awareness: skin cancer.

Six months ago, tomorrow, on May 2, 2013, I was diagnosed with skin cancer.

I had gotten a referral to The Polley Clinic (a dermatologist’s office in Fayetteville) to have two tiny rough patches of skin on my forehead and temple looked at. I constantly picked at them and wondered if there was any way to be rid of them. No problem, my dermatologist said. He froze them and said they would fall off within a few days.

Did I have any other concerns about my skin? I mentioned that the backs of my arms were always red and a little bumpy and it made me self-conscious. No problem, my dermatologist said. He prescribed a foam that would put that skin back to normal.

Any other concerns? Well, I guess I hadn’t had a skin check in a while and I did have a sort of big mole on my abdomen. He had me lift my shirt and took a look at it.

It was Asymmetrical. It’s Borders were uneven on the inside, where the Color was darker. The Diameter was roughly the size of a pencil eraser. And it had Evolved since I had been pregnant with Madeline, growing slightly in size and shape.

I hadn’t thought twice about this mole. I had been told moles can change with pregnancy. And anyway, the changes had been so subtle I hardly noticed them. But why I hadn’t thought this mole, with all the warning signs for skin cancer, deserved any prior attention is beyond reason.

He suggested removing it right away, that it looked suspicious but was most likely just an abnormal mole. Had I received a lot of sun exposure as a child? Any one-off bad sunburns? Spent any time in a tanning booth? Yes to all three. I grew up spending my summers on the beach. Even though my parents were diligent with sunscreen, I had surely forgotten to reapply a handful of times and ended up with a few burns. And in nothing but a display of utter vanity, I had gone tanning a few times during my freshman year of college and again before my wedding, “to get just a little color.”

I was to return in 4-6 weeks for the results of the sample. So when the called me after only three and a half weeks and asked me to come in the next day, I knew something wasn’t right. Andrew took off work to go to the appointment with me, and we left Madeline with my neighbor. We had thought they would tell me I had pre-cancerous cells or at the worst maybe a basal cell carcinoma (we Googled the night before).

We sat in the office in denial. Maybe it was just nothing. Surely it was nothing! The doctor came in.

“The results came back, and it is malignant melanoma.”

I had malignant melanoma in situ, meaning it was still confined to the epidermis and had not spread. The doctor performed a surgery right there in the office to remove more skin, to confirm the diagnosis and ensure the margins were free of cancerous cells. My initial shock quickly waned and fear set in. Had I not gone to the dermatologist when I did, we may not have caught the cancer until it was much more progressed.

I am 27 years old. I have a husband and a daughter and a family. I’ve hardly scratched the surface of the life I want for myself. And it could have all been thrown away. All because being tan is considered more beautiful, and I bought into that. All because I was too lazy or ignorant to reapply sunscreen. I did this to myself, of my own neglect.

I am grateful that my cure was so easy to come by. That simple surgery turned my diagnosis day into the day I was cured of skin cancer. I left that office with stitches on my stomach and new perspective on skin care.

Before returning home, we stopped at the store to pick up 70+ sunscreen at the recommendation of my dermatologist. I spent that night shopping online for UPF sun shirts and wide-brimmed hats. I bought UPF beach umbrellas and a UPF beach tent. I texted close family and friends, reminding them to get checked. I will no longer be leaving the safety of my and my family’s skin to chance. We have too much to lose.

I check the “Skin Cancer” box now, on lists of health conditions. I see the dermatologist every three months. My stitches healed into a thick, inch-long scar. A few weeks ago, I had a steroid injected to shrink the poorly healed scar. Yesterday, a few more steroid shots. But I sort of hope the appearance of my scar doesn’t change or fade too much. Let it be a small, but ugly and permanent reminder that nothing is worth putting my health at risk.

I hope my story is the reminder or the push or, heck, the shove you need to go to the dermatologist this year. Get your skin checked! Remember to keep a close eye on any new moles or growths during the rest of the year (know your ABCDEs), and, when it doubt, get it checked out! Take care of your skin.

awareness: the US service member’s guide to academic programs and aid.

the graduate
  • Are you a milspouse who is thinking about going back to school and trying to calculate how many more years of service your soldier needs before he can transfer his entire Post-9/11 GI Bill to you?
  • Are you a milspouse paying for your degree out of pocket, daydreaming about scholarships and financial aid as you write the next check toward your student loan?
  • Is your soldier interested in the Green to Gold program?
  • Are you the spouse or child of a fallen or disabled soldier looking for assistance in continuing your education?
  • Are you a veteran of the US Armed Forces wondering “What’s next?” as you transition back into the civilian world? 
  • Is your child thinking about pursuing a career in the military and wondering about ROTC?

If you’ve answered yes to any of the preceding questions, then you need to check out this comprehensive guide to the academic programs and aid available to US servicemembers and their families. onlinecolleges.net has broken down and linked to many of the educational programs, scholarships and tuition assistance options you or a member of your military family may be eligible for.
In other words, they made a list of ways to keep your money in your pocket while getting a degree. Yes, please!

Arm yourself with the information you need to make smart decisions about your education:
THE U.S. SERVICEMEMBER’S GUIDE TO ACADEMIC PROGRAMS AND AID

awareness: car seat safety.

The day I turned 36 weeks pregnant with Madeline, Andrew and I set out to install her infant car seat. It was 10,000 degrees outside, I weighed 10,000 pounds and we were both sweating even with the car A/C on full blast as we tried to get the seat in place. After pouring over the manual, looking up installation tips on our phones and having the required new-parent fight over this impossible task, we got it in. We practiced popping the car seat in and out of the base, linking it up with the stroller and even strapped a doll into it once or twice and jostled it around a bit for funsies. We were ready to bring home our baby.

She didn’t arrive for another 5+ weeks, but you can never be too prepared when it comes to car seat safety, if you ask me. Your child’s car seat is the only thing strapping them down to prevent them running a total muck keeping them safe on your very brave outings to the grocery store, Babies R’ Us and the pediatrician’s office. It is up to us, as keepers of these tiny tots, to make sure our children are properly secured at all times.  As I mentioned above, this isn’t always an intuitive or easy process. What’s with all the buckles? Where does this clip go? How can I fit my swaddled burrito into this thing? And, most importantly, what if she cries?

I found most of the answers to my questions in this (lengthy and kinda dull, but very informative) video from The Car Seat Lady (the most important recap for strapping the baby in can be found at 5:12, for those who want to skip ahead):

At first, we were not pulling the straps tight enough and had the clip too low across Maddie’s stomach rather than up at her chest:

Madeline strapped incorrectly into car seat

Once educated, we fixed our mistakes and rested easier knowing our baby was properly secured, even if her blood curdling screaming in the seat persisted. At four months old, we switched her to a rear-facing convertible car seat, the screaming miraculously stopped and we’ve been safe and sound ever since!

PS- Turns out, there is such a thing as a child car seat inspection station, and if you live in the US there is probably one near you.Why did we not know this on that sweltering June day in Georgia??

PPS- Also this.