A person cowers behind a cracked shield with arrows approaching it.

Warrior Versus Worrier — Lifting Up and Letting Go

Ancient Spartan warriors were legendary for their military prowess and tenacity. Even today, the word Spartan conjures up an image of an awesomely fit, skillful fighter, indifferent to pain and fear.1 Think of the movie 300, and the epic battle of Thermopylae in which the outnumbered Spartans battled the much larger Persian army, and you get the idea that the Spartans were fearsome warriors.

What makes someone a warrior?

During my skin cancer journey, I’ve been profiled by several melanoma organizations, which referred to me as a warrior. The warrior label is often used to describe those battling skin cancers and other cancers.

According to Dictionary.com, a warrior is "a person who shows or has shown great vigor, courage, or aggressiveness." Courage and vigor are essential in fighting skin cancer. Battling melanoma for over 26 years has certainly made me more aggressive in advocating for myself and others.

So maybe I am a warrior

So, perhaps warrior is the right way to describe me. I fight not just for myself, but for my family, my close friends, and others with this terrible disease. Like those ancient Spartan warriors, I want to be brave, fearsome. I believe one day I will defeat melanoma.

Right now, I’m a worrier

Recently, however, I wasn’t feeling like much of a warrior, and more like a worrier. Why? A biopsy revealed melanoma in situ on my lower left cheek. Three days later, my dermatologist removed the melanoma using a local area excision. I’ve now had ten melanomas diagnosed and removed. Ten! Last year, at about this same time, I had number 9 removed, and the coincidental timing stinks.

More worries

Unfortunately, I will likely have more melanomas removed in the coming years. That reality, along with ongoing treatment for stage IV melanoma (metastases in both lungs and in my right adrenal gland), put me in a deep funk. The Spartan Warrior became a Worry Wart.

Coping with melanoma

Coincidence can be a funny thing. The day after my excision, I “attended” a virtual symposium on "living with melanoma" sponsored by AIM at Melanoma. The seminar’s final presentation focused on coping with melanoma as a patient, which struck a chord with me and my dark mood.

I’ve heard similar presentations and knew what to expect: learn to manage stress, control what you can but be flexible, find a support community, believe in yourself and your will to fight, and do things that bring you peace of mind. These are great coping mechanisms for dealing with a skin cancer diagnosis and its subsequent treatment.

"Tend and befriend"

One suggestion, in particular, stood out to me. In responding to stress, the presenter said, we all know about "flight versus fight." But there is also the biological response called "tend and befriend." "Tend" simply means taking care of the people you care about, and "befriend" means reaching out to others in a community.2

"Tend and befriend" reminds me that we are all part of a bigger whole. The ancient Spartans at Thermopylae sacrificed themselves for the greater good. My advocacy work is my response to the stress of my own melanoma journey — a combination of tending and befriending.

Letting go and lifting up

Letting go of my worry and lifting up others with skin cancer is what makes me a true warrior.

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