure about. My hope is that she heard something that made a difference in her future choices, in terms of tanning. I used to "listen" to people tell me that laying out was bad, but I never actually listened. The word "bad" was not enough. No one ever told me about the disease of melanoma. I learned about it after I was diagnosed.
It is critical that the disease of melanoma be explained to the public...that awareness be raised. A dialogue is one way to do just that. Today, that was my way.
With the month of May fast-approaching, which happens to be melanoma awareness month, it's time to get active with awareness raising! There are tons of ways to do this; it does not have to come in the form of a presentation at a school, or a conversation. It can be by "attending" The Melanoma Prayer Center's Facebook Event, or by participating in a walk, donating to research, posting Dear 16 Year Old Me to your Facebook wall, etc...What I'm saying is...DO SOMETHING...because you can!
What will you be doing to raise awareness?