Over the past month I’ve spoken with and learned more about Joe Fornear; a former pastor, founder of My Stronghold Ministry and Stage 4 Melanoma survivor.  His story of perseverance, faith and human struggle is outlined in his book titled My Stronghold. You can also enter to win Joe’s book by entering the giveaway! So, I wanted to end the week with a personal expression from Joe about his struggle and survival of Melanoma. I asked him some questions and this is what he had to share. I hope you find inspiration…

Was tanning or sunbathing a significant factor in your developing melanoma?
Many of my childhood memories revolve around our annual vacation at Conneaut Lake amusement park in Pennsylvania. I would play in the sand and sun for hours, always getting badly sunburned; it was a rite of summer. I sunbathed in high school a little, but mostly I overdosed on uv rays during years of fishing, baseball, and outdoor construction work.

How has your life changed since you were first diagnosed?
I don’t take good health for granted anymore. I eat better, sleep more, work less, and seek to let go of my stress to God. I am blessed to be alive, having had Stage IV metastatic melanoma, which spread to my stomach, omentum, lung, kidney, pancreas, pelvis and many lymph nodes. As a result, in May of 2003, my oncologist gave me days to live. I am thankful God healed me and got me through the emotional trauma of the ordeal. I’ve been cancer free for seven and a half years. In 2008, my wife and I founded a ministry called Stronghold Ministry (www.mystronghold.org), to help cancer patients in their battles. We now comfort others with the comfort we received in our battle.

Is there an inspiration quote or song that gives you strength? 
My fierce battle with cancer shook my self-confidence; I no longer consider myself bullet proof. During the battle, I learned more about my weaknesses than my strengths. Stage IV melanoma was bigger than me, but not bigger than God. He carried me through, and when I felt like I was losing my grip, I found He had a grip on me. So my faith has now become even more important to me. One of my favorite Bible verses is Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Jesus Christ Who strengthens me.” For me, there is no match for God’s supernatural strength to cope with life!

What is the best advice you can give to someone who thinks that skin cancer can’t happen to them? 
The more self-assured you are that you won’t get skin cancer, the less precautions you will take. The less precautions you take, the more vulnerable you are. Trust me, don’t throw caution to the wind, you do not want to get melanoma. It is a brutal disease. And please realize that melanoma affects all races and skin tones; no one is exempt. It can also show up in unexpected places, like the eye, finger & toenails, the soles of your feet, even in places your bathing suit covers. A very small melanoma lesion can cause a world of trouble. My father passed away from Stage IV metastatic melanoma, and the lesion on his back was hard to find. Melanoma can skip Stage I on the surface of the skin, and travel directly to lymph nodes and internal organs. My melanoma traveled directly to a lump under my arm. It was misdiagnosed for almost three months. My family doctor said, “Whatever it is, it’s not cancer. It’s too soft; it’s just a cyst.” So always get a doctor’s second opinion for any lumps or lingering lesions on your body. The sun can be really fun… in moderate doses.