Living with cancer blog

Life lessons: How loss of family member can change you

By Wendy Hanson February 24, 2017

When I received an invitation in November to join the Cancer Education Program at Mayo Clinic, I was overjoyed. The position allows me to blend my public health and strategic planning backgrounds and work with amazing staff. I look forward to co-authoring this blog and getting to know all of you.

Unfortunately, cancer has touched my family deeply. In 2015, I lost my father to lung cancer. My mom was recently diagnosed with kidney cancer. But it's the story of how my sister saved my life that I wish to share today.

My appointment with my dermatologist was just wrapping up when I casually pointed out a new freckle on my forearm. It wasn't raised, it didn't look abnormal to the eye, and it didn't meet the ABCDE's listed on all the skin cancer posters. It was just a freckle... or so I thought.

Two days later I received the news — melanoma. My body went numb while my mind raced to my husband and 9-month old baby. After hanging up the phone, I started combing my skin for other signs of cancer, certain that it was hiding in every mole, every blemish. It was only when I heard the news that it was Stage 1 that I simmered down, but the threads of fear still remain.

You see, my history with melanoma is enveloped in a deeper sorrow. I watched my sister fight the same disease for 4 years before it eventually took her life at 33. That was in 2002. When she passed away, I began getting regular check-ups and I was fortunate enough to have my melanoma caught early. Her battle raised my awareness of this disease and, I believe, ultimately contributed to saving my life.

I take pride in my pale complexion. When I trace the 4-inch scar on my arm, I'm eternally grateful for the life I've been given. As many of you know, lumps and blemishes on your body don't need to stand out to be concerning. Know your skin, love it and protect it. Share with everyone that tanned skin is damaged skin and early detection is essential. People need to know that a freckle might just be more than meets the eye — a lesson my big sister thankfully taught me.

What positive habits, changes or behaviors have you incorporated into your life due to an experience of another? We would love to hear and learn from you.

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Feb. 24, 2017