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This is Brave

This is Brave

This is Brave: Life Post-Viral Video with Janet KJ103

Let me catch you up on my story! One day I woke up with what I thought was a whitehead pimple on the side of my nose. My only thought was that it was going to be painful when I popped it because of its location. The worst spot ever to get a pimple! I thought I got lucky when it popped all by itself; then I realized something was different. This pimple bled a lot. Three weeks later, there was still a scab, so my husband encouraged me to visit the doctor. I was pretty sure the doctor was going to laugh at me for making an appointment for a pimple. I was wrong, he took one look at it and said he was pretty sure I had skin cancer. Two months later they removed the skin cancer which turned out to be a mixture of basal and squamous cell carcinoma; the removal left a dime size hole in the side of my nose.

Now, the reconstruction begins. The hole was too big to cover with a skin graph, so I would get the dreaded forehead flap instead! The forehead flap consists of using skin from your forehead to cover the spot on your nose. Doesn’t sound that bad at first until you find out that the flap of skin then has to be fed by a vein, that hangs across your face, for three long weeks. It’s totally a sci-fi process. I’m not sure who thought this procedure up, but something tells me people weren’t jumping at the chance to be the first one to have it done.

After the three week process, they remove the vein, re-stitch your forehead and send you on your way.

The hardest part of this process is not the vein on your face. The hardest part of this process is not knowing where the next spot will be.  That’s what no one tells you about having skin cancer.  I was told that my spot was something I’ve had since I was a child.  A majority of my sun exposure came as a teen and young adult.  Every new freckle you see, you think its skin cancer.  Every time you get a pimple, you think its skin cancer. There is a part of you that lives in fear.

When you face challenges in life, the best thing you can do is share your story. Someone somewhere needs to hear that they are not alone in their fight.  My year was full of people reaching out to me who were about to have the same procedure. I loved seeing their before, during, and after photos. I love that I was able to be a light to them in their darkness because I know they will eventually be a light in someone else’s darkness.

This past year, I had the honor of working with the Stephenson Cancer Center and Miles Against Melanoma to bring free-to-the-public sunscreen dispensers to the OKC Zoo. Protecting yourself against skin cancer by using sunscreen is easy.  Sometimes we just need a simple reminder. Next time you’re out in the sun, break out some sunscreen and watch how quickly other people catch on. Sunscreen use is contagious! The only problem is… sunscreen doesn’t work if you don’t use it!

Read on to hear her STORY from last year and learn why instead of fear, Janet chose love in her journey.

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This is Brave

This is Brave: Catching Up with Brian McKenna

2018 was wonderful, unpredictable, challenging and educational. I’ve had two more surgeries and three rounds of chemo pill treatments lasting 8 weeks each. In fact, as I am writing this, I am waiting for my next 8-week round of chemo pills to arrive in the mail. I strongly believe that I am going to get through this with flying colors because of my wonderful doctors/nurses and the three F’s – faith, family and friends. I can now see a light at the end of the tunnel. When I was diagnosed with malignant melanoma in 2014, instead of asking “why me,” I said, “try me.”

I realized that my mind was going to play an integral part of the battle. When cancer returned in 2017, I was ready for it. I was of the mindset that it had picked a fight with the wrong person. Cancer can control you from day one if you’re not careful. Like life, cancer is a full-contact sport. It can cause depression, fear, anger and hopelessness. Cancer also makes you take inventory of your life and appreciate the things that you have been taking for granted for many years.

My journey has taught me the following: enjoy every day, you will be much happier if you work hard at loving yourself and being happy, surround yourself with authentic people with kind hearts, pray that others find happiness including those that wronged you, smile more than you should, accept your shortcomings and realize you will never be perfect, embrace disappointment and grow from it, be challenged, forgive others, forgive yourself, get rid of that rearview mirror and look straight ahead, be grateful, don’t be afraid to fail, get comfortable with the uncomfortable, turn the other cheek, act upon the needs of others, your true worth is the effect you have on others, count your blessings, tell someone you love them before the bricks run out of road, realize that every relationship (good or bad) happened for a reason and that you are exactly where God wants you to be today.

All of this has become so much more apparent to me during my cancer journey. I’m so blessed to have the St. Louis community surrounding me with prayers, love and support. I am humbled and grateful.

Life gave Brian the sourest of lemons and he turned them into the sweetest of lemonades by starting a non-profit of his own that specializes in helping people that are in need and spreading good vibes through the world.

My goal every day is to make a difference in this world and be the best Brian McKenna that I can be! I fail on many days, but that’s just part of the journey. Please get regular skin checkups and never stop dreaming.

Your Vibe Attracts Your Tribe!

To see Brian’s story from last year’s campaign, visit HERE

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This is Brave

This is Brave: Bethany Shows Us Her True Strength

This last year for me has brought many changes and thankfully… Progress.

Health-wise, I’ve had a few little health scares since I wrote back in May 2018, but nothing serious or remotely life-threatening. Thank goodness! First, I had a staging scan to make sure all the immunotherapy (yervoy) infusions I get every three months are doing their job. It was during this scan that they found something on my liver. After a PET scan, the growth on my liver was determined to be nothing but a cyst and not metabolizing. The PET did reveal some reactivity in the lymph nodes on my neck. Which can mean bad news for me as well, but after a neck sonogram and a closer look it was determined that I just have Lymphedema (lymph node damage from radiation), which again was a huge relief.

Honestly, this is par for the course when you are in treatment for cancer. The closer you look the more things you find and if you’re lucky, it’s nothing. It’s a big mental weight, but worrying about what the results will be will not change the outcome. The only thing all the worry and anxiety does is ruin today.

In addition to tests, my face has changed yet again… but in the most positive way! I’ve had a few more plastic surgeries to fill in the dent on my forehead made by the removal of my melanoma. I’m grateful for this leap forward. I’ll be nearing the end of treatment soon and should be getting my last infusion this fall.

Emotionally, (because the emotional side of melanoma often feels bigger than the physical) I’ve had quite a year. In the midst of all of these tests and surgeries, my husband served me with a divorce. I was not surprised. Cancer is tough and brings out the best and worst in people. He was not capable of giving me the compassion I needed, and I was unable to overlook his shortcoming. I hope this shift gives us both the opportunity to find happiness.

My girls have been my inspiration and driving force. I have had to dig deep to start a new, independent life. In a few months, I sold our house, restarted my career (which I had left seven years ago), and moved into an apartment. Through all this change, the girls have bravely accepted each step-in stride. I am beyond proud of them.

Another one of my saving graces was advocacy. Thanks to my connections and my Melanoma Photo Diary on Facebook, many opportunities to continue raising awareness for melanoma and other skin cancers have opened up for me:

  1. The Shade Project invited me to speak at their annual Down and Derby fundraiser. SUCH an honor.
  2. Meredith’s Mission for Melanoma invited me to speak at their Gala to benefit the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.
  3. AND Coolibar and the Melanoma Research Foundation reached back out for This is Brave!

Moving forward into 2019 and beyond, my girls and I plan to continue supporting advocacy and awareness as much as we can. While I’m wrapping up my treatment with my last two infusions and the reconstruction on my face by December, our drive to support protection, prevention and early detection will keep going. Despite the “hardships” that I may have gone through since diagnosis, I’m grateful for the strength I have and my ability to support others.

To catch up on Bethany’s battle and story from last year, visit HERE.

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This is Brave

This is Brave: How Judy Lives the Mission Every Day

It’s been nearly a year since I wrote a blog for Coolibar’s “This is Brave” campaign. A lot has happened in the last year.  In that years’ time, an estimated 9,500 people were diagnosed every day with skin cancer.  An estimated 9,300 people died from melanoma.  And skin cancer remains the most common cancer in the United States. These are sobering statistics.

Over the last year, I’ve continued to not only be a patient but also a skin cancer awareness advocate.  I’ve had additional areas of skin cancer (squamous cell and basal cell) that needed treatment.  I know what it’s like to have the anxiety of wondering whether a suspicious area is skin cancer, and I know the feeling of wishing skin cancer would just go away. Unfortunately, for me, it won’t.

I also know the feeling that skin cancer can be a lonely cancer. That’s why I will continue to share my story, and I will continue to talk with and encourage others who are battling skin cancer or who are supporting loved ones in their battle. I continue to write articles for a skin cancer site, and I also moderate for them. In doing this, I’ve learned that far too many people don’t give much thought to skin cancer until it affects them or someone they love. We need to change this – especially given that many skin cancers can be prevented.

There’s so much work to be done. I want to do more. Indoor tanning continues to remain a big business in the United States. Insurance companies don’t yet cover an annual skin exam as preventative care. Too many people continue to not realize the consequences of tanning beds and over-exposure to the sun. I did a lot of damage to my skin when I was younger, as did many people.  My hope is that the more awareness we can raise, other people won’t make the same mistakes I did.  Now we know better, and now we can do better.

To see Judy’s story with us from last year, visit HERE.

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This is Brave

This is Brave: Coolibar Inc.

CEO Kendra Reichenau and Coolibar are DETERMINED to change the statistics

The reality is, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70 and one person dies of melanoma every hour. These statistics are harrowing.

On Melanoma Monday, May 7th, we revealed a limited-run tee shirt in support of our mission to keep the world safe from sun damage. The proceeds from the sale of this commemorative tee shirt, inspired by a 10-year child impacted by a melanoma diagnosis, will go directly to the Melanoma Research Foundation in support of research, education and advocacy.

After a skin cancer or melanoma diagnosis, life alters dramatically for the individual and everyone around them. It takes courage, determination, and advocacy to elevate the fight against this terrible disease in the hope of one day extinguishing it. For the month of May, we have joined forces with some of the true heroes in this fight, who have bravely come forward to share their real-life journeys as skin cancer and melanoma warriors. Depicted in photos and written in their own words, each story brings the reality of this immoderate disease to life, utilizing the most powerful insight.

We are honored and humbled to share these stories with you to raise awareness and encourage you to join us in the fight.

Together we can change the statistics. Be DETERMINED.

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Skin Diaries This is Brave

This is Brave: Norah O’Donnell

I never thought I would hear the words that I had been diagnosed with melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. And I admit, the first thing I did was cry. And then, I felt really sorry for myself. It took some time but then I realized that as a wife and a mother, I had to be strong.

But it is difficult to be strong when one feels incredibly vulnerable. My diagnosis was the first time I confronted my own mortality. It was also the first time I think my children did as well.

“So, wait, you have cancer?” asked my 8-year-old daughter Riley.

“Yes, but we are going to cut it out!” I replied optimistically.

“Is there any chance you can die from the surgery?” asked my 9-year-old son Henry

“I’m absolutely not going to die,” I assured him. “I mean, eventually I will. But not from this surgery.” When I left my daughter’s bedroom I felt horrible for sharing with them that I was having a relatively minor surgery. There was no need for me to worry them.

But I was scared and, perhaps selfishly, really appreciated their deep concern. Over the next few months after the surgery, my daughters, Riley and Grace, took turns at putting a healing ointment on the scar on my back, which I couldn’t reach.

“Oh mom, it looks soooo much better today,” my darling Riley would say, providing such positive feedback.

My dermatologist, Dr. Elizabeth Hale, made the diagnosis early. I had the surgery January 2017, which included a 3-inch incision and about 25 stitches. The scar has healed, but is still quite visible. It is a reminder that early detection saves lives.

Part of my preventative care now means that I return to Dr. Hale every three to four months for full-body checks to make sure there’s nothing out of the ordinary. Each visit requires the strength to confront the scary possibility that she will find another malignant mole.

The reality is that I can prevent a truly devastating diagnosis now with frequent check-ups. The harder truth I’ve come to learn is that I could have prevented the cancer altogether.

“More people develop skin cancer because of tanning than develop lung cancer because of smoking,” Dr. Hale told me. Just think about that.

Well, I am doing more than just thinking about it. I’m telling my children that while skin cancer is the most common form of cancer, it is also the most preventable.

I grew up in San Antonio, Texas, where jumping in the pool wasn’t just leisurable, it was one of the only ways to cool off! With the temperature pushing 100 degrees in the summer, we spent hours in the pool, many times without sunscreen. In high school, I would visit a tanning salon during the winter. I confessed this history to Dr. Hale who told me, “People that indoor tan before the age of 35 years have a 75% increased chance of melanoma.”

I know I made some bad choices. Those attempts to get a tan likely led to my cancer. But by sharing this with my children and others, I hope that my story can help all of us learn some valuable lessons and have the strength to embrace prevention.

Skin Cancer Facts can be found at http://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/skin-cancer-facts

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Skin Diaries This is Brave

This is Brave: Bethany Greenway

The word I’ve chosen to represent my melanoma journey is Aware.

My name is Bethany Greenway, I’m a stay at home mom to two amazing little girls. I was diagnosed with stage 3a melanoma August 2016. I wasn’t surprised about the diagnosis because my mom had melanoma at my age, it was just my body’s genetic timer going off.

I had a spot on my forehead that looked like a light brown liver spot, it made its appearance while I was pregnant with my second daughter. I went for my annual skin check when my little one was 9 months old, and got the all clear. I thought nothing of the spot and chalked it up to hormones until it grew a mole and the mole started to ache.

I went to see my dermatologist who sent me to a plastic surgeon for a biopsy. Three weeks later I got the call from my surgeon, I had two types of melanoma: desmoplastic melanoma, which is very rare, and regular melanoma surrounding it.

At this point, I’ve had two surgeries to remove the cancer and the nearest lymph node removed, which tested positive for melanoma and that put me at stage 3a. With melanoma being such an aggressive cancer, I had to begin treatment to prevent recurrence. I started immunotherapy October 4, 2016 and won’t be done with it until October 2019. The type of immunotherapy I’m on is called Yervoy, and it has a whole host of nasty side effects. Reading the list of them is worse than the drug ads you see on tv. I’ve been lucky in that department, so far, just fatigue and itchy rashes for me. After my first four infusions, I did radiation therapy for six weeks on my head and neck because this was the possible path the melanoma traveled in my body.

Most of what cancer patients go through is mental. Yes, we endure so much physically, but once the hard stuff is over we are left with merely a shell of what once was.  It also teaches us a powerful lesson in self-awareness and how to truly listen to our bodies. Discovering the new “normal” during treatment and feeling your body change in ways that you never thought possible is an eye-opening journey. It tunes you into who you are at your core.

Following the surgery on my face, I felt overwhelmed by the change. This wasn’t an optional cosmetic or aesthetic surgery, like a nose job or breast augmentation, this was done to save my life. It was also 100 times more obvious. How do I handle this? I kept asking myself over and over. So I chose to show my face to the world and show them how scary skin cancer can be and started my Melanoma Photo Diary on Facebook. If I can reach just one person and inspire them to go see the dermatologist and get that biopsy done, then that’s what I need to do. So I did. I took pictures and wrote daily. I still do. Mostly, I keep the diary so I can enjoy spending time with friends and family and not have to give them a medical update every time I see someone new.

Why am I telling you my story? So you can learn from me and to raise awareness about the black beast we call melanoma. Listen to your body and pay attention to the changes it makes.

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Skin Diaries This is Brave

This is Brave: Judy Cloud

Most of my life, I would not have associated the word ‘passionate’ with skin cancer, but here I am, passionate about skin cancer. Sounds odd, I agree. How did that happen, you ask?  The answer is this:  I have had skin cancer for over twenty years, and it won’t go away. I have had numerous surgeries to remove cancerous areas. Each day I am looking in the mirror, checking for new areas. And each time I find a suspicious place on my skin, it causes anxiety.

The truth is, skin cancer can largely be avoided by practicing good sun habits – protect your skin from over-exposure to the sun, use sunscreen, wear hats and sun protective clothing, avoid being in the sun during its strongest hours, and above all, do not use tanning beds. Yes, there can be a genetic factor to skin cancer, but largely, it can be prevented. And this is why I am passionate about raising skin cancer awareness. When I was growing up, there wasn’t much, if any, information about the dangers of overexposure to the sun. Kids played outside all day long. Sunscreen, if we had it, was SPF 2 or 4. Sunburns were common for fair-skinned people like me. Then along came tanning beds, which were introduced to us as being much safer than the sun (and which we now know is not at all true). Now we have more access to information. Now we see the results of generations of people who had over-exposure to the sun and went to tanning beds. Now we know better, and now we can do better. I don’t want others to have to go through what I’m going through, and helping to raise awareness about skin cancer is high on my priority list.

I must admit, being an advocate for skin cancer awareness at times puts me out of my comfort zone. I’m not used to having my life, complete with photos of my surgical wounds and healing process, ‘out there’ for all to see. But I need to be brave and continue to tell my story. And you as well, dear hearts. Be brave. If you are battling skin cancer, keep fighting. Keep telling your story. Keep raising awareness. And if you are someone who isn’t practicing the best sun habits, be brave. It’s okay to not have the ‘perfect’ summer tan. It’s okay to not go along with the crowd in thinking that you have to have a tan to fit in. One story at a time, one person at a time, we can raise awareness, passionately and bravely.

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Skin Diaries This is Brave

This is Brave: Janet KJ103

I’m “that girl”. The girl who begged her mom to sign a permission slip so she could use the tanning bed at 16.  I’m the girl who would proclaim that “tan fat looks better than white fat” as she would hop into the tanning bed before heading out on summer vacation.  I’m the runner girl who trains and runs half marathons without wearing a hat or sunscreen.  I’m also the girl who never thought skin cancer would happen to her.  So when I was told that I had basal and squamous cell skin cancer on my nose, I was shocked to say the least. I didn’t even have a spot that I thought looked suspicious!

Before I knew it, I had a dime size hole in my nose and I was talking to a plastic surgeon about the procedure to pull a vein from my forehead to feed a skin flap that would be placed on my nose.  I would have two surgeries within a month.  One to create the forehead flap that would remain in place for three weeks. The other surgery would be to fix all the damage they were about to create.

Every doctor I saw during this process reassured me that it was “just basal cell”.  Those words, “just basal cell” led me to create a Facebook live video showing off an up-close look at my forehead flap because “just basal cell” sure did mess up my face.

The hard reality that no matter the type of skin cancer, it’s impact will change your life.  Soon I was receiving messages from all over the country from people who went thru the exact same procedure. People who didn’t leave their house for three weeks because of the way they looked.  People who felt all alone during their entire process. They told me that my story brought them comfort and that they admired me for being brave. Let me tell you this, I didn’t put my story out there because I was brave. I put my story out there because I was loved.  I was loved by so many people that I didn’t know I should hide out. I was showered with the type of love that pulls you out of a dark valley and places you high on the mountain top… Where you’ll be sure to wear sunscreen! Since I was so loved, it was my duty to share that love with others.  Love allows you to be brave, be strong, be vigilant, be a light… BE LOVE!

 

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Skin Diaries This is Brave

This is Brave: Heather Van Nest

Hearing the words “You have melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer” shakes your entire world, no matter your age. Everything seems to stop as you absorb what it means, what’s at stake and how your life will change.

I am embarrassed to admit a skin cancer exam was not top of mind when I was diagnosed with melanoma at 29–years-old. I was working as an investigative TV reporter and interviewing a dermatologist about an unrelated topic for a local CBS TV station in Florida. He pulled me aside to stress that with my fair skin, multiple moles and family history, (my grandfather had been diagnosed with melanoma) I should schedule my first skin cancer exam. I honestly felt I was “too busy” to take the time to schedule an annual skin cancer exam. I reluctantly followed up and quickly learned that a biopsy of an unusual spot on my stomach was in fact, stage one melanoma.

This wake-up call dramatically changed my entire life as I learned the likelihood of recurrence is high. I didn’t want to waste my life worrying and waiting. I was motivated to stay healthy! I put my investigative reporting skills to work to find the best ways to boost my immune system and protect my skin—those are two things I can control.

Melanoma motivated me to overhaul my entire diet and focus on eating fresh unprocessed foods that strengthen my immune system. Garlic, turmeric, fish oil and every green vegetable imaginable are all a part of my new lifestyle.

My melanoma diagnosis also motivated me to find the safest and easiest way to protect myself from the harsh Florida sun. That’s how I discovered Coolibar’s UPF 50+ thin, comfortable sun protective clothing—my top choice for protection.

Today, 16 years after my melanoma diagnosis, I feel better than ever! I have a 4-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter, who my husband and I are proud to say know about the importance of sun protection.

Melanoma has motivated me to focus on what’s important in life. I have simplified what I can control, cutback on a demanding career and learned to appreciate everyday moments with my family.

I hope you will be motivated to make your annual skin cancer exam appointment. It just might save your life the way it saved mine.

Heather Van Nest is a former evening news anchor for the CBS affiliate in Tampa, Florida, natural health advocate and proud producer of the award-winning documentary, “Risky Rays: Don’t Get Burned.” The skin cancer awareness and prevention program aired on the local CBS TV station and was donated to the local school system.

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