Thursday, July 27, 2017

You Can Only Love Them


There once was a time – not that long ago – I thought I knew it all. I was so angry, so bitter, so scared, that I critiqued what people said to me. Instead of wrapping myself in the love sent with their comments, I thought of what they should have said. Like many others, I blogged about what you should say to cancer patients, I wrote about what not to say to cancer patients. I talked about the clichés used and how one should avoid them. I was such an angry know-it-all.

My blog friend, Tim, wrote a comment in 2011 that really struck home with me today as I reread it: “Unfortunately, almost ANYTHING someone says can be a problem depending on what my state of mind happens to be at that particular time.” How true is that? Why didn’t I realize that at the time?

In the last few years, and even this week, I’ve found myself in the position of not knowing what to say. Friends have suffered tragic losses and I’m left speechless. I’m thinking of the clichés. I’m considering not saying anything at all. I’m worried that my sentiment, my love, is not what will transfer and it will all sound insincere. This is ridiculous, you guys. I just want these people to know they are loved, that in their darkest days, THEY ARE LOVED.


So, here I am, many years later, asking for your apology for being an angry-know-it-all melanoma diva.

I know you meant well.

(Well, besides that lady in the post office. I’m not over that one.)

XO,

Chelsea

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Life's Coincidences

When I'm not raising boys, building a business, or browsing social media like it is my job, I am a residency coordinator at a teaching hospital. I enjoy my job. It introduces me to all sorts of people, from all sorts of places. Seeing these medical students and residents learn, hearing their passion and enthusiasm, it gives me such hope for our future. These people are smart, y'all.

Recently I was making small talk with my new chief resident. Nothing out of the ordinary, small talk. I asked him about his interests, where he hopes to end up--surgical oncology--and his future plans. We're walking through a long tunnel and he says that he matched with a surgical oncology fellowship at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and will be working with my Dr. Glinda.

Jaw dropped.

Readers from the early days know Dr. Glinda, AKA in real life as Dr. Charlotte Ariyan. I absolutely, positively adore her. Dr. Ariyan's kindness, intelligence, awesome surgical skills, and bed side manners made her a super hero in my book.

So, of course I had to tell this resident my story.

Now it was his turn to drop his jaw.  "You're very fair skin..I guess you take care of your skin?"



The conversation lead to the most recent research out of MSK: "The results of a new study indicate that immediate surgical removal of remaining lymph nodes does not improve survival compared with a watch-and-wait approach." It was very interesting to hear his thought process and then have him ask for my treatment experience and opinion.

If you have any doubt that research is benefiting melanoma patients, this is proof.  Dr. Ariyan co-authored this study. 6.5 years ago, Dr. Ariyan helped me reach the conclusion to have the surgery. OK, I shouldn't say she helped me reach the decision. She basically told me in her very kind way that it comes down to what I'm comfortable with. She explained that if we did the surgery, I would know if there was remaining cancer in my lymph nodes. That would change things in terms of available clinical trials and statistics. We sat in that examine room and talked about the many side effects that could occur if we choose to proceed with the surgery. She gave me the info...and then she talked to me like a friend.

I have no regrets about going through with the two full lymph node dissections. I'm one of the lucky ones. The lasting side effects are pretty much non-existent. How would I feel now if this research had been available then? I don't know.

Anyway...I love life's coincidences. Oh--and I have total faith in this resident. ...I just have no desire to see him in a non-educational setting. ;-)









Friday, July 21, 2017

Daily Sunscreen Confession From A Melanoma Girl

Do you use sunscreen every day? I mean, every single day you step foot outside? Not just beach day, not just days at the ball field, not just for your run. I mean, every single day your skin is exposed to the environment.



I know. I'm cringing because I know the truth. I didn't either.



But that all changed.



Over the years I have often admitted how little I like sunscreen. I hate the way it feels under my make-up. I hate the way it smells. I hate the way it seems to get on EVERYTHING. I hate feeling sticky!



Then my best friend gave me her Rodan + Fields sunscreen.



Game changer.



Really, I know how uneducated, stupid, and down right lazy it is for me, the melanoma girl, to go without sunscreen. I justified it because I was just driving to work, I was just going to the store, I was just taking a short walk. I gave myself excuses because I didn't want to have to take a second shower to wash the gross feeling of sunscreen from my skin. I knew better... but I went without anyway.

I was suspicious of Rodan + Fields. Honestly, I was suspicious of anything I saw sold on Facebook. I was a complete direct sales snob. SNOB! That also changed when I started using their products.


cdawson4.myrandf.com





The daily sunscreen, SPF 30, is light weight, goes on like a moisturizer, and doesn't make me feel like I'm wearing sunscreen. It has a light smell that quickly fades. In no way does it feel like I'm wearing sunscreen! It's great for errands, every single day, and play time outside!
(I prefer to use something with Zinc Oxide when I know I'm going to be outside for HOURS! Think is a new favorite brand of mine! I absolutely adore ThinkBaby and that's what I use on my toddler!)



Now let me tell you about my all-time favorite facial sunscreen:
Soothe sunscreen, SPF 30, contains Zinc Oxide! It is SO lightweight, it goes on perfectly, and make-up goes on flawlessly on top of it! Typically when I apply make-up over a sunscreen, my make-up does not work. It looks cakey (is that a word?), and just gross! Not with Soothe. Oh, and it's for sensitive skin!!! I use it--with pediatrician approval--on my toddler's face!





My second favorite sunscreen is the Reverse sunscreen, SPF 50! A little thicker than Soothe, my make-up still goes on perfectly! This is not the norm for me. I would depend on foundation with SPF in it to prevent from wearing sunscreen. Not any more!



Because I use my regimens every single day, I NEVER, EVER go without sunscreen now. I know what you're thinking. Shouldn't being diagnosed with melanoma changed that for me? It did. ...but vanity sometimes won, in terms of facial sunscreen.



I know I may get some flack for this, and I get it. I'm living with stage 3 melanoma. I shouldn't be vain. I KNOW. but I'm still a 30 year old gal... I'm still a little vain.









I had been using the products for 8 months when it occurred to me I was telling everyone else to use them! I've been suggesting skin care products to people for 6.5 years on this blog. I've finally decided to try to make a business from my suggestions. I am proud and super excited to announce to you all that I am a Rodan + Fields consultant! A company that stresses the importance of sun safety AND delivers premium products that help you stay sun safe? YES! Why didn't I think of this years ago?!



I hope you will join me in this new journey. I am so excited for you to try these products, especially my favorite sunscreens!


cdawson4.myrandf.com



And one more picture of my sweet boy...because...BECAUSE. ;-)


Be well. XOXO!
Chelsea








Monday, March 6, 2017

My Bucket List

January 24, 2016:

We escaped from our snow covered neighborhood to go to Target because I absolutely had to pick up the chair for the baby's nursery. We got the chair home. I had to vacuum and mop the nursery. Bryan set up the chair and I rocked in my chair, imagining the baby I would hold in my arms.

And then the pain started.

I must've overdone it. I think I stood up at a weird angle while vacuuming. I tried to sleep. I felt sick. I texted my boss and told him I wouldn't be into work. Bryan went into work, believing me when I said I must've pulled a muscle. I tried to sleep.

I couldn't feel the baby move.

I texted my best friend, after walking into the kitchen and seeing a magnet I had on the side of the fridge. It explained the signs of preterm labor. Well...maybe I'll just call the nurse and see what she says. Left message.

Still couldn't feel the baby move.

I called the nurse again. I asked the operator to overhead page her. She called me back, "Have you taken Tylenol?" "I haven't felt the baby move. I don't know how long it's been. I just can't feel him."

I rushed to the doctor.

The ultrasound tech couldn't find a heartbeat. I start to sweat. She gets another tech. They adjust the monitor. Ah, there he is. They tell me I will relax in the recliner, letting the machine monitor the baby for about 45 minutes. 20 minutes pass and she's unhooking me. All must be fine.

Immediately in walks my doctor. No small talk. She asks me about pain. I start to cry. I NEVER CRY. I'm not a crier. She knows I'm not a crier. She tells me I'm having very quick contractions (they felt nothing like what the books said they would feel like), and I'm 3 centimeters dilated. She tells me about the NICU and how they will take such great care of the baby. I cry more. She hugs me (she's not a hugger) and I get dressed. I call Bryan as I'm putting on my pants. I have no idea what I said, except, "Meet me at the hospital." I think I'm calm. I'm 2 days shy of 34 weeks pregnant.

I call my mom. I never call my mom during the workday. She answers. I have no idea what I told her. I text my boss. I text my closest friends. I drive.

I pull up to the emergency room. There's no parking. I walk in and an elderly man explains to me what to do. I park. I walk into the ER. They're waiting for me. I immediately see another OB from my practice, "We're going to go ahead and give you the steroid shot for the baby's lungs." OK. I wait for Bryan and my room.

I get into my room. Steady contractions. They want to treat me with vancomycin since I'm too early in my pregnancy to know if I have group b strep. OK, sure. Go for it. Whatever you need to do.

My head starts itching. Gosh, my skin must be dry. I'm so itchy. Ah, I'm kind of hot. So. Itchy. Ohh! the nurse asked me a question, I try to answer, and my words are slurring. Oh... and my tongue is too big for my mouth.

Huh. That nurse moved quickly. Oh, and who are all these new doctors? "No, I didn't realize I had hives all over my body." Oops. Guess I'm allergic to penicillin AND vancomycin. Lesson learned. (Bryan is still mad at me for how I downplayed this allergic reaction. I seriously didn't realize anything was wrong until I went to speak. I was stressed, husband!)

A night in the hospital passes. I start wondering what I'm really going to name this baby. I can't keep calling him Oscar Clyde. He has to have a name. I don't sleep.

The next morning, another OB from our practice sits down with us and explains everything. He thinks the baby will come today. In fact, a few hours after this conversation, he prepares to move me to the delivery suite based on the quickness of the contractions. My mom is almost here.

And then everything stops. The pain lessens. The contractions slow down and become irregular. We wait. "I can let you go home since you live close. Bed rest. 3 weeks. But I plan to see you before the week is over."

I go home. We wait.

For 7 (painful) weeks.

March 12, 2016

40 weeks and 4 days pregnant. I wake up early. I want to shower, blow dry my hair, do my make-up, have some alone time. It's induction day. After all of that, Oscar Clyde decided to hang out for as long as possible. For months I walked around at 3-4 centimeters dilated, 100% effaced. Try telling a girl with that kind of  pressure that the baby will come when he wants. Prepare to duck when she hits you.  


Bryan gets up, he showers, we load up the car. He makes me a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich. I probably had a cup of coffee. I sat at my dining room table and wrote the baby a letter, still referring to him as his nickname, Oscar Clyde. We went to the hospital.

7:00 AM: We check into the hospital. We are looking at each other, nervously laughing while the poor admissions guy takes himself way too seriously. We go upstairs to our room. I meet our nurse. "What do you wish to happen today?" "Excuse me?" (I'm thinking, I want to have a baby, woman.) "Do you have a plan? What you hope for today to be like?" Oh. "I want a healthy baby and a healthy mommy." "I can work with that. We're going to have this baby by the end of my shift." Ha, OK. That works for me.


10:00 AM: 5 centimeters dilated, 100% effaced. Pitocin starts sometime around 10:15 AM. My mom, stepdad, and sisters come to visit. I'm starting to get a little uncomfortable, sweating. They hug me, tell me good luck and they leave. (I had a pretty strict "I don't want visitors until I want visitors" policy. I was pretty dramatic about this.)

11:00--ish: I'm laughing with my nurse. We're bonding over my melanoma and her breast cancer. I'm totally distracted, laughing about something. I'm still sweating, becoming a bit uncomfortable, when we find out that a helicopter is on its way with a mom pregnant with twins. Anesthesia will be in the operating room with them for a while. If I want an epidural, now is my chance. Uh, yes. Please and thank you.

Epidural is easy peasy. I look at Bryan, "Gosh, I feel better than I have in months!" We're laughing and carrying on. I have no idea what we're talking about. I look at Bryan in alarm. "Oh my GOD. I just peed!" The nurse and my sweet husband laugh. Oh.... that was my water breaking. Right. I'm so glad I read all of those pregnancy books.

We tell our families to go on to lunch. Enjoy the day.

2:00 PM: I'm ready to deliver...or so the doctor and nurse claim. I am NOT ready. This is happening way too quickly. My family is somewhere eating lunch! (My whole visitor thing changed at this point.) Bryan says, "Like ready ready?!" Ah, false. The baby is sunny side up. Gotta try to get him to turn. The OB puts me in this funky position with a yoga ball and tells me she'll see me in a few hours.

The nurse promised me I would have this baby before the end of her shift, remember...

2:30 PM: We're practicing pushing. We're laughing. I have no clue what I'm doing. The OB is back. The nurse is having me practice pushing again. We're all still joking. The OB is playing with OC's hair, telling me it's almost time to meet my boy. More nurses enter the room. It's suddenly full of people. They put oxygen on me. "I need you to give me one big push right now or something-something-something C-Section."

All I heard was C-Section. I pushed.


 And then I met my baby.






"He looks like a little bird." (If anyone has ever wondered why I call him my bird, that's why. It was one of the very first things I said. Y'all. I'm weird. I know.)

I remember somewhere in the last few minutes of pushing, an arm reached across my forehead. I recall seeing my purple iPhone pass in front of me. These photos are why. One of the nursery nurses took it upon herself to snap these (and so many others) without being asked. Maybe it was a spontaneous decision. Maybe she does it for everyone. Whatever reason, I am forever thankful. She captured the moment I became complete.

My blog friends, you've been with me for the last 6 years, and now (a year overdue) I introduce you to my sweet baby bird:


He is my bucket list.



XO.



Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Julie.

I type. I hit delete. I type. I use the backspace button. I walk away from this page for a few more months.


The last time I wrote I shared the exciting news of my pregnancy. Hopefully if you follow me on Facebook or Instagram you've been introduced to my boy. I want to share my son with you all. I plan to write about the joys of motherhood. But I can't yet. I can't gloss over something that happened while experiencing the most incredible miracle of my life.


In the midst of our happiness, my sweet friends experienced the tragic loss of their girl. Julie passed away on April 30, 2016.


Julie is no stranger to this blog. With her permission, I often blogged about her, but I don't believe I ever shared with you how Julie and I got in touch with one another. My surgeon sent me this:




And sure enough, Julie reached out to me, and a friendship was born.
The first time meeting each other.

It is hard for me to accept that Julie was diagnosed after I was, did the same clinical trial, yet I get to experience things Julie wanted desperately. She wanted to grow old with her husband. She wanted to raise babies. She wanted to continue to take fun vacations with her mom. But melanoma was cruel. It was sneaky. And melanoma was unapologetic.

She fought a hard battle. She fought with a smile, a terrific sense of humor, and determination. Now she is at peace.

Why am I just now writing this? I have asked myself numerous times to sit down and give Julie the post she deserves. But how? While Julie's death caused me extreme sadness, in no way does it compare to the grief her family faces. How can I write about my own feelings when I don't have the slightest idea the pain they continue to experience? That seems so incredibly selfish.

I don't know how to write this post. This is all I can do.

So on the eve before I return to the city, I will share a few of my favorite pictures of Julie. Thank you for your friendship, girlfriend.




 
Hug your daughters. Kiss your babies. And protect your skin. 

 


Sunday, January 10, 2016

Five Years Later

January 10, 2011

I didn't cry when the dermatologist told me the mole was melanoma. I left that appointment, made the calls to my family, and reassured everyone that we would proceed with the surgery, and everything would be fine. I vaguely remember saying something about how they surgeon would remove a little bit more and that would be that.

No one corrected me.




I didn't cry as the oncologist told me that melanoma had spread to lymph nodes on both sides of my body, in 3 out of the 4 areas, and to prepare myself that the PET scan would show that it had already spread to my organs. I asked for the treatment options. I heard that Interferon would be "enough" and I left the appointment.

I sobbed in my dad's arms in the backseat of the car while my mom and stepdad cried as they drove me back to my apartment.

My mom was determined enough wasn't good enough for her 23 year old daughter. Off to Memorial Sloan Kettering we went where I met "The Wizard" and "Glinda, The Good Witch." 

Another surgery.







I was healing in my hospital bed when my surgeon came into my room, sat on my bed, and told me that the FDA had approved Yervoy for melanoma stage IV patients. This was breaking news for the melanoma world. 

I cried--alone in the middle of a busy waiting room--when the surgeon told me that there was zero melanoma detected in the remaining lymph nodes that were removed during that surgery. Finally, some good news.

As my doctors at Memorial Sloan Kettering agreed there was no point in doing Interferon, I entered a three year clinical trial in May 2011.



 Round one

 Round 2, 3 weeks later

 Round 3, 3 weeks later

 
Round 4, 3 weeks later.
Then I got a break for 3 months.

January 2012:

I was fortunate that minus a few hiccups here and there, and the trips to New York for scans and treatment every 3 months, I was able to live like a normal 24 year old girl. I started a new job, I continued to date "Mr. Spots" and I lived my life. Oh, and I celebrated my one year Cancerversary thanks to my special friends.


I really jumped into advocating for melanoma awareness in 2012. I blogged. I tweeted. I facebooked. I was on Dr. Drew and Headline News, and I worked on a great program with the Skin Cancer Foundation. I put a lot of time, effort, and heart into sharing exactly what I was going through with hopes that it would cause someone to cancel their tanning membership. I was shocked how many did.




A major highlight from 2012 was the opportunity to speak at the Skin Cancer Foundation's Gala held at The Plaza Hotel. I shared my story to lovely people like Brooke Shields, Sam Champion, and the Real Housewives of New York. Intimidating, yes, but it was a night I will never forget.









2013:

Melanoma decided to reappear this year in March; however, thanks to my fantastic doctors, we caught it in the earliest stages.


I continued on with my clinical trial every 3 months.


I got engaged to "Mr.Spots!"





...and then I married him!


2014:

Once again, melanoma decided to sneak back onto my body; however, once again, my fantastic doctors caught it in the earliest stages.



The major thing that happened in 2014 was I completed the 3 year clinical trial! No more infusions!

2015: 

Thinking back to that day, January 10, 2011, the chief dermatologist asked me if I had children. When I replied no, the dermatologist made a comment that I would need to think about my family planning. I cried. Would I never have my own children? Would I never get the opportunity to feel the kicks and punches from the inside? Would my number one bucket item never be fulfilled?

Well, in July 2015, after many conversations with my oncology team, I found out the news: I am going to be a momma. 


30 weeks

I have 8 weeks left until I'm due to meet my precious baby boy, and I can already tell you, no child will be as loved.

Regarding my life with melanoma these days, celebrating my 5 year Cancerversary today is something I don't think I ever expected to do. I've lost so many friends in the last few years. I watch so many of my friends continue to struggle. I know firsthand how precious life is. Maybe that's why I'm determined to live to the best of my ability. I've backed off on advocating for melanoma awareness. I blogged once during 2015. I haven't shared the amazing advances in melanoma research. But I needed to live. For 4 years I lived and breathed melanoma. I enjoyed life, too, but I knew it was time for a break. I owed it to myself, my family and friends, and those no longer with us, to live life. Without melanoma.

No day is promised, there is no guarantee that the ugly beast won't reappear, but until it does, I'm going to keep on keepin' on.

And as always, thank you for your continued love, support, and friendship during this rollercoaster we call life.