Friday, November 30, 2012

My NaHeBloPoMo half-marathon

National Health Blog Post Month Day 30: Recap NHBPM

The cool thing about blogging is you make your own rules. Even when participating in an organized event! When I found out about National Health Blog Post Month on November 12, I was bummed that it was too late to participate. Then I thought to myself, wait... says who? In the end, I responded to 18 prompts in 19 days, which is a heck of a lot more blogging than I usually do. I also had a blast reading posts by other health advocates. In case you missed my incessant posting over the past few weeks, here is a recap:

Have a great weekend! 


This post was inspired by the Day 30 prompt for National Health Blog Post Month.
View posts by other participants.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Turning negatives into positives

National Health Blog Post Month Day 29: Write about unexpected blessings of your health condition

I'd like to reiterate one of the points I made during yesterday's conversation with Anjannette: this blog is about so much more than melanoma. Unlike some of my fellow melanoma bloggers, I have been very lucky. I don't need to head to the doctor every three months for treatments, and I don't have to deal with the anxiety of frequent scans to make sure there's no evidence of the disease in my system. So that's not what you're going to find here. Even so, melanoma is frequently on my mind. I realize that what causes skin cancer varies widely from patient to patient, but for me, I strongly believe that using tanning beds in my teens is what gave me melanoma in my 20s. Consequently, I've become fascinated by why young people use tanning beds in the first place (even when they know they're dangerous), and more importantly, what we can do to stop it.

This a huge undertaking--far too big for little 'ole me to tackle on my own. But I have some pretty exciting projects in the works for 2013. I can't wait to share these with you! I would never with melanoma upon anyone, but I am grateful that this experience has lit a fire under me, so to speak. I think I have the potential to become a strong advocate for melanoma prevention and early detection both in my community and across the globe.

Who knows what life would have been like if it hadn't been for that dang little black mole. I'm just thankful that I've been able to twist such a negative experience into a positive one, and that I've found a cause I am truly, truly passionate about.


This post was inspired by the Day 29 prompt for National Health Blog Post Month.
View posts by other participants.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Meet one of my favorite new bloggers!

National Health Blog Post Month Day 28: Interview a community member

Anjannette, Tara, and Chelsea on a recent trip to North Carolina.

I recently met (virtually) and immediately bonded with a wonderful woman named Anjannette from Light Skinned Mother. Anjannette was diagnosed with melanoma over the summer and has recently joined the melanoma blogging community. She was unable to participate in National Health Blog Post Month, so I invited her to collaborate with me on this post. Here's a recap of the conversation we had yesterday.

K: Tell me about your experience with melanoma.
A: I was diagnosed with malignant melanoma on June 15, 2012. I developed a small mole on my neck after giving birth to my daughter. I had it removed because it itched, and the lab work came back fine. Then it grew back. Over a year and a half's time, it grew bigger and itched more. Because it was just a pink "bubble-looking" thing on my neck, I was sure it wasn't anything awful. After all, every picture I vaguely remembered seeing of melanoma were all dark, flat black/brown spots. After the itching got much worse, and after much procrastination and rescheduling of appointments, I finally got back into the dermatologist almost two years later to get it removed. I was called back to have a neck excision due to "abnormal cells" and was called back in again, urgently, two week later. The pathology report from that excision came back as malignant melanoma. It was 2mm deep. I had to have a second and much larger excision on July 13, 2012. Fortunately, the path results came back with clear margins and no evidence of disease.

K: You just started blogging back in October. What made you decide to start writing about melanoma?
A: Several reasons led me to blogging about melanoma. 1) I have always had the need to be "heard", so blogging is something I've thought about doing for a long time. 2) I have always wanted to help and educate others about various topics. 3) I was angry that I knew so little about this awful disease- the one that I ended up being diagnosed with- when I knew so much about other diseases I expected to have one day. I didn't want anyone else to be totally shocked by it. 4) It's definitely been a great form of therapy- an affordable form.

K: The name for your blog, Light Skinned Mother, is so clever! How did you come up with that name?
A: My husband, who is African- American, has a vanity plate on the front of his SUV that reads, Light Skinned Brother. Since having two children, I have been the one doing most of the driving in that car, since it was the only one big enough to tote two toddlers around. I was always drawing strange looks from people walking by, reading the plate, then looking up at me. One day, after packing up my two kids and their stroller into the car, I started to pull off and my sisters commented, “Your tag should say Light Skinned MOTHER, not brother.” And so it began as a joke between my family, friends, and I. I even started using it as my email signature. Light skinned mother took on a new meaning the week of my diagnosis. I had just purchased a much needed car, since mine was 16 years old. I contemplated getting a vanity plate for myself, but wasn’t sure I really wanted it. Four days later, on Friday, June 15, I was diagnosed with malignant melanoma. The following Monday, my husband drove us to the mall and had the vanity plate made for my car. A few weeks later, I put the Melanoma Awareness frame around it. I truly have to be a “light skinned mother” now. So, I now wear the name even prouder.

The vanity plate that inspired the name for her blog.

K: You recently drove from Florida to North Carolina to participate in the AIM at Melanoma Walk. What was that experience like?
A: It was a VERY quick trip. I left Orlando at 11 a.m., arrived in Charlotte at 8:30 p.m. and got back on the road to return at 12 p.m. the next day. It was SO worth it, though! Friday night I met with a few people from the melanoma community that I have only been taking to online. These people have become such quick friends--no family--to me. They are the only people who really know what is going on in my head on a daily basis. They truly understand how real my fears are and how relevant my celebrations are- for clear scans, benign moles, scars, etc. They understand my guilt for not appreciating the skin I was born in. They understand a part of me that my family and other friends just can’t, no matter how hard they want to, no matter how hard they try. I was comfortable with them. Saturday morning at the walk, I was quickly warmed, despite very cold temperatures, by the people who turned out to honor friends and family members who have suffered and passed away due to melanoma. Families made shirts to announce who they were walking for. There was an entire extended family there with shirts honoring their matriarch that had passed from melanoma. The walk opened with several people sharing stories about the people they lost from melanoma. Their strength and perseverance to still be there and fight was truly inspiring to me. It was an experience I will never forget.

K: Aw... I'm jealous. OK. Last question. On your blog, you write about self esteem for young women, which is something I can definitely relate to. If you could go back and time and have a conversation with your 16-year-old self, what would you tell her?
A: Yes, self-esteem is a HUGE deal for me. I certainly had very little of it, and as a teen and in my early 20’s it was just awful. This blog for melanoma, it is my push, my second chance, at helping others, not only to educate them, but to encourage them to love themselves. You got me with this question. If you were Oprah and we were on the show, this is the part where I would start crying and you would start crying and EVERYONE would start crying. LOL!

K: My goal for this blog is the same. You are my long lost twin separated at birth!
A: Yes! Here is what I would say to the 16-year-old Anjannette: Stop trying to be who you think everybody wants to you to be. You are intelligent. You are talented. You are creative. You have the heart to move forward and make a HUGE impact in this world. Regardless of what you think others expect of you, focus on what you expect of yourself. If you aren’t aware of your own expectations, you will spend your entire life trying to meet the expectations of others. Stop trying to look like who you think everybody wants you to look like. Once you stop and appreciate yourself for who you are and what you have- your light complexion, the dark hair, your ample hips, your endowed chest, those thick eyebrows, the curly hair that people PAY to have- you will see that you ARE beautiful. When you are comparing apples to oranges, one is always going to come up short. Be you. Don’t try to look like someone else. When you finally stop to appreciate the person you are, everything that is beautiful about you will become even more beautiful. You’ve spent so long convincing yourself that you are not pretty and undeserving. When you don’t see yourself as beautiful, you will do anything and everything to stop others from seeing your beauty when they do, which will only confirm your false beliefs of unworthiness. Stop being afraid of reaching for spectacular and ending up at average. You know average. You’ve felt average your whole life. You got this. How could reaching for more and ending up where you are be worse than settling for never trying? At least you will be able to look yourself in the eye and know, you did your best. Trust me, you are destined for greatness, maybe not in the way you imagine, but greatness nevertheless. Your biggest obstacle will always be you. Get out of your own way.

Feeling inspired yet? I sure am! Go check out Light Skinned Mother, or follow Anjannette's adventures on Facebook.


This post was inspired by the Day 28 prompt for National Health Blog Post Month.
View posts by other participants.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Keep Jillian and her family in your thoughts and prayers

In lieu of today's National Health Blog Post Month prompt, today I encourage you to visit Jillian's Journey with Melanoma, a blog written by the mother of a 23-year-old suffering from stage IV melanoma. Jillian and her family just got word that her treatments are no longer effective. Her family was told by doctors that "it will take a miracle for [her] to survive." Please keep Jillian and her family in your thoughts and prayers this week.

Melanoma, even though some people still think of it as "just skin cancer," can be deadly. Take care of your skin, even in the winter. The consequences of tanning beds and sunburns are so not worth it.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Pin this!

National Health Blog Post Month Day 26: Make a chart / meme / poster and write about it 

I'm cheating on today's prompt a bit (shhh don't tell!) Instead of creating my own meme and writing about it, I wanted to share with you a collection of awesome skin cancer awareness memes that already exist. Melissa from Melanoma Sucks has assembled an awesome collection of images on her Melanoma Pinterest Board. These are a few of my favorites. Indulge your love for Pinterest while helping spread awareness for a good cause. Check out her board and re-pin!


This post was inspired by the Day 26 prompt for National Health Blog Post Month.
View posts by other participants.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Firmoo UV sunglasses product review

I've never been asked to do a product review before, but let me tell you: offering UV-protective sunglasses is one way to this girl's heart.

So, here's the deal: Firmoo is a company that sells both prescription and non-prescription glasses online. Since you can't actually try them on, Firmoo lets you upload a photo of yourself and virtually "try on" different styles. Of course, it's not quite the same as trying on glasses in person, but I crossed my fingers and hoped that they would fit!

Showing off my new Firmoo sunglasses.

I don't know about you, but I wear sunglassses all year
round. Even in the winter!
Good news. They did! I picked style #OTO2581 in gunmetal because they reminded me of Ray-bans. Here is a close-up so that you can get a better idea of the style.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised with the frames. They're lightweight and fit my face well. They don't seem to be as high-quality as some designer frames, but the more I wear them around, the more I like them. I also love, love, love that this company emphasizes the importance of UV-protective eyewear. Firmoo sells a ton of frames for perscription glasses, too, which you can order from the site as well. If I needed perscription lenses, I would definitely try a pair from this site because they're so much cheaper than the ones you get from the eye doctor. The frames are cute, too (think sexy librarian).

Get a pair for free!
You can get a pair of glasses from Firmoo for free, too. All you have to do is pay shipping. Visit their First Pair Free Program site to learn more. Get a pair of new reading glasses for yourself or give a pair of frames as a holiday gift! If you have any questions, visit the help page. I've had a really positive experience dealing with this company so far, and I received my glasses in the mail quickly.

If you're interested in learning more, check out my review on YouTube.


Disclaimer: I received these sunglasses for free in exchange for this product review. Opinions contained in the review are my own.

Playing catch up

Eek! I've been slacking on my #NHBPM posts! I blame Thanksgiving. I was actually just thinking this morning--is it just me or is Thanksgiving weekend one of the busiest weekends of the year? I always look forward to having this super-relaxing four-day weekend, but then it turns into a marathon visit the family, visit more family, get started on Christmas shopping, eat eat eat, clean house, etc. etc. By the time you're ready to sit down and relax, it's time to go back to work! With that, onward...

National Health Blog Post Month Day 23: Clean out your fridge in written form. What’s in there? How does it reflect your personality?

My fridge is a little empty because I've been gone for the past few days, but perhaps I can still glean a little bit of my personality from what's left:

  • Leftovers from Thanksgiving on a plate and in Tupperware (including turkey breast, gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and black olives). Thanksgiving dinner is one of my favorite meals of the year. Even when I was a vegetarian, I've been known to request "Thanksgiving dinner" on my birthday, which is in August. I also buy canned cranberry sauce year-round and use it to make turkey sandwiches.
  • 1% milk
  • Brita water filter
  • Goat cheese with herbs, shredded cheddar, sliced swiss cheese (I have a weakness for cheese)
  • Grape tomatoes, butter lettuce
  • Tortillas
  • Diet Coke (not mine, this is my boyfriend's. I can't stand diet soda)
  • Bottle of champagne (I read somewhere once that you should always keep a bottle of champagne in your fridge in case something happens worth celebrating. I've kept a bottle in there since. Last time I toasted was when I got a raise. Waiting patiently for the next good thing to happen)
  • Condiments: whip cream (for pie that I ate), ranch, mustard (yellow & Dijon), balsamic vinaigrette, hot sauce, ketchup, sweet and sour, and Parmesan cheese
  • Freezer: frozen veggies, pork chops, ice cream bars
How does this reflect my personality? I love food. Yum. Aside from the cheese and the ice cream, I'm actually a pretty healthy eater. I load up on tons of fresh produce every week and eat a pretty balanced diet.

National Health Blog Post Month Day 24: If I had more than 24 hours in a day…

I love this prompt because I am constantly saying, "I wish there were more hours in the day!" To be honest, I would probably just sleep more. I've been kind of an insomniac since I can remember, but I also get really cranky when I don't get enough sleep. I'm much more productive when I'm well rested (9+ hours), so I'd take some of that time, I try to use it to relax and rejuvenate. I might also try to work out more often. Going to the gym often gets cut out of my schedule when I'm busy with extra things, so it would be nice to have an extra hour or two so that I could go to the gym (or go for a jog) before work in the mornings.

National Health Blog Post Month Day 25: How have your goals as a patient / advocate / person evolved?

I don't know that my goals have evolved as much as my attitude towards them has. When I started this blog, I created the following tagline: "20-something-year-old melanoma survivor learning how to love the skin I was born in." My goal was to educate other young people about the dangers of melanoma, but also to document my own personal struggles with loving my own natural skin color. There were several times in the beginning when I felt like a huge hypocrite. Here I was going off on people on TV who wore too much bronzer, which I was still incredibly uncomfortable in my own skin. I wanted to slather myself in self-tanner, too, but I felt like if I did that, I would be lying to you all. Somehow, over the course of the past eight months, I've actually started to practice what I preach. There are still times I struggle (I'm anticipating difficulties when I go to the Caribbean this winter and I'm the only person using SPF 50 like it's my religion), but overall, I think this blog has probably been more therapeutic than I ever expected it to be.


This post was inspired by prompts from National Health Blog Post Month.
View posts by other participants.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanks and no thanks

National Health Blog Post Month Day 22: Give thanks

Sick of Thanksgiving posts yet? If so, too bad. The #NHBPM prompt made me do it! :) I hope you all had a great day today. I got to spend time with family and eat excessively, which is always fun. Except when you're so full you can barely breathe...

Before the day is through, I'd like to take a moment to say "thank you" to my fellow bloggers who have been nothing but welcoming and encouraging since I started this blog last spring. I look to you for inspiration every day, and I'm so grateful that we've gotten to know each other. This includes (but is definitely not limited to): Chelsea, Rev. Carol Taylor, Al, Rose, and Rich. I've also made a few new connections recently, and I look forward to getting to know those folks as well.

What I am not thankful for
I enjoy a good deal just as much, if not more, than the next person. But for some reason, Black Friday is driving me mad this year! Everywhere I go, everywhere I look, I'm surrounded by ads for 50% off this, 30% of that, buy one get one free, etc. etc. What bothers me is that I've started noticing these ads impacting my mood. For example: I might think to myself, "If only I had those Frye boots, I would be happier." Or, "If only I had that bracelet, my life would be easier." It's nonsensical, but I keep noticing this thought pattern repeating itself in my head.

It's strikingly similar to how I used to feel when I used tanning beds. With that, my logic would be something like: "If only I was tan and skinny, then maybe I'd be happy." It freaks me out a little when I notice these negative thought patterns in my head. I love the holidays, and I realize there's nothing wrong with treating myself to a new pair of boots or a pair of earrings every once in a while, but I shouldn't need to rely on material things or the way I look to be happy. I hope that this is a passing phase--one that will fade away as we head into the new year. I'd be curious to hear if any of you start having similar feelings around the holidays, and if so, how do you cope with them?


This post was inspired by the Day 22 prompt for National Health Blog Post Month.
View posts by other participants.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Tanning salons in 2050

National Health Blog Post Month Day 21: Create a new technology related to health

Last week I attended a fascinating talk by TED speaker Juan Enriquez. He's a futurist--the opposite of a historian--who specializes in the future of biomedicine. One of the key points he made during his talk was that within the next year or so, genome sequencing is going to explode. This leaves us to wonder: What on earth are we going to do with all this genetic information?

To give you a little background in case you're not a science geek like me, researchers now how the power to look at all of a person's DNA collectively, which in some cases (like breast cancer for instance) can indicate whether an individual may be more susceptible to developing a certain disease. Since there seems to be a significant genetic component to melanoma (like breast cancer, it tends to run in families), perhaps genetic information could be used regulate indoor tanning usage.

Many scientists believe that in the not-too-distant future, we'll be able to walk into the doctor's office, hand them a jump drive containing our sequenced genome, and they'll be able to prescribe treatments based on our unique genetic makeup. Maybe the some data can be used for disease prevention, too.

Today's prompt asks me to create a new technology related to health. Well, here it goes: If you've been to a tanning salon at some point in the last five years or so, you may have noticed that many of them check customers in using a fingerprint scanner (my gym does this, too). What if, before you used a tanning bed, you had to scan your finger and if you're predisposed to cancer, the bed would automatically either limit or restrict you from using it? Similarly, the bed would know from a database what you natural, skin, and hair colors are, so it would time your sessions based on how long it takes for your skin to burn. The FDA currently makes recommendations on how long a person should tan based on these factors, but customers frequently exceed suggested exposure times and salons themselves don't enforce. This new technology would limit overexposure and better regulate indoor tanning.

Would this method be perfect? Of course not. Most derms will you that there's no such thing as a "healthy" tan. What this would do would limit burning (which increases melanoma risk) and restrict folks who are melanoma-prone from tanning.

Or maybe by 2050 tanning will have gone out of style. What do you think?


This post was inspired by the Day 21 prompt for National Health Blog Post Month.
View posts by other participants.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Five-year tanniversary

National Health Blog Post Month Day 20: A health moment you regret

A health moment I regret? This one's easy. I wish I hadn't used tanning beds in high school and college. Not only did I end up with melanoma just one year after I quit tanning indoors, but my skin has lasting, visible signs of UV damage. Sexy, right?

Yesterday, one of my best friends from college forwarded me a promotional email that was sent to her old ".edu" address this week. Here's the email she forwarded me:

This is what she said: "I'm pretty positive I unsubscribed to these emails 2 months after graduating college and haven't received anything since then, then BOOM, what's in my inbox? Also, it makes me feel really old that this place is 5 yrs old because I remember what a hit it was when the "nice" tanning place came to south Bethlehem. We used to plan our days around when we would tan, sickos!"

Seeing this in my inbox gave me the kind of feeling my friend Chelsea had recently when she found her old tanning goggles. It brought back so many memories--both good and bad. My friends and I really would plan our days like the guys on Jersey Shore who GTL'ed. We knew it probably wasn't good for us, but it was fun. It was always a social activity.

On one hand, it's hard to believe that I graduated from college almost five years ago, but on the other, it feels like a lifetime has passed since then. I'm not just taking about skin care, either. Of course, that's part of it, but I've become more conscious of my health overall and I'm learning to listen to my body more. As much as I do regret using tanning beds as a teenager, I think that dealing with melanoma has empowered me to make healthier decisions in all aspects of my life that I may never have not made otherwise. I do, however, regret that I'll never be able to get rid of some of these sun spots...


This post was inspired by the Day 20 prompt for National Health Blog Post Month.
View posts by other participants.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Things I don't like talking about

National Health Blog Post Month Day 19: Write about life and death

Image: French by Design

Let me preface this by saying: when it comes to melanoma, I was lucky. Very, very lucky. It's one of the first things my dermatologist told me when I found out my mole was malignant.

Others are not so lucky. One of the things that makes melanoma so dangerous is how quickly it can spread. This year, it's expected to kill almost 10,000 people.

When you're 23 years old, being told that you have a disease that could theoretically kill you is, well, scary. Like life-alteringly scary. I don't know about you, but I've always been jealous of people who are (or at least claim to be) "at peace" with the fact that we're all going to die someday. Thinking about death makes life seem both incredibly important and yet trivial. I feel pressure to check off every item on my bucket list, but at the same time, I wonder what's the point? As a result, I'm terrified of death.

I think one of the reasons why I fell in love with writing is because it lets you be immortal. When you put your pen down on the paper and share your most intimate thoughts with the page, your mind can outlive your body. That's why I love reading, too. I can glean insights on how to live from any number of other writers--living or deceased.

This prompt has been by far the most difficult one to write about so far this month. Even though our mortality is one of the only things all of us as humans have in common, it still feels so deeply personal. I suppose I still have a lot to figure out about life and death, but I feel lucky that I have time to try.


This post was inspired by the Day 19 prompt for National Health Blog Post Month.
View posts by other participants.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Lazy Sunday

National Health Blog Post Month Day 18: How you take time for yourself

Sandwiched between two busy weeks, today I took it easy and indulged in a lazy Sunday. One thing I did was finish knitting this infinity scarf that I started working on a couple weekends ago. I learned to knit back in 2008/2009 from a colleague and friend who is an insanely talented crafter. Since then, I've tackled several of my own projects--the most difficult being a sweater I knit two years ago that took months and months and months to complete. This scarf was super quick-to-knit and pretty easy, so it was a good way to ease into knitting season after my summer hiatus. Knitting to me is sort of like yoga. It gives your hands something to do while your brain ascends into a rhythmic trance. It can be frustrating at first, or when you're working on a particularly difficult pattern, but it can also be incredibly soothing and relaxing.

The infinity scarf that I finished knitting this afternoon.
Looking forward to wearing it!

Another work in progress. This is a scarf I'm planning to
give to my mom.

I hope you all had a peaceful and rejuvenating Sunday. The next few days are going to be hectic, but I'm looking forward to spending time with family and eating excessively later in the week. Goodnight!


This post was inspired by the Day 18 prompt for National Health Blog Post Month.
View posts by other participants.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Ipsy Glam Bag Review - November 2012

I recently subscribed to a few different monthly subscription boxes. It's been super helpful looking at other blogs to see which boxes offer the best products (and best deals!), so I wanted to share with you! For $10 per month, Ipsy sends you a makeup bag with five sample and/or full size beauty products. Caution: These subscription boxes are addicting, so proceed with caution. Here is what I got in my November box:

Nailtini Speakeasy Nail Lacquer in Millionaire - Full Size - $13 value
This is a fun nail polish for the holidays. It's really similar to an OPI nail polish I have, but it has some multi-color glitter in addition to the gold flecks.

Benefit They're Real Mascara - Sample Size - $8 value
I love Benefit products (they always have the cutest packaging), so I'm excited to try this mascara. I've been using a Bobbi Brown mascara that I love, so I'll wait to try this until I run out. (Update: This mascara is REALLY hard to remove. I tried waterproof eye makeup remover. No dice. Very frustrated. May toss it.)

Bare Minerals Moxie Lip Gloss in Dare Devil - Sample Size - $9 value
When I first saw this, I worried that it would show up too dark on my lips (dark lipstick doesn't look so hot with my fair skin), but it's actually pretty sheer. It has a minty taste that I LOVE. Of all the products I received in my November bag, this is hands down my favorite. I would probably actually buy a full-size version of this product when I run out.

The Balm Meet Matt(e) Eye Shadow - Sample Size - $4 value
I've been using this eye shadow in my crease and to create a "smokey" eye look. It goes on really smoothly. I'm much more impressed with this shadow than I expected. Not a color for daytime wear, but good for evenings and weekends.

Starlet Cosmetics Eyeliner in Chocolate - Full Size - $11 value
This eyeliner isn't my favorite. I don't love the brown color. It has a reddish undertone--usually I buy liners that are more black/brown. It's also not as creamy as I'd like, but it might be an OK liner to use for work, etc.

Here's a look at how the different colors look on my skin. From left: Eyeliner, eye shadow, and lip gloss. Overall, I'm really impressed with my first Ipsy bag. For $10, I received about $45 worth of makeup. Yay! I'm already getting anxious to see what they send me in December.

Do you subscribe to any of these monthly beauty boxes?

More about me

National Health Blog Post Month Day 17: My strengths and weaknesses

Today's post is less about me as a health advocate and more about me wanting you to get to know me outside of my experience with melanoma. As I was brainstorming a list of my strengths and weaknesses, I decided to organize the list in the shape of a Venn diagram because I realized some strengths are arguably weaknesses and vice versa. I'm sure I'm forgetting some, especially on the right side of the chart, but here it goes:


This post was inspired by the Day 17 prompt for National Health Blog Post Month.
View posts by other participants.

Friday, November 16, 2012

They're everywhere!

National Health Blog Post Month Day 16: Use a picture to inspire a post


I had no idea what I was going to write for this prompt until I woke up this morning and checked my email. I don't know about you, but I'm subscribed to just about every "daily deal" listserv out there. Every once in a while--more often than I'd like--I'll get a coupon in my inbox for indoor tanning. Ick!

I also get coupons for free tanning sessions in the mail and on the back of my receipts from the grocery store. I know we see hundreds of advertisements per week for everything ranging from luxury vehicles to diaper cream. Much of the time, the ads we see are for products we'll never even buy, so we're able to tune them out. But when I see an ad for a tanning salon, I can't tune it out.

What's even more disheartening is when I see that "500 users have already purchased this deal." Maybe they bought the spray tan? One can hope, I suppose.

On a lighter note, a huge group is gathering in North Carolina this weekend for an AIM at Melanoma fundraiser. I'm sad I won't be there, but I'm super excited to see pictures and hear stories when everyone gets back. If you're local (a.k.a. PDX), stay tuned for more information on the 2nd Annual Portland Melanoma Walk. I'm organizing it this spring and will be announcing the date/time soon! Shoot me an email if you live in the Portland area and would like to volunteer or get involved.


This post was inspired by the Day 16 prompt for National Health Blog Post Month.
View posts by other participants.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

From a patient's perspective: Social media and healthcare

National Health Blog Post Month Day 15: Should healthcare companies use social media?

I'm probably a little biased on this one. I work for an academic medical center (on the research side) that uses social media pretty extensively. That said, in today's marketplace, I think it's unwise for a company--health-related or otherwise--to exclude social media from its communications portfolio. Social media provides opportunities for direct engagement with users, and if done successfully, can rev up brand loyalty.

Here's an example: I was recently looking at some jewelry online. I had a question for customer service, but it was late on a Friday afternoon and I didn't feel like waiting to get a response back via email. So I tweeted. I got an answer back an hour later. Easy peasy.

As for health-related social media, I've had consistently positive experiences with AIM at Melanoma's Facebook and Twitter accounts. Not surprisingly, I've become a donor and frequently refer others to that organization when they want to learn more about melanoma. Social media it's the sole reason why I like AIM, but it helps.

I'm not saying social media will cure cancer (or anything else worthy of a Nobel Prize), but if you look at the way patient populations are mobilizing via online discussion forums and blogs, it just makes sense. Healthcare companies should be using social media outlets to disseminate the latest research discoveries to an audience that's already hungry for more information.

What do you think?


This post was inspired by the Day 15 prompt for National Health Blog Post Month.
View posts by other participants.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Lea Michele: The dog peed on my spray tan

Have any of you see this? So ridiculous! Props to her for shunning UV tanning beds, but I wish more celebs didn't feel the need to have a tan at all.

What do you think of this video? Have you ever had a spray tan disaster?

Mean girls (and boys)

National Health Blog Post Month Day 14: Advice for dealing with negative feedback in your community

Chelsea is a blogger who's had to deal
with cyberbulling AND stage III melanoma.
Today's prompt happens to be extremely relevant to something that's been going on in the melanoma community. My friend, Chelsea Price, a self-proclaimed melanoma diva, is the epitome of what it means to be a health advocate. She documents her journey with melanoma so candidly that she's hard not to like. Chelsea has made appearances on TV, she graced the cover of the Skin Cancer Foundation's journal, and has given a speech at a major fundraising gala. Though she can easily net over 50 "likes" on Facebook when she reports clear scans, Chelsea's had to deal with her fair share of haters, too. Just yesterday she wrote a very emotional blog post about being the target of cyberbulling.

Unfortunately, if you're doing something big, you're doing something important, you're challenging the status quo--you're going to piss people off. It's hard not to take personal insults, well, personally, but take Chelsea for example. I can guarantee that for every negative comment she receives, there are exponentially more individuals whose lives have been positively impacted by her blog.

A little inspiration from my friend Susan Clark at heartspark.

I can't tell you how difficult it has been to write about my melanoma diagnosis on a public blog. To admit to the world that I've had severe self-confidence issues as a teenager and young adult. My family can read this, my friends can read this, some girl I went to elementary school but I haven't talked to in 12 years can read this, my boss can read this, and the list goes on and on. Not to imply that I regret blogging. I've made wonderful friends, experienced catharsis in sharing what I've held inside for too long, and motivated a few strangers to take better care of their skin.

I think it can be particularly challenging for those of us in the skin cancer arena to stand up against the tanning bed industry. People don't want to hear that tanning causes cancer. Even well-meaning friends sometimes veto my warnings about UV tanning. As with anything, we're all entitled to our own opinions. I try to reply calmly and back up my arguments with as much empirical evidence as possible.

When all else fails, hit the mute button. Follow your passions, and don't let anyone stand in your way. And remember: you'll never change the world without pissing someone off.


This post was inspired by the Day 14 prompt for National Health Blog Post Month.
View posts by other participants.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Sookie Stackhouse and other vices

National Health Blog Post Month Day 13: What’s your favorite book and how can you tie it to your health or life? 


Anna Paquin as Sookie Stackhouse
Since HBO's True Blood is dead and gone until next summer, I decided to check out the books from whence the TV show came. The first book, I thought, was awful. The second one? Not impressed. The third one? Eh, not bad. Now, I'm on book ten and I'm certifiably obsessed.  I love reading about my favorite characters (namely, Eric Northman)--but with all kinds of crazy plot twists we haven't seen on TV. Spoiler alert: Sookie (protagonist, telepath, object of everyone's affection) dates a "weretiger" in book seven. Weird, I know.

Much as I love the books, I'm genuinely surprised by how much Sookie talks about tanning beds throughout the series. Of all things! Naturally, I'm more sensitive than the average person when it comes to tanning talk, but really, Sookie? Really?!

Here are some examples. Let at me put my college lit major to use:

  • "I took a deep breath, turned to the mirror, and slapped on some makeup. My tan wasn't great this far into the cold season; but I still had a nice glow, thanks to the tanning bed at Bon Temps Video Rental." - Club Dead (Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood, Book 3)
  • "His companion's face might have been sculpted from marble. Had the woman never heard of a tanning bed?" - Dead as a Doornail (Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood, Book 5)
  • "I enjoyed lying in the sun in a little bikini, timing myself carefully so I didn't burn. I loved the smell of coconut oil. I took pleasure in shaving my legs and removing most of my other body hair so I'd look smooth as a baby's bottom. And I don't want to hear any lectures about how bad tanning is for you. That's my vice. Everybody gets one." - Dead as a Doornail (Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood, Book 5)
  • "Every year I thought of all the reasons I shouldn't lie out in the sun. Every year I added up my virtues: I didn't drink, I didn't smoke, and I very seldom had sex, though I was willing to change that. But I loved my sun, and it was bright in the sky today. Sooner or later I'd pay for it, but it remained my weakness. I wondered if maybe my fairy blood would give me a pass on the possibility of skin cancer. Nope: my aunt Linda had died of cancer, and she'd had more fairy blood than I had. Well... dammit." -Dead and Gone (Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood, Book 9)
One thing I find particularly interesting is that over the course of the series, Sookie's tone evolves. It goes from "I use tanning beds and everyone else should, too" to "stop giving me a hard time for tanning" to "I hope I don't get skin cancer from tanning so much." I suppose, from a literary standpoint, Sookie's bronze skin makes her a good foil to her paler than pale vampire suitors. But when something like suntanning makes its way into popular chick lit, it's indicative that tanning has become ubiquitous in American culture.

A few of my favorite vices that Sookie might try as a tanning substitute:
  • Pinterest
  • Weekly manicures
  • ABC's Revenge
  • Cheese
  • Vanilla lattes
  • Cheesy vampire novels :)


This post was inspired by the Day 13 prompt for National Health Blog Post Month.
View posts by other participants.

Monday, November 12, 2012

A melanoma survivor walks into a tanning salon

National Health Blog Post Month Day 12: Call BS on Something 


Starting on #12! What a fantastic idea.
Walking into a tanning salon after being diagnosed with melanoma feels a bit like being a hippie-liberal at a tea party convention. This was about a year and a half ago. I was there because even after my run-in with skin cancer, I was still a little self-conscious about wearing a bikini in public. I was also curious to try spray tanning, which temporarily darkens the skin using a chemical called DHA instead of UV radiation.

I hadn’t been to this tanning salon before, so the gentleman at the front desk asked me to fill out a new member questionnaire. Every salon’s questionnaire is a bit different, but they all ask about your natural hair and eye color, as well as if you tan easily, so that if you ever decide to UV tan, operators can recommend an appropriate UV dosage.

“Have you ever tried UV tanning before?” he asked. “You could do what we call a tanning cocktail. Lay in a UV bed for a few minutes, open your pores up, and then head on in for your spray tan.”

“Yes, and no thank you.”

Meanwhile, a woman who was just nine days away from her wedding had come in for her first ever indoor tanning experience. She’d received a full tour of the facilities from a friendly female employee and was deciding which package to buy. Sensing a bit of hesitancy in the bride-to-be, the man at the front desk walked over to the waiting area and grabbed a newspaper that was sitting on the table.

“This here is gold,” he said, pointing to the cover story. “Researchers at Oregon Health & Science University right here in Portland say that we need more vitamin D. In a climate like Portland where it rains eight months of the year, the only way you’re going to get enough vitamin D is by using an indoor tanning bed. Plus, tanning beds have improved so much in the past few years. They won’t fry your skin and burn you like they used to. Our beds are so high tech. They use 98% UVA rays—hardly any of the burning rays at all. So we don’t even have to worry about the c-word anymore.”

As he finished his sentence, I felt like I’d been punched in the gut. Research by doctors at the university where I worked was being manipulated to sell tanning beds to innocent consumers. And him blatantly saying that tanning beds won’t cause cancer? Do you think he would have been offended had I pulled up my shirt and showed them the scar on my chest? I didn’t want to start a scene, nor start a fight that I knew I wasn’t going to win, so I kept my mouth shut.

Despite this salon operator’s promises that today’s tanning beds won’t cause the “c-word,” in the scientific community, UV radiation is well known to be the primary cause of most skin cancers. Even the Indoor Tanning Association, a lobbying organization for the indoor tanning industry, admits that their products can lead to skin cancer, stating clearly on their website: “You do not need to become tan for your skin to make Vitamin D. Exposure to ultraviolet radiation may increase the likelihood of developing skin cancer and can cause serious eye injury [1].”

When the skin is exposed to UV radiation from the sun or from an artificial light source, it triggers a molecular reaction within skin cells, specifically between the keratinocyte cells in the top layer and the melanocyte cells in the bottom layer. UV rays cause the pigment-containing melanocytes at the bottom layer of the epidermis to travel upwards, where the pigment creates a protective cover for the top layer cells [2]. According to a report by the American Academy of Dermatology, the molecular mechanism that is responsible for creating a tan appearance is the exact same mechanism that leads to skin cancer [3].

Although the Indoor Tanning Association has acknowledged that exposure to UV rays may increase a person’s risk for developing skin cancers like basal and sqaumous cell carcinoma, they are adamant that there is no correlation between melanoma (the most deadly type of skin cancer) and UV exposure from tanning beds.

In contrast, the World Health Organization, a global authority on health research, has found not one or two, but 19 studies that linked sunbed use with an increased risk for melanoma. The same group also came to the conclusion that using tanning beds before the age of 30 increases a person’s risk of developing melanoma by 75% [4]. An American’s risk of developing melanoma has increased 2000% over the past 75 years [2], signifying that a change in human behavior over the last century is likely responsible for this increase. And what has changed that dramatically in the last 75 years? The use of tanning beds.

Admittedly, we have more epidemiological evidence than biological evidence that tanning beds increase a person's risk for developing melanoma. But why risk it? Tanning salon owners are more concerned about making a profit than taking care of your health.

Next time you try to tell me tanning beds don't cause cancer, I will call bullshit.


This post was inspired by the Day 12 prompt for National Health Blog Post Month.
View posts by other participants.

[1]The Indoor Tanning Association. Accessed June 5, 2011. 
[2] Tran TT, Schulman J, Fisher DE. “UV and pigmentation: molecular mechanisms and social controversies.” Pigment Cell Melanoma Res. 2008 Oct;21(5):509-16.  
[3] Lim HW, James WD, Rigel DS, Maloney ME, Spencer JM, Bhushan R. “Adverse effects of ultraviolet radiation from the use of indoor tanning equipment: time to ban the tan.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 2011 May;64(5):893-902. 
[4] “The association of use of sunbeds with cutaneous malignant melanoma and other skin cancers: A systematic review.” Int J Cancer. 2007 Mar 1;120(5):1116-22.

Changing the world

Just a quick little snippet of inspiration for your Monday. I started reading the Steve Jobs biography at the end of last week. It's fascinating.

This quote resonates with me because I truly believe that by raising awareness about melanoma, we can decrease the number people who die prematurely from this disease.

How do you hope to have an impact on the world?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Just for the record, I don't hate the sun

Too bad every morning doesn't look like this! Image: David Yu/Flickr.
The sun and I have a long, drawn out, off again/on again, love/hate type of relationship. Here's why: In 2010, when I was diagnosed with an early-stage melanoma, I realized that after years of sunbathing, I'd never be able to lie out in the sun again without worrying.

Luckily for my skin, my hometown of Portland, Oregon is notorious for being covered in dark, grey clouds from October to June. So imagine my surprise when I left for work Wednesday morning and discovered a bright blue, luminous sky. Seriously. It was breathtaking. My theory is that the election finally ended and the clouds parted (just kidding, kind of). I'm not sure what caused the break in the clouds, but I loved it. The combination of the bright sky and the crisp fall air.

Throughout the day, the sunshine had a lasting impact on my mood. After I got to work, I was indoors until it got dark out, but I occasionally stole a glimpse or two from the window and the sun was still there.

It's no secret that energy from the sun sustains life on our planet. But it amazes me how much of an impact it can have on our moods. Just for the record: I don't hate the sun. I just recognize that, like almost anything, too much of a good thing is, for lack of a better word, bad. As long as we don't take sunbathing to excess, I like to think melanoma survivors can live a relatively normal life, which includes smiling when the sun comes out and playing outdoors.

Happy almost Friday! Have a great weekend.

Monday, November 5, 2012

DIY Peplum Top

I had one of those "ah-ha" moments the other day that was too good not to share. I've owned this shirt for about a year now, but I've never been able to wear it with a pair of pants. Because it's so billowy, I've always paired it with a pencil skirt--something I could tuck it into. By simply adding a belt, I was finally able to wear the blouse with a pair of pants. Plus, the silhouette morphs into a trendy peplum shape. I dig it.

Start with a loose-fitting blouse like this
one by Daniel Rainn.
Add a thin belt just below your natural
waist. And voila!