PhotoStory Friday
Hosted by Cecily and MamaGeek

I am so honored to have another touching skin cancer survivor story to share with you. I met Clare of Clare’s Clique, blog surfing and when I came across her story I knew that it deserved to be shared with all of the UV Skinz readers! I have to add that the feedback we received from last week’s Photo Story Friday was amazing–Thank You!

So, let’s get to know Clare and her Clique!…

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1. How long have you been blogging? and why did you start?

I’ve only been blogging since the summer of 2008.  My husband and I had just relocated back to Wisconsin where we grew up after living for several years in New Jersey.  My sisters and friends had been blogging for awhile and I finally decided it would be a great way to connect with friends and family near and far away.  I’m not into scrapbooking, but thought this would be a fun and modern way to organize and record memories and stories about my family.
2. Tell me why you chose Clare’s Clique as your blog name?
Honestly, I liked the alliteration.  I wanted a clever name that was original. And my family is my little clique that I will be a part of always.

3. Is there an inspirational quote or song that keeps you moving forward and gives you strength in your life?
My maternal grandparents and my mother always used the phrase, “Rise above it”.  That phrase has been one I have recited over and over throughout different phases of my life.  It can apply to any obstacle.  When I was diagnosed with malignant melanoma, I remember telling myself that phrase over and over again.  I did not want the melanoma to define me; I just wanted it to be a phase I would go through and it would be over.  I was fortunate that I caught it in the early stages.  Now when I have to return for skin checks or blood work I find myself reciting that phrase.  It reminds me to live as an optimist.  I am well aware that though I caught it in the early stages, melanoma could return months or years from now or manifest in another type of cancer.  So I try to “rise above it” and keep going.  The other quote I live by is from Abraham Lincoln:  “Whatever you are, be a good one.”  I like it because it reminds me to be good in every aspect of my life, whether as a parent, professional, wife, daughter, sister or friend.  Life is dynamic and since we are constantly changing and growing and experiencing different relationships and roles, we should strive to be good in each and every one.

4. What is the best advice you can give to someone who thinks that skin cancer can’t happen to them?
I wish I could talk to every teenage girl and show them my scar.  Tanning is so detrimental to your skin, yet so many teenage girls think it is necessary to tan to look beautiful.  I was often teased at a young age because I wasn’t tan.  I grew up merely blocks from a beach on the shores of Lake Michigan, but I thought I was careful.  Being fair-skinned I was prone to sunburns so I wore sunblock and sunscreen.  And playing tennis during high school exposed me to the sun.  But I never went to tanning salons and I didn’t lay out on the beach to get a tan.  I was told at age 18 that I had “dysplastic nevi” which is the medical term for abnormal, but benign looking moles.  I had nearly 10 questionable moles removed from my back.  Nearly 15 years later I was diagnosed with malignant melanoma and had cancerous tissue removed from my left leg resulting in 22 stitches.  But I am alive.  And I wish the teenage girls that lay on the beach and seek out that ultimate tan think of me and others who have had melanoma.  Ten years from now this could easily be them.
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Here is my cancer story:

This May is the two year anniversary when I was diagnosed with malignant Melanoma. May also happens to be National Skin Cancer Awareness Month. So I thought it would be fitting to dedicate a post to this cause. Most of my close friends and family know my story. It is not something I necessarily want to re-live on the post, but considering the outcome has been positive thus far (with a few bumps along the way so to speak) I will keep it simple and as understated as it deserves to be.

When I was pregnant with Quinn I noticed a new mole on my leg. When you are as fair-skinned as I am it is easy to spot new moles. After I had Quinn I noticed the mole was extremely dark and asymmetrical. I was fortunate that I was well aware of the ABCD signs of moles: asymmetry, border, color, and diameter. But I had a newborn and honestly I didn’t have the time to worry about me. Then one morning I was watching the Today show, as I always do. They had a piece on skin cancer. It alarmed me enough to find a dermatologist and make an appointment. I was lucky enough to get in in a couple weeks as most appointments were booked several months out.

So, I trekked to the doctor with a three year old and nearly four-month old in tow along with diaper bags and all the necessities to keep the kids occupied while I had a biopsy on my questionable mole. I wasn’t nervous when the doctor mentioned taking a biopsy. Having had many moles checked over in my lifetime, I have had many moles biopsied and all the results came back normal.

We left the doctor and I was convinced I would receive a postcard in the mail indicating the results were normal and recommending a skin check in another year. You can imagine my complete shock and surprise when my doctor called me later that week. I remember checking my caller ID and seeing my doctor’s name and phone number, but again I wasn’t even remotely alarmed. Maybe he just wanted to call and let me know the results were fine. Then I checked my voice mail messages and listened to him tell me to call his cell phone when I got the message. I remember it being hard to breathe and my heart racing. What doctor gives you his personal cell phone number? I dialed carefully praying the kids would stay quiet and waited til he answered the phone. And in that moment my world came crashing down around me. I barely heard anything, but the words “malignant melanoma” and “surgery” and felt like I would dissolve on the floor right then and there. The doctor kept repeating that this was a malignancy and then he used the word “cancer”. Nothing seemed real for me at that moment.

All I knew was that I had cancer.

My body had betrayed me.

I had no idea if the cancer had metastasized and tried to think if I had any other symptoms. It was just a stupid mole. How could that little mole give me cancer? Well to make a long story even longer, I had surgery and had the tissue removed from my leg. I went back in for regular skin checks and to have the doctor assess any abnormalities in my lymph nodes every three months. Then after my year anniversary of the diagnosis I was able to go in for skin checks every six months and blood tests every year. I am healthy; I am happy. And I wanted to share my experience to make others aware of the dangers of sun exposure. I wore sunscreen quite regularly. I did not sunbathe or go to tanning salons. I was aware of the dangers of sunburns. Yet, I still became one of 62,000 people diagnosed every year with the most dangerous form of skin cancer, malignant melanoma. But I am here, I am fine and I hope other people will heed my warning. Use sunscreen regularly, watch your sun exposure even when using sunscreen, and use the ABCD guide when looking at moles. And if you have any question at all, make an appointment with a dermatologist. Don’t wait until it is too late. I caught my melanoma in the earliest stages and though there is always a possibility the melanoma could return, I am diligent in knowing what to look for.

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