Today is a day dubbed “Melanoma Monday,” by a group seeking to raise awareness about sun safety, not just for anglers, but for everyone.
Here’s the thing about melanoma, and all skin cancers for that matter: When you get diagnosed, it hits your life, and the lives of your family, like a ton of bricks.
This isn’t the type of illness where you’ve smoked for years and part of you saw it coming. We’re not talking about people who aren’t… we’ll say… “nutrition conscious” and know that sooner or later it’s going to catch up with them. Those types of cancers or illnesses, while devastating and unfortunate, are like car accidents that occur when someone’s speeding and running red lights: You hope like hell they don’t happen, but at the same time you’re aware to some degree that they might.
Melanoma is not like that. And I’ll stipulate here, that yes, there are people out there tanning on a regular basis to achieve that perfect glow. They’re not the people I’m talking about here. I’m talking about anglers and outdoorsmen who just consider sunscreen as something to “maybe put on if they happen to remember.”
I’ll share my family’s story, not for sympathy, but because I believe it’s one that many families probably share, and one that we need to prevent at all costs.
My father, a hapless driver, was in a minor car accident at the age of 74. It was nothing serious, a fender bender, but they asked him to allow some X-rays just to make sure nothing was broken.
Nothing was broken. There was, however, melanoma spread throughout his body: Stage IV. As many of you know, there’s no Stage V, unless it’s Heaven.
That is how you get told you have six months to live. You’re in a fender bender, doctors run some tests, and then you’re having the most grave, terrifying conversation of your life with a doctor. You’re consoling your wife and calling your son with the news. I’ll remember that phone call forever, just sitting on the stairs of my Red Bank apartment, holding my phone in my hand, wondering how to phrase the news to my then girlfriend, wondering if I should drive home immediately, wondering if it were a dream, wondering if I could just go back to sleep and wake up and have it not be real.
But this is not a story of sadness, the human condition is not despair, the default emotion, for all of us, if we can maintain it, is hope. My father’s hope turned a six-month death sentence into two-plus more years of life.
My tattoos tell a story I am too shy to share, and my first one was four Gaelic words surrounding a cross and a shamrock (our family’s maternal side are Gillorens from Kilorglin, Ire.). One of those words is Dochas, which means, and I’ll quote directly here: “Hope: bringing faith to the future.”
Until we are broken, that is our default emotion that, despite whatever hardship, we return to again and again: Dochas… hope… faith in the future. And that’s what I’ll summon today, Melanoma Monday… faith that we are ever closer to the cure.