Written by Heather Bergemann
Eleven years ago everything changed.
The phone call came from my sister, my very best friend in the world.
I have cancer…
Three words that will forever make your heart sink to the pit of your stomach.
Melanoma, she said. A mole that tested positive for cancer cells. It was found during a routine check up with her doctor. The mole was surgically removed along with a fair portion of her surrounding tissue. A six inch long incision on her thigh. Thankfully it wasn’t yet in the lymph nodes yet. No chemo, no radiation. Just surgery to remove that nasty, nasty word from her life.
Fast forward 5 years. I say that not to shorten the story but because those 5 years seemed to fly by. The cancer was gone. We took advantage of the time we could have together but life gets busy. It always gets busy. We got comfortable with living the life we had lived before.
Then came another phone call. The cancer was back, with a vengeance. Little blue spots under her skin that had been popping up for a few months. At first she didn’t notice them. When she did notice them, she wasn’t initially worried. It took some time for her doctor to see them and biopsy them.
Stage 4 Melanoma.
My heart melted and my mind raced. Somehow I knew that this would be the end for her. Somehow I knew that the time we thought we’d always have was gone. The clock was ticking.
We talked a lot in the year that I had left with her. We laughed, we cried. We made promises to each other. Promises I work hard to keep.
As the anniversary of her death approaches each year, I am reminded of the promise I made her to educate.
This coming weekend will mark 5 years since I last held my sister’s hand and hugged her frail body. 5 years since I last heard her laugh and experienced the sweet sound of her voice. More importantly, it’s been 5 years since my nephew got a hug and kiss goodnight from his mom.
My sister was not a sun goddess. She always used sunscreen. She often wore jeans in the summer. Her body was not exposed to the sun. And yet, this awful disease took her and so many like her.
My body looks a lot like hers, covered in moles. Some large, some small. All shapes, sizes and colors.
Religiously I make an annual dermatology appointment. My amazing doctor knows the history of my family and checks me over with a fine toothed comb. Over the years I have had several moles removed. Anything that looks suspicious gets the scalpel. Consequently, I have scars all over my body as well. Some where people can see and some where they can’t. Some have stitch marks along with them, others are more like pock marks. A few of these moles have come back with concerns. If needed, the doctor calls me back in and takes more tissue. Most times, she gets it all.
All of these scars tell the story of my continued survival.
I speak, today, for my sister. I speak for the countless others who no longer have a voice thanks to this meaningless disease.
Please, please protect your skin as much as possible. Please have your skin checked by a physician regularly and do routine skin checks on yourself at home. Report anything suspicious as soon as you spot it. There is no mark too small to examine.
Your life means the world to someone.