The Two Faces Of Grief

Grief. Merriam Webster defines grief as a deep sadness caused especially by someone’s death. Deep and poignant distress caused by bereavement. Max Lucado, in his book Facing Your Giants states, “Bereavement comes from the word ‘reave’. Look up reave in the dictionary and you’ll read “to take away by force; plunder and rob.” Death robs you. The grave plunders moments and memories not yet shared: birthdays, vacations, milestones. You are bereaved because you’ve been robbed.”

Yep….that about sums it up. I am bereaved. I am grieving. I have been robbed. Katie has been robbed. Emilie has been robbed. Jacob has been robbed. A mother, a father, a sister, in-laws, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends…..all robbed. We are all grieving. We grieve in different ways and at different times, but we all grieve.

I’m certainly no expert in the field of grieving, nor do I ever want to be. But, the more I travel this path that’s been set before me, the more it seems to me that there are two faces to this thing called grief. One face that produces good in my life and one face that produces bitterness and ugliness in my life. One face that leads me to look more like Jesus and one face that leads me to look nothing like Him.

In one way, grief has made it difficult for me to sit still and quiet and spend time with the Lord. Because it’s in the quiet times that grief seems to hit me the hardest. But in another way, grief has shown me how desperate for Him I really am and how much I need to spend time with Him and in His Word.

Grief causes me to be sad and bitter about all the things that I no longer have and all the things that I will miss out on. All the things that I have been robbed of. But grief also causes me to be so thankful for all of the things that I have had. Grief causes me to remember how very blessed I have been.

At times, grief causes me to be self-centered and focused only on me and what I’m going through. But grief has also helped me to be more others-focused, realizing that everyone has hard things in their lives….I’m not the only one dealing with heartache and pain.

Grief brings with it feelings of incompetence, helplessness and a sense of being “unable”. But, it has also brought about a new-found sense of accomplishment as I learn to do things that I’ve never had to do before; and a reminder that He is my Helper.

One of the really ugly things that grief has brought out in me is anger and a sense of being judgemental towards couples who don’t seem to want to fight for their marriages. Couples who take one another for granted and don’t seem to care if their marriages thrive, just barely survive or even die. It makes me so angry that my marriage, my spouse was “robbed” from me, and they are willing to just let theirs go. I just want to shake these people and say “Can’t you see what you’re doing?? Wake up!!!” I told you it was ugly, and I’m not proud of these feelings, but I’m just being honest. But there is another face to this aspect of grief, as well. The Lord is teaching me that Yes, marriages are meant to last and they are meant to be modeled after Christ and the church, BUT….I have NO idea what these couples are going through. I have no right to judge these people, but should instead pray for them. To stand in the gap and fight (pray) on their behalf, and ask that their marriages would not only be saved but would also be marriages that would bring glory to God.

Grief has produced in me a longing to go “home” more than I’ve ever had before. I have a renewed interest in my Heavenly home and I have a desire to learn as much as I can about the place where Greg is now. But as much as I long to go home and look forward to that day, grief has also made me understand the importance of making each day that I have here on earth count. Each day is precious.

Grief has given me a more intense hatred for satan and the sin, sickness and death that he brought into this world. But because of the way my life has been touched by these things I have a greater compassion and desire to care for others that are going through these same things. I now know better how to pray, how to serve and how to be there for those that are going through what I’ve been through.

Grief brings with it a feeling that nothing else really matters now. Nothing has meaning. Life is without purpose. But through my grief I’m learning that there is a purpose for everything that the Lord allows into my life. I may not completely understand the exact purpose of me having to be a widow and a single Mom at the age of 48, and I certainly don’t like it, but even if I never know that purpose….one thing I DO know. My purpose is to live my life in a way that brings honor and glory to God and points others to Him. Many things in my life have and will change, but that purpose will never change.

Grief produces much worry and anxiety in my life. Who’s going to take care of me and the kids? How can I possibly be both Mom and Dad to my kids? How can I provide physically, financially and emotionally for a 21-year-old daughter, an 18-year-old daughter and a 15-year-old son. As a woman, how can I be what my son needs from a parent? How can I take care of this house and yard and do all the things that need to be done? But grief has also produced in my life a growing trust in my God. Through my grief I’ve been reminded over and over again how the Lord has cared for us, He has been good to us, He has provided for us. Grief has caused me to daily claim the Lord’s promise that He will be a Father to the fatherless and a protector and defender of the widow. My confidence for my future is based on what God has done in my past.

Grief brings with it indescribable sadness. It’s a sadness that you just can’t explain to anyone else. It’s a sadness that is overwhelming, suffocating and exhausting. It’s a sadness that can suck the life out of you. It’s a sadness that when it hits, you just can’t seem to get out from under it. But grief also brings times of indescribable peace. It is the peace that passes ALL understanding. I never knew what that really meant until now. It’s a peace that I’ve never experienced in all my life. Many days I stand in awe at the peace the Lord has provided for me. It’s a peace that doesn’t make sense. It’s a peace that could come from nowhere or no one other than a good and loving God. It’s a peace that is so overwhelming that sometimes I find myself thinking, “how in the world can I feel this way in the midst of what I’m going through?” Sometimes I think, “Am I living in denial?” But what’s to deny? Greg’s not here, how can you deny that? It’s not denial, it’s just God’s indescribable peace in the midst of indescribable sadness. How they can coexist, I have no idea. Actually I do….only God!

Grief causes me to live some days in self-pity. So many “whys” and no real answers can lead me straight into a big ol’ pity party. And, I go there too often and stay there for far too long. But grief has also helped me to realize how abundantly blessed I am. Reminders of how He loves me, cares for me, and puts others in my life to help me bear this burden. And all the unanswered “whys” just teach me trust Him more. To put faith to the words that I have so often thoughtlessly spouted out….everything that happens to me is for my good and His glory. Do I really believe that?? Grief puts me in a position to live out what I say I believe.

Grief has a way of making you feel lost and alone. But grief has also helped prove to me that I am never really alone. The Lord is always with me and He is kind enough to send me little reminders of this every day in so many different ways.

Grief brings with it sadness and tears that catch me off-guard and seem to come out of nowhere. But grief also brings times where I am surprised by joy. Glimpses of joy, laughter, happiness that also seem to come out of nowhere.

Grief often takes me to the point of wanting to give up, like I just can’t and don’t even want to make it through another day. I find it hard to take the next step, the next breath even. But grief also reminds me of Greg’s words to me and the kids after he was first diagnosed with melanoma. “I don’t like this. I don’t want this. I wouldn’t choose this for me, or my wife or my kids. I don’t get to choose what happens to me. But….I DO get to choose how I will respond to what has happened to me.” And grief reminds me that I am in that same place again. I don’t like this path. I don’t want it. I certainly didn’t choose it; to be a widow and a single mother. But…I DO get to choose how I will respond to what has happened to me. Grief reminds me that the decision is mine.

Grief tells me that since Greg is gone, I am only half the person that I was before. When we married, Greg and I became one, but now he’s gone and I am incomplete. I am no longer whole. But through this grief, the Lord has shown me over and over that He makes me whole. He is my Completer. He is all I need. He is more than enough!

Grief is hard. Grief is not pretty. Grief is a part of this life. But just like anything else, we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. Even grief.

So, once again I am faced with a choice. Will I choose to allow this grief to make me more like Jesus, or will I choose to allow it to rob me of even more than it already has? Unfortunately, it’s not a one-time choice. It’s a choice that I have to make many times a day. I pray that as time goes on, I’ll find myself making the right choice more times than I do the wrong choice.

Weeping may last for a night (I think it’s going to be a really long night), but Praise God, joy comes in the morning!!

Trusting His Plan,
Sandra

One Day…..A Million Emotions

One day…..so many emotions. Yesterday was Greg’s 50th birthday. At the end of last month, I began to dread this day. I knew it would be so hard. I knew how much the kids and I would miss him. I knew how much his Mom, Dad, sister and the rest of his family would miss him. I just felt like it would be a time when we should all be together. But, I didn’t know what we should do to honor and remember Greg on his birthday. I knew that he would not want us sitting around being sad and crying all day. I wanted to do something special…something memorable…but I just wasn’t sure what that was. Then it hit me…..a Braves game! I checked the schedule and sure enough there was a home game scheduled for May 19. I checked with family members and purchased our tickets.

So yesterday, we spent the evening doing three of Greg’s favorite things……..spending time with family (we missed you Michael and Molly 😦 ), eating good food, and watching baseball! It was perfect weather for a game, we had a great time and the Braves WON!! This was definitely a great way to celebrate Greg’s birthday! After the game, Jake said, “Mom, I think we should make this a tradition and do this on Dad’s birthday every year.” I tend to agree with him!

One year ago, Greg celebrated his birthday sitting in a hospital room at MD Anderson in Houston, Texas. He was hooked up to multiple tubes with harsh chemicals flowing into his body, fighting for his life. Yesterday, he celebrated his 50th birthday in the Presence of the Giver of ALL Life! He celebrated with the One who IS the Way, and the Truth, and the Life!! We too, celebrated….but we also grieve that we can’t celebrate with him in person…..not this year….but we rejoice knowing that one day we will! We love and miss him more with each day that passes and cannot wait until we are all together again!! Happy Birthday Greg! We love you!

Trusting His Plan,
Sandra

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A Bittersweet Blessing

Back in 2010, we went on our first cruise as a family. Greg’s parents had given the cruise to us as a Christmas gift. We went with them, along with Greg’s sister and her family. We had a wonderful time and the kids have often talked about going on another cruise. Then in 2012, Greg and I went on a cruise to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. Since then the kids have really talked about wanting to go on another cruise, but with all that was going on in our lives that just never happened.

After all that has happened over the last several months and all that the kids have been through, I really wanted to do something special for them. Something where we could all get away from everything for a bit and just be alone….together. Something that would help us create some new memories. Of course my first thought was a cruise, but I quickly dismissed that idea. I told myself, “I don’t need to spend the money on something like a cruise.” I also worried about what people would think about me spending money on something like a cruise at a time like this. I know that’s crazy and that I should not be concerned about what others think, but I’m just being honest here.

And unfortunately, I’m not alone when it comes to this type of thinking. I have talked to other widows who experience these same thoughts. We feel like we are under such scrutiny sometimes. Why is she acting like that? How can she seem so joyful? Why is she always so depressed? She needs to just get over it and get on with her life. How can she just go on with her life? She must not have loved her husband as much as I love mine; I would just die if anything happened to my husband. She needs to grieve more/less. Why is she spending money on that? She must be in denial. Why is she dressing like that? Why is she still wearing her wedding ring? Why did she quit wearing her wedding ring? She cries too much. She doesn’t cry enough; she’s suppressing her feelings. She talks about her husband too much. She always tries to avoid talking about her husband. Not that anyone actually says these things to us, but it’s just hard. We feel like everything that we do is being watched and/or judged by others. I’m sure that most of these feelings are self-induced. I question everything that I do. What I say. How I act. So, I think that everyone else is doing the same.

Anyway, because of all these things, I quickly dismissed any thoughts of going on a cruise. Until…..the Lord showed me very clearly that this was the very thing that He wanted my kids and I to do. The very thing that we needed at this time in our lives. One day as I was paying our bills online (something that Greg used to always do), I noticed that we had quite a few reward points on our credit card. Apparently Greg had been letting these points build up for quite some time. I decided to look at some of the discounted cruise rates to see what the prices were. Katie had only one week the entire summer that she would be home. I found a discounted cruise rate for that particular week that I could completely pay for with our reward points! So, after checking with the kids, I booked the cruise and we went last week! What a sweet gift from the Lord!

We drove to Port Canaveral last Sunday (Mother’s Day). The ship sailed on Monday and we returned on Friday. We had a wonderful time together just being away and relaxing. It was a sweet time, but there were also sad moments. Sadness that Greg wasn’t with us this time. Sadness as I watched other couples enjoying their time together. A bittersweet blessing. But also a time of joy, as I was once again reminded that my God loves me, He is with me, He is for me, and He will provide for me. Not only does He provide what we need, but He also provides things that we don’t necessarily NEED, but that bring us happiness and joy…like a cruise! And as if the cruise itself were not enough, I was delighted to find out that my best friend from nursing school was on the same cruise! Coincidence? No…..God!! It was so very special to catch up with her and spend some time together after all these years!

Here are a few pictures from our cruise.

Breakfast at the hotel before leaving to board the ship.

Breakfast at the hotel before leaving to board the ship.

Waiting for the shuttle.

Waiting for the shuttle.

On the shuttle to the pier.

On the shuttle to the pier.

Getting ready to sail away!

Getting ready to sail away!

First thing on the agenda...EAT!!

First thing on the agenda…EAT!!

Ready for a fun week!

Ready for a fun week!

The view from mine and Jake's cabin.  The girls were next door.

The view from mine and Jake’s cabin. The girls were next door.

Emilie......formal night at dinner.

Emilie……formal night at dinner.

Katie.....formal night at dinner.

Katie…..formal night at dinner.

Jake...formal night at dinner.  Well, as formal as Jake gets.  He's not wearing a cap, so that counts as formal, right??

Jake…formal night at dinner. Well, as formal as Jake gets. He’s not wearing a cap, so that counts as formal, right??

Katie and Jake in Nassau.

Katie and Jake in Nassau.

Coco Cay....storm blowing in.

Coco Cay….storm blowing in.

Beautiful, even with a storm brewing.

Beautiful, even with a storm brewing.

It got chilly when the wind really started blowing!

It got chilly when the wind really started blowing!

Unfortunately, we didn't get to enjoy the hammocks before the storm ran us off the island.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to enjoy the hammocks before the storm ran us off the island.

Our ship...Enchantment of the Seas.

Our ship…Enchantment of the Seas.

So thankful for God’s kindness, faithfulness and provision!

Trusting His Plan,
Sandra

A Day To Celebrate And Remember

Yesterday my “baby” turned 15!!! How can that be?? I remember the day like it was yesterday. On May 8, 1999 we were at my brother’s college graduation when I went into labor. We made a couple of quick pictures after the graduation, handed off Katie and Emilie to the grandparents and headed straight to the hospital. Well…..maybe not straight. Greg, having experienced my two previous births, knew that I don’t do anything quick when it comes to labor and delivery. So, he knew that we might be at the hospital for quite awhile. And even though I was crying and about to pass out from the labor pains (I’m joking, my labor was just getting started :)), he asked, “Would you mind if I stop to get something to eat before we go to the hospital? I’m getting hungry and this might be a long day.” Of course, I told him that I didn’t mind and I waited in the car…..in labor…while he went in to get some food! We forever teased him about that!

Anyway, the next day was Mother’s Day and our sweet Jacob Gregory made his entrance into this world at 9 lbs and 6oz. What grateful and proud parents we were! Jacob completed our family and he has been a joy to us ever since we first held him in our arms. So how can it be that today he is 15?? How can it be that he is now taller than me! How can it be that at 15, he is now the man of the house??? My heart aches for him that his Dad was not here to celebrate his birthday with him. So many plans for the future that Greg and Jake had…..now never to be. So many things that could get me depressed and sad if I dwell on them. But we choose to remember the good, be thankful for what we did have, rather than angry about what we won’t have. We choose to look forward to the plan and the purpose that we KNOW our God has for each of us. And we look forward to the day when we will once again celebrate our birthdays ALL TOGETHER again!

So, yesterday we chose to celebrate the life that we have with Jacob and to remember the life that we had with Greg.

Jacob at one year old!

Jacob at one year old!

We started the day with history group. Jake and some of his friends are working on creating a board game about Greek mythology. They are calling the game The Search for Mount Olympus.

Talking about ideas for the game.

Talking about ideas for the game.

Creative minds at work!

Creative minds at work!

When history group was over, Jake and I headed to Chick-fil-A for his birthday lunch.

We love CFA!!

We love CFA!!

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After lunch, we headed to the movie theater! Jake and his friend, Elijah watched Spiderman 2 in 3D. My friend, Cherie, and I opted for watching Mom’s Night Out instead!

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Next activity, was to head to the airport with lots of family members. No, we weren’t going out of town. We were there for the Relay for Life activities that were being held. Some of Greg’s coworkers and colleagues had donated two torches in Greg’s memory and we were invited to come and see what was going on. We were honored and humbled by the donations made in Greg’s memory. But, I’ll admit that it was difficult being at Greg’s place of employment and not having him with us. It was pouring down rain and we all got soaked, but it was worth it! We were so very blessed to have one of Greg’s co-workers Liz, her husband Philip and Liz’s boss, Sam meet us there. They were so very kind to spend their evening in the rain, showing us around. Liz has been so extremely kind and helpful to our family with all of the Delta “details” since Greg’s death. She has truly been a Godsend to me! There were lots of booths, raffles, games, photo booth, food, etc. They also had a live band playing and “somehow” they found out that it was Jake’s birthday. They called him up on stage and sang Happy Birthday to him! It was great to have some laughter mixed in with the somberness and sadness of the reality. The reality that so many people lose their lives every day to this evil called cancer. Hundreds of luminaries and torches….each representing someone who is no longer with us. Each one representing a family that is living with the void and the heartache that goes along with losing a loved one. The numbers of cancer-related deaths are staggering and would appear that cancer/evil/satan is winning this war. But the good news is that we know that cancer and death is NOT the end. Our family will be together again!

Jacob, Emilie and I standing with one of the torches donated in Greg's memory.

Jacob, Emilie and I standing with one of the torches donated in Greg’s memory.

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Carolyn (Greg's mother) and I

Carolyn (Greg’s mother) and I

Our family members that were able to join us.

Our family members that were able to join us.

Jacob on stage as they sing Happy Birthday!

Jacob on stage as they sing Happy Birthday!

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With Liz.  Greg's co-worker who has been such a help to us.

With Liz. Greg’s co-worker who has been such a help to us.

Being silly in the photo booth!

Being silly in the photo booth!

We left the airport and went to Panda Express…the birthday boy’s chosen destination for dinner! After dinner, we came back to the house and ended the long, but fun day with present opening and a special dessert made especially for Jacob by his “second mom”! It was delicious!!

Part of our crew at Panda Express.

Part of our crew at Panda Express.

Zach and Tyler gave Jake lots of help with opening presents!

Zach and Tyler gave Jake lots of help with opening presents!

With Greg's parents.

With Greg’s parents.

With my parents

With my parents

With my brother and his family.

With my brother and his family.

With Greg's sister and (part of) her family.

With Greg’s sister and (part of) her family.

Missing Katie :(

Missing Katie 😦

The yummy dessert!!

The yummy dessert!!

A day of sweetness and sadness. A day of remembering. A day of new memories.

Trusting His Plan,
Sandra

Baseball Blessings Abound!

Jacob loves baseball, and more specifically…he loves the Atlanta Braves! He and Greg used to try to go to a game or two every season. Jacob’s 15th birthday is this coming Friday, May 9. Greg and Jacob had recently started a tradition where they would go to an “away” Braves game together in May….there birthday month (Greg’s birthday is also in May). They wanted to go to as many different ballparks as they could. For Jake’s 13th birthday, they went to Chicago and on his 14th birthday, they went to Cincinnati. Unfortunately, it was a short-lived tradition, but Jacob has many great memories from those two trips.

In the cockpit, on the flight to Chicago!

In the cockpit, on the flight to Chicago!

At Wrigley Field

At Wrigley Field

Wrigley Field

Wrigley Field

The limo ride back to the airport

The limo ride back to the airport

14th birthday in Cincinnati!

14th birthday in Cincinnati!

The Great American Ballpark!

The Great American Ballpark!

At the beginning of this season Jake said, “I bet I don’t go to any games this season.” Well, God heard the discouragement in that boy’s statement and He has provided MANY “baseball blessings” over the last couple of weeks!

Last Friday, Katie took Jake to see the Braves play the Giants for an early birthday present. They had a great time together! After the game, Jacob even got the chance to meet John Smoltz, get his autograph and have his picture made with him! What a blessing for Katie and Jake to have this special time together!

Katie and Jake at the Braves/Giants game.

Katie and Jake at the Braves/Giants game.

Jacob and John Smoltz!

Jacob and John Smoltz!

This past Monday, Jake was blessed to be able to go to another Braves game, this time against the Cardinals. Frank Wren, Sr. (father of the Braves’ general manager) took Jacob to this game….how cool is that?? On Easter Sunday, after our church service ended, our friend, Kevin Burrell, grabbed Jake and said, “I’ve got someone I want you to meet.” Kevin is a former MLB player and is currently a scout for the Chicago White Sox. Turns out that Mr. Wren goes to our church (we had no idea!) and Kevin introduced Jacob to him! Thanks to the connection from Kevin, Mr. Wren called Jake this past Sunday night and invited him to go to the game with him on Monday evening. Of course, Jake said YES!!! He had a great time at the game! Before the game started, Jake was allowed to go down to the track behind home plate and take a few pictures of the field. They had great seats right behind home plate, and Mr. Wren even treated Jake to dinner and snacks during the game. Jake thought that where Mr. Wren got to park was pretty cool too! What a special blessing that night was!

Jacob and Mr. Frank Wren, Sr.

Jacob and Mr. Frank Wren, Sr.

Getting ready to start the game!

Getting ready to start the game!

Go Braves!!

Go Braves!!

And now….Jake is going to the another game on Saturday! This time to see the Braves play the Cubs! Yesterday, one of Greg’s coworkers emailed me and said that he and his wife have season tickets to the Braves, but will be unable to go to the game on Saturday. He wanted to know if we would like to have the tickets! I am unable to go with Jacob, but his cousin is going to take him. (I’m sure he would rather go with his cousin anyway! 🙂 ) Once again…another baseball blessing!

And, we’re not finished! We’ve got another special game planned in a couple of weeks. I’ll blog about that later.

What a caring, compassionate, loving and merciful Savior we have! In the midst of much pain and sadness, the Lord brings blessing and joy to one of His children. Actually, not just one of His children, but two. It brings such joy and happiness to my “Mama heart” to see my child happy and blessed! And I know it does the same for His “Father heart” to see His children happy and blessed!

We are so grateful for His constant love, mercy and provision for us. We are also thankful for the ones who allow Him to use them to bless us!

Trusting His Plan,
Sandra

May Is Melanoma Awareness Month: This Post Could Save Your Life!

melanoma placard

The month of May is Melanoma Awareness Month. A month to spread the word about the deadliest type of skin cancer and to encourage people to protect their skin. Many people think melanoma is “just” skin cancer….you cut it off and you are good to go. If only it were that easy. 😦

~ One person dies of melanoma every hour (every 57 minutes)

~ Melanoma accounts for less than five percent of skin cancer cases, but the vast majority of skin cancer deaths.

~ Of the seven most common cancers in the US, melanoma is the only one whose incidence is increasing. Between 2000 and 2009, incidence climbed 1.9 percent annually.

~ 1 in 50 men and women will be diagnosed with melanoma during their lifetime.

~ About 86 percent of melanomas can be attributed to exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun.

~ Melanoma is one of only three cancers with an increasing mortality rate for men, along with liver cancer and esophageal cancer.

~ Survivors of melanoma are about nine times as likely as the general population to develop a new melanoma.

~ Melanoma is the most common form of cancer for young adults 25-29 years old and the second most common form of cancer for young people 15-29 years old.

~ Melanomas can also form in other parts of your body such as the eyes, mouth, genitals and anal area.

~ A person’s risk for melanoma doubles if he or she has had more than five sunburns.

~ One or more blistering sunburns in childhood or adolescence more than double a person’s chances of developing melanoma later in life.

~ Regular daily use of an SPF 15 or higher sunscreen reduces the risk of developing melanoma by 50 percent.

~ The International Agency for Research on Cancer, an affiliate of the World Health Organization, includes ultraviolet (UV) tanning devices in its Group 1, a list of the most dangerous cancer-causing substances. Group 1 also includes agents such as plutonium, cigarettes, and solar UV radiation.

~ Just one indoor tanning session increases users’ chances of developing melanoma by 20 percent, and each additional session during the same year boosts the risk almost another two percent.

~ Of melanoma cases among 18-to-29-year-olds who had tanned indoors, 76 percent were attributable to tanning bed use.

~ People who first use a tanning bed before age 35 increase their risk for melanoma by 75 percent.

Who is at risk for developing melanoma?

Everyone is at some risk for melanoma, but increased risk depends on several factors. These are sun exposure, number of moles on the skin, skin type and family history (genetics).

Sun Exposure — Both UVA and UVB rays are dangerous to the skin, and can induce skin cancer, including melanoma. Blistering sunburns in early childhood increase risk, but cumulative exposure also is a factor.

Moles — People with many moles are at an increase risk of developing melanoma. People with more than 50 moles are at a greater risk. Some people have irregular and unusual looking moles called atypical moles or dysplastic nevi. This increases the risk of melanoma.

Family History — Any person who has a first-degree relative (mother, father, siblings or children) diagnosed with melanoma has a fifty percent greater chance of developing the melanoma than the person who does not have a family history of melanoma.

Genetic risk — A mutation in the BRAF gene, may play a part in causing melanoma. Mutations in this gene can lead to uncontrolled cell growth and cancer. The mutations most commonly seen in familial melanoma occur in another gene, which is p53.

Personal History — Persons with a history of other type of skin cancer like basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinomas are at increase risk for developing melanoma.

Skin Type — Fairer skin is at increased risk of developing melanoma.

Immune system — Any person with a compromised immune system has an increase chance to develop melanoma. The immune system can be compromised as a result of chemotherapy, HIV/AIDS or organ transplant.

Possible signs and symptoms of melanoma

The most important warning sign for melanoma is a new spot on the skin or a spot that is changing in size, shape, or color. Another important sign is a spot that looks different from all of the other spots on your skin (known as the ugly duckling sign). If you have any of these warning signs, have your skin checked by a doctor.

The ABCDE rule is another guide to the usual signs of melanoma. Be on the lookout and tell your doctor about spots that have any of the following features:

A is for Asymmetry: One half of a mole or birthmark does not match the other.
B is for Border: The edges are irregular, ragged, notched, or blurred.
C is for Color: The color is not the same all over and may include shades of brown or black, or sometimes with patches of pink, red, white, or blue.
D is for Diameter: The spot is larger than 6 millimeters across (about ¼ inch – the size of a pencil eraser), although melanomas can sometimes be smaller than this.
E is for Evolving: The mole is changing in size, shape, or color.
Some melanomas do not fit the rules described above. It is important to tell your doctor about any changes or new spots on the skin, or growths that look different from the rest of your moles.

Other warning signs are:

A sore that does not heal
Spread of pigment from the border of a spot to surrounding skin
Redness or a new swelling beyond the border
Change in sensation – itchiness, tenderness, or pain
Change in the surface of a mole – scaliness, oozing, bleeding, or the appearance of a bump or nodule

As you can see, there are many ways to help prevent melanoma, as well as many warning signs. Unfortunately for Greg, there were no warning signs. Did he ever get sunburned? Probably a time or two in his life, but nothing significant. Did he ever use a tanning bed? Never. Did he use sunscreen. Yes. Did he spend hours in the sun when we went to the beach? No. He preferred the shade. Did he work outside a lot? Yes, but he wore sunscreen and a hat most times. Did he ever have anything on his skin that was suspicious or questionable? No.

Greg’s diagnosis came from a tiny, pea-sized growth that he felt under his skin on his left trunk area. Who would have thought that it was melanoma? Not the doctor or the surgeon. Certainly not us! After the surgeon removed the “growth”, he came out to the waiting room and told me, “It was just a cyst….no big deal. But we’ll send it to the lab, just to be sure.” Six days later I got the call from the surgeon…it was melanoma. Talk about shock!

So, there’s not always an explanation as to why someone ends up with melanoma. But, if there ARE things that can help reduce the risk of developing this deadly disease….why would you not take those precautions???? Why would you take the chance of going to tanning beds, or spending hours in the sun? Why would you not use sunscreen, hats, sunglasses, etc. when you are out in the sun? Why would you not be aware of any changes in your skin and have regular skin checks? As parents, why would you not do everything in your power to spare your children from this horrible disease?

Prevention and early detection are key!

Trusting His Plan,
Sandra

(These facts/statistics were taken from cancer.org and americanskin.org)

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