Life, death and love: seeking light in the darkness

Love and light give life meaning.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and staff- they comfort me.  - Psalm 23:4

I read this today in my Daily Word. The affirmation was “The peace of God comforts me.” I was crying out for comfort on Facebook the other day, saying I wish I had a Jewish mother to feed me matzoh ball soup. Seems like God is speaking out to me, letting me know She’s my Jewish mother.

I’ve talked before about the deaths of friends to cancer. The past few weeks have been especially brutal. I learned that Peter Devereaux, a shining example of courage, kindness and love passed away. His story is one that I share in my upcoming book, Miracle Survivors. Sadly he will not get to see it published or his teenage daughter graduate high school. Then I just happened onto another friend’s Facebook page to learn she passed away two days previously (Sept. 11). Patti Hoffman was only 44 and left behind two young boys. This week, one of my dearest friends, Giuseppa Robinson, has entered hospice care. She’s only 41 and has a six-year-old son.

I’m finding the only people who can really understand being surrounded by this tornado-like force of mortality are fellow stage IV cancer survivors (and people who love them), soldiers in battle, and older adults.  The rest of the world seems oblivious to all this dying. I started doubting my own mission. How can I write about hope when all of these people are dying?

The answer is this: Even in the darkness, there is light. It is about how each person lives life, no matter it’s length, that brightens this world and makes life worth living. I’m halfway through Viktor E. Frankl’s amazing book, Man’s Search for Meaning. A holocaust survivor and psychiatrist, Frankl shares how even in the midst of the most horrible circumstances, some people found ways to hang on to their humanity. One man walked from barrack to barrack to comfort newcomers. Another man shared his meager piece of bread with others. And then were some prisoners who, to get more privileges, served as guards and viciously tortured inmates.

Among so many profound quotes, Frankl states, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way … “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.”

So what is that purpose? Is it writing a best-selling book? Raising millions of dollars for cancer research? It doesn’t have to be something grand, and you don’t have to be famous. There is meaning and purpose is in how we love each other. As Frankl observes, “The truth – that Love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire.”

When I was first diagnosed with stage IV cancer in Feb. 2008, a  woman who was dying of breast cancer told me, “Don’t hang around cancer survivors. Hang around with ‘normal’ people.” I’m so glad I didn’t take her advice. For it’s in the very act of loving and supporting each other that gives life meaning. It’s excruciating to lose friends, but I would not trade these friendships for anything. They have been the most intense friendships I’ve ever had. We all share the challenges and joy of living life in the midst of uncertainty. Of loving our family and friends, knowing there is no guarantee how long we’ll be there for them. Of the gratitude for simple things that many people take for granted.

It has given my life a sense of purpose by sharing stories of these individuals who have made such a mark in the world simply by how they choose to live their lives in the midst of such adversity. It has given me hope and inspiration. And if I’ve helped anyone with my work, I know I have chosen the right path.

 



Happy fifth anniversary to Miracle Survivors!

Raising a glass to five years of blogging!

I realized that today marks five years since I started my blog! On Sept. 11, 2009, I stuck my toe into the blogosphere with a blog post titled, “This blog has landed.” I was going to share the post, but I can’t find it! One of my plans is to make some changes to the blog to make it more searchable and freshen the design.

So what was it like five years ago when I started Miracle Survivors? Here’s an excerpt from a post on Sept. 28, 2009:

I just returned from the oncologist who reported my scan results. My bone scan was clear, but  the PET scan showed some of the pesky spots came back in my armpit and one on my liver. He said on a scale of 1 – 100, the amount of cancer was a five, and he feels confident that we will again knock this back into remission. I’ll be getting chemo once a week for six weeks, then 2 weeks off and another six weeks. Then I’ll get scanned again.

Mike, my husband, and I found out that one of the nation’s leading breast cancer oncologists is two hours away from here. We plan on going for a second opinion. Linda, someone who has seen her share of chemo visits and is very involved in the breast cancer advocacy, shared his number. This is another perk of being in the chemo suite – seeing people like Linda perservere.

While Linda and I were chatting, a lovely young woman named Heather approached her.  I noticed Heather walked on crutches, then looked down and saw she had only one leg.  Linda was joking with her about being  all over the news lately. Heather earned this publicity by being the top fund-raiser at our local Komen Foundation Race for the Cure.

When I started interviewing survivors for my book, I thought people in remission were the only “miracle survivors.” Now I know the miracle is not in the scan results but in the person. It’s not what the results say, but the results you accomplish in life.

Looking back on this, I was struck by a couple of things. One was the PET scan results ( I no longer have spots in my armpit and liver, but do have some more pesky spots in my abdominal area) and the power of my oncologist’s optimism. That is one reason why I have stuck with him all of these years. Two, both Linda and Heather passed away a few years ago. Which brings me to the last line , which really sums up my mission and what I’m trying to convey in my books and this blog. I’ve had many friends pass away over the years, including a few that are featured in my books. Does that make them any less than miracles? Did they somehow lose their battles? Absolutely not. Their very essence and the mark they have left on the world and those who loved them — that’ s what makes them incredible.

I was learning about the power of connection, hope and practical things like getting second opinions even way back then. Much has transpired  over the last five years – too much to sum up in a brief blog post. I am grateful I am still here to write this blog  and that you have come along for the ride. It is my vision to do a 10th anniversary post … if they still have blogs then!

 



It takes a village to save your life

Some fellow advanced breast cancer survivors and I at a recent gathering

Sometimes I get down on myself for being on Facebook so much, and my family teases me about it, too. Granted sometimes I’m watching silly cat and dog videos, but I was reminded this week of the importance of the connections I’ve made, especially with other stage IV survivors. A very dear friend of mine who has stage IV, triple negative breast cancer has been declining for months and is now facing a life-threatening crisis. Her local oncologist has given up on her and told her, “Well you’ve put up a good fight …” She was basically telling my friend to go home and die. My friend  has a six-year-old son and still wants to fight, but she was feeling too sick and overwhelmed to direct her care the way it needed to be.

I felt helpless, wondering what I could do for her. Then I remembered I belong to several groups on Facebook dedicated to stage IV breast cancer. I posted on all of them, asking if they could recommend an oncologist/cancer center that specialized in triple negative breast cancer. Right away I received responses from all kinds of people, most I didn’t even know. And thanks to our  friend, Darlene Gant, another stage IV sister who advocates for other patients through H.O.P.E organization, we narrowed down the options for my friend and her husband. Darlene helped with setting up the appointments, providing intake information,  and gave her husband, step-by-step actions they need to take to get the ball moving ASAP. They now have a plan in place and a bit of hope.

This illustrates the power of social media and connections. There is much to learn from other cancer survivors who know the ropes and can help point you in the right direction. In this instance, it was helping find the best oncologists, genomic testing, and clinical trials. Online networking and meeting others at various cancer conferences have  helped save my life several times. Four years ago, through Nancy Hamm (who was in my first book), I learned about Selective Internal Radiation Therapy, a procedure which involved aiming radioactive beads directly to my liver tumor. Knock on wood, it has never come back. Another friend, Krysti Hughett, told me about bctrials.org, which has kept me in the loop about breast cancer clinical trials. I could go on and on.

It comes down to this: it takes a village to save your life when you have metastatic cancer or any other life-threatening disease. You cannot do it alone or just depend on the recommendations of one doctor. They can make mistakes and they are busy with other patients. No one is as invested in saving your life more than you. We get several estimates when doing a home repair. Isn’t your life more important than your house?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it is vital to be your own advocate! Network with others online and at conferences and support groups, do research, get second, third opinions — before it gets to the point that you are out of options and your life is in peril. At all times, have a Plan B and C in your back pocket so you aren’t sitting shell-shocked in your doctor’s office when you’re told your treatment is no longer working.

In my friend’s case, her doctor was going to give her a chemo drug that almost certainly wasn’t going to work,  just to appease her — one that would most likely put her very compromised liver into failure. I’ve seen too many friends fall into this trap. Remember, you are in the driver’s seat.

The unique fellowship of the cancer community is hard to describe to those who haven’t experienced it. But it’s one of the biggest blessings I’ve found in the six and a half years of living with stage IV breast cancer. Remember, you are not alone.

Some resources:

  • http://www.canceravenues.com/
  • www.inspire.com
  • http://www.advancedbreastcancercommunity.org/
  • http://mbcn.org/ (Metastatic Breast Cancer Alliance)
  • Thriving with advanced metastatic stage 4 breast cancer (closed Facebook group, must ask to join)
  • http://www.beatlivertumors.org/
  • http://www.annieappleseedproject.org/



Why I take care of myself

My cat AJ; now he's living the life of Riley!

Today I was talking to another cancer survivor who happens to work two jobs. He asked what I was doing today, and I mentioned I was doing a blog post and going for a swim. “Boy you’re living the life of Riley!” was his reply. According to Wikipedia this expression “suggests an ideal contented life, possibly living on someone else’s money, time or work. Rather than a negative freeloading or gold-digging aspect, it implies that someone is kept or advantaged.” Yeah, right.

I thought about the comment when I was swimming and I started to feel guilty. Then I remembered that swimming and other exercise is essential for my health. It’s not just for fun. I am doing everything in my power to stay alive and healthy. My last job caused me so much stress, I don’t doubt it was a contributor to the breast cancer coming back as stage 4.  Let’s face it, when you are faced with such a diagnosis, it really puts things into perspective. My life depends on it;  that’s why I eat (mostly) healthy, exercise, seek support, and say ‘no’ to many things that are negative and draining. I’m not going to pussyfoot around with my health any longer.

Yes, I’m lucky my husband earns a decent living. We live modestly but we do travel because we value having experiences together rather than material things. I take care of my family, and help and support other survivors while getting ready to launch my book, Miracle Survivors.  In my spare time, I’m searching the Internet or traveling for second opinions for the next best treatment to save my life. Yet with all this going on, I know my first job is to take care of myself and manage stress. I’ve learned that the hard way.

We all have stress in our lives, but does stress cause cancer? Everyday we are exposed to carcinogens, but a healthy immune system usually fights it off. Research shows that stress can depress the immune system and its ability to fight off disease. In an article on PsychCentral, Dr. Lorenzo Cohen, PhD, assistant professor of behavioral sciences at the University of Texas, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center , says stress might be one of many factors associated with cancer. While we can do our best to avoid stressful situations, we can never escape it completely. It’s how we manage it that makes a difference.  Often when people are under pressure, they stop exercising, eat poorly or even start smoking, all which can make the body more friendly to cancer. For others it’s a wake-up call to lead more healthy lifestyles and live their life’s purpose.

The tricky thing about stage 4 cancer is most people can’t tell you have it. There are so many of us walking around with full heads of hair and carrying on with our daily activities. But beneath the surface there is a lot brewing. Living the life of Riley? Hardly. But I’m very grateful to be alive and feeling well enough to take care of myself and also help others.

This post is in memory of Peter Devereaux, an amazing human being, advocate for male breast cancer and loving father and husband. Last week, Pete lost his life to the beast that is metastatic breast cancer . The world lost a shining example of courage, love and generosity. I share Pete’s story in my upcoming book, Miracle Survivors, due out Nov. 4. In the meantime, his wife Fiona contributed to this loving tribute to him in their local paper. Please keep his family and friends in your prayers.

 



Company spreading awareness, advancing research for metastatic breast cancer

I love NY and the great cancer drug developments for MBC!

Last week I had a bit of an adventure. I joined four other bloggers in NYC to serve on Novartis Pharmaceuticals Advanced Breast Cancer Advisory Board. The company flew me in the night before, and I had a couple of hours to explore the city, then dine with a fellow board participant Kathleen O’Brien, who also serves on the board of the Metastatic Breast Cancer Network (MBCN).

The next day, we met with members of the PR/Marketing team and Dr. Steven Stein, SVP, US Clinical Development and Medical Affairs. They gave each of us plenty of time to share our stories and views about living with stage 4 breast cancer. And they asked us a lot of good questions. There’s a lot of bad press associated with “Big Pharma,” but it was evident they really wanted to gain understanding and help bring more awareness to MBC, both for patients and the public at large.

In the morning, Dr.Stein shared information about targeted therapies the company is developing. I just so happen to be on one of them – Afinitor, which inhibits a target called mTOR,  a signaling pathway that is highly active in many cancer cells including cells of the breast.

Another promising target is PI3-kinase, a protein that also plays a role in cell proliferation. Novartis has two PI3-kinase inhibitors on trial right now and a trial for another target — Cell division protein kinase 6 (CDK6)with the drug letrozole.

One of the frustrations about clinical trials is that often people with MBC or other stage 4 cancers are not eligible if they have been on previous treatments. Novartis has developed the Signature Program, which accepts patients based on genetic mutations, regardless of previous treatments. Patients must get tested for the presence of the relevant genetic changes in their tumor. Once the results of this molecular testing are received and verified, they will be advanced to Novartis’ board of experts who will rule on their eligibility to be treated with a relevant drug, based on the molecular ‘blueprint’ of the tumor.

The company also  has a website devoted to advanced cancer and is planning a campaign to raise awareness of MBC and Metastatic Breast Cancer Day on Oct. 13. And they have a list of resources for financial assistance, including their own program, on their advanced breast cancer website.

I left the meeting feeling very hopeful that we are finally getting to the point where targeted treatments will be available soon to help help people with  MBC and other stage 4 cancers  live longer and better. I am living proof of that. To find out about Novartis SIGNATURE trials, visit http://www.signaturetrial.com/. To learn more about MBC and join the advanced breast cancer community, CLICK HERE.

 



Cancer and depression: both are life-threatening diseases

Robin Williams' tragic death has shed a spotlight on mental health.

For a lot of reasons, Robin Williams’ death by suicide has deeply affected me.  Both my father and brother ended their lives as a result of the same disease Robin had: bipolar/manic depression. I have also suffered from depression (but thankfully not bi-polar disease) in the past. It was not to the point of wanting to end my life, but debilitating enough that living my life was a chore.

My husband Mike and I were talking last night about how awful it was around 18 years ago when my grandma died. She raised me as a young child, and I was devastated. I could not shut off my mind and didn’t sleep for weeks on end. My appetite was gone and I lost weight. I darkly joked that it was my “depression diet.”  Nothing brought me any pleasure, even our upcoming wedding. Mike told me how frustrated and powerless he felt. And it wasn’t the first time I fell into depression. I had a few other episodes in my twenties and early thirties; the worst time was when I did not sleep for over a month. My entire body felt numb and I felt like I was under water.

All I can say is thank God for antidepressants. At first I was very afraid to get on them. I didn’t want anything mind-altering, but as my therapist explained, if I broke my arm, I’d get a cast. This wasn’t any different; depression is a physical problem, a chemical imbalance in the brain. My brain was wired for it, and no matter what I did, I couldn’t just “snap out of it.”

What Robin Williams had was much worse. Bi-polar disease is very hard to treat. They never found the right combination of drugs for my brother Mitch. My dad had his under control for decades but sadly he died two weeks after I was first diagnosed with breast cancer. He never even knew I was diagnosed. All he wanted to do was die at the same time all I wanted to do was live.

So when I learned in 2008 that cancer had returned and this time it was  stage IV breast cancer, I worried that I would once again fall into depression. I knew I couldn’t do everything in my power to fight the cancer if I was depressed. And I almost fell into depression again even with the antidepressants. For several months, I felt like I was literally climbing out of a hole. It finally lifted once I started connecting with and reaching out to others with advanced cancer. It began with this blog, then interviewing people for my book, From Incurable to Incredible. It continued with the fabulous community I found on Facebook, through my local support group, Inspire.com, and at conferences I attended. I was not alone, and I found there was hope.

According to the National Cancer Institute, depression affects 15 to 25 percent of cancer patients. This seems low, but it is important to realize that sadness, which is common when you have cancer, is different than depression. Who wouldn’t feel depressed when facing a life-threatening disease? The difference is when you can’t eventually adapt to your circumstances and symptoms continue. There are different levels of depression; some worse than others. Some signs of major/clinical depression include:

  • Fatigue or loss of energy almost every day
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt almost every day
  • Impaired concentration, indecisiveness
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia (excessive sleeping) almost every day
  • Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in almost all activities nearly every day (called anhedonia, this symptom can be indicated by reports from significant others)
  • Restlessness or feeling slowed down
  • Recurring thoughts of death or suicide
  • Significant weight loss or gain (a change of more than 5% of body weight in a month)

If you or a family member are experiencing these symptoms, know that you’re not alone and you are not to blame for how you’re feeling. Also know there is help, and you don’t have to suffer. To learn more about finding a qualified mental health professional, click HERE.

 



Help further cancer research and care … plus get a copy of my book!

This cool T-shirt and my book are just a few of the perks awarded to campaign donors.

A great thing about social media is the sharing of information and support with each other. This is especially important to people dealing with cancer. I can’t imagine how I’d get along without it, and I’ve been blessed to be able to pay it forward quite frequently! Yesterday I received my scan results that once again were stable! That makes a year and half I’ve been on the same chemo (Afinitor and Aromasin) — the longest I’ve eve r stayed on a treatment.

But if you follow my blog and/or have read my book, you know that there is a lot more to surviving cancer than medical treatment. A cancer-fighting diet, daily exercise, using safe personal care and cleaning products, receiving and giving support … they’re all part of the equation. It has been my experience that most oncologists and cancer surgeons don’t fully understand the importance of lifestyle and have little information about it. I’ve had to do my own research to learn about a truly holistic approach to living well with cancer.

With that in mind, I want to introduce you to an opportunity to help people affected by cancer live longer and have a better quality of life, while providing  doctors and researchers with valuable information to further understand the disease. Open Cancer Network (OCN) is a mobile application that connects all the players within certain chronic diseases communities –patients, caregivers, friends and family, doctors and researchers — with information such as diet, environmental exposures and more.

Co-founded by a colon cancer survivor, the patient-centered app creates a place where patients can track lifestyle factors, like fluctuations in appetite and physical activity, and connect and share highly relevant, curated content with others facing the same diagnosis. Together with the National Institute of Health, OCN has developed a comprehensive, easy-to-complete questionnaire that will help gather insights on environmental, socioeconomic, dietary and other factors as they pertain to the causation, treatment and recurrence of cancer. Through this collaboration, doctors, friends and family can opt to be notified if unusual behavioral patterns are detected; enabling early intervention. And even better, OCN correlates all this data to  provide researchers with  a greater understanding of cancer — and possibly lead  toward a cure.

The founders of Open Cancer Network are launching a fundraising campaign to expand the app, which is now available on IPhone, to the web and Android setting. I am excited that my book, From Incurable to Incredible, is one of the gifts for contributing as little as $35 to the cause (also available with other perks at the $100 level). I’ll even autograph it for you! To learn more about the project, make your donation, and view a full menu of thank you gifts/perks, CLICK HERE!

 



Escape this winter with the Thrivers Cruise!

A dolphin excursion is just one of the optional outings available on the cruise.

I celebrated my birthday in April going on the Thrivers Cruise sponsored by Breast Cancer Wellness magazine. It was amazing! How many people can say they spent their birthday floating on a tube through a beautiful cave in the Belize rain forest then going back to the ship to be serenaded with “Happy Birthday” by an international group of handsome waiters? The best part, though, was the fellowship and friendships formed with all the women in the group.

I enjoyed my experience so much I wanted to share details of the upcoming Thrivers Cruise. Mark your calendars for Jan­u­ary 22–26, 2015, for the West Coast Getaway aboard the Crown Princess. The ship sail­s out of Los Ange­les, CA for five days and four nights of fun, adventure and friendship. Packages start at $449 per person (Price does not include travel to LA,  gov’t or port fees).

Beverly Vote, editor of Breast Cancer Wellness magazine tells us of some special highlights of the cruise. “There is a TV crew coming aboard the 2015 Thrivers Cruise. They will be filming two 1 hour documentaries about the Thrivers Cruise and breast cancer survivorship! And Dr Lisa Curcio will also be joining us. She is one of the leading breast surgeons in the world. Diagnosed with breast cancer at age 37, Dr Curcio has amazing information to share with us.”

Optional shore excursions include:

•  Hol­ly­wood Walk of Fame
•  Uni­ver­sal Stu­dios
•  Lunch on Rodeo Drive
•  Wine tast­ing near Santa Bar­bara
•  Whale & dol­phin excur­sions
•  Snor­kel­ing, explor­ing, shopping

For more information, contact Connie Saunders at Total Travel and Events,  1–866-499‑4074.

Want a chance to win a free cruise?  Click HERE to apply for the contest!

 



Living with the uncertainty of cancer

Me at my seventh birthday. Back then, my only uncertainty was what gift I was getting.

One of the most surreal experiences of living with advanced cancer is that you go about living your life, knowing it all can explode – like the missiles in Israel – at any time. I see it happening all the time with friends on social media who announce scan results — “Not what I wanted to hear … the cancer has spread.” Probably most people wouldn’t even know what they’re going through if they see them. Many of us, like me, keep their hair and are not gaunt or pale.

I remember my late friend Evan Mattingly saying, “Cancer must be making me better looking because people are always telling me how good I look!”  This has been my experience. I just compliment them back. I am so grateful that I am feeling relatively healthy and able to travel and do activities. But I still live with an underlying sense of uncertainty that I try to tuck away until it is almost impossible to avoid. That comes at scan time. I have been on the same regiment – Afinitor and Aromasin – for a year and a half. It has been doing a wonderful job  making the cancer behave, and even making some of it disappear. Next week I’m due for scans and it seems like an eternity. There is always a little voice inside my head saying, “Has my luck run out? Is that pain in my abdomen cancer?”

There are several things that help me get out of this mindset. I’ll list them here as it might help others going through the same thing:

  • Stay in the moment. How do I feel right now? What am I doing right now? Am I breathing, functioning? Good.  Focus on what’s in front of you in the moment.
  • Faith in God. God has carried me this far; I can trust this will continue.
  • Be proactive. Expect the best but prepare for the worst. I have been researching promising clinical trials to have in my back pocket if the scan shows growth.
  • Practice gratitude. I can focus on what’s good in my life, which above all is my husband and daughter. I have great extended family and friends. I get to do what feeds my soul like my upcoming book and this blog. I have visited beautiful places. I feel good enough to take walks around the neighborhood. The list goes on.
  • Reach out to others. Helping others helps me feel connected and takes my mind off my own worries. I can also reach out to friends and support systems to express my feelings and situation.

As Gilda Radner said, “Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next.” Whether or not you have cancer, I think these are wise words. We all live with uncertainty, but to be present — that’s the real gift.

Want to share more about this topic? The Share Support Group, which supports women facing breast, ovarian and metastatic cancers holds evening telephone support sessions twice a month. There is one tomorrow night (July 24). For more information, go to http://www.sharecancersupport.org/share-new/support/groups/living_with_uncertainty/

 



Protect the skin you’re in

Life is a beach and then you fry ... unless you take precautions! Our slice of paradise on vacation.

Our family just returned from a fabulous vacation on Ocracoke Island off Outer Banks, NC. We had a great time going to the pristine beach, eating seafood and riding around in golf carts. Too bad our vacation was cut short by Hurricane Arthur.

First on our list of things to do was to go to the beach, so we headed out our first full day at 10 a.m and stayed until 2 p.m. Even with sunscreen, we all got burned. We decided  that for the rest of the trip we wait until after 3 p.m. to avoid most of the harsh UV rays. It’s usually a tough sell with my 15-year-old daughter when I urge her to wear sunscreen and cover up as much as possible. She thinks I’m being paranoid. After all, we’re both dark complected and rarely burn, but I know that is especially important for her to be careful. A recent study published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, suggests that experiencing five or more sunburns between the ages of 15 and 20 could increase melanoma risk by 80 percent.

Before we left on our trip, I met with LeAnn Blair from Melanoma Know More, a local organization dedicated to awareness, prevention and treatment. As the dog days of summer are here, I thought I’d share some prevention tips from their site:

  • Avoid sunburns. Getting a base tan to protect from sunburns is a myth.
  • Limit sun exposure, especially between the hours of 11 a.m.- 4 p.m. when the sun is the strongest
  • Wear protective clothing – such as long sleeves and hats – when exposed to sunlight
  • Use at least a SPF 30 sunscreen – applying 30 minutes before going out and 1-2 hours thereafter. Use at least one ounce (a full shot glass) of sunscreen to cover your entire body
  • Use sunscreen as a part of your daily moisturizing ritual and when you’re outside for than 10-15 minutes, even on cloudy days and during the winter
  • Check yourself monthly for changes in moles or anything that looks suspicious.

I make it a point to visit my dermatologist regularly to check out any weird spots. Mike noticed one on my back recently, which turned out to be pigmentation due to aging, but I’m still glad I went. About 15 years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting the late Maureen Reagan, daughter of the former president. She had late stage melanoma at the time, and one of the things she urged us was to get a yearly body check from your doctor. From my experience, it takes a long time to get scheduled for an appointment if you’re a new patient, so I recommend getting in before you notice a problem.

Even if it does turn out to be melanoma, there are treatments available and more are coming on the horizon. Mark Williams, a super stage IV melanoma survivor who will be in my upcoming book, Miracle Survivors, is a living testament to hope with melanoma. Diagnosed in 2007, he has shown no evidence of disease since 2009.

Concerned about a mole? Melanoma Know More’s website  has a handy chart, that shows how suspicious moles appear. In most cases, moles turn out to be nothing, but it’s important to be proactive. Happy summer!