Will Anybody Listen or Care?

Nearly 30 years ago I was diagnosed with malignant melanoma. That was a very difficult time. I had a large portion of skin on my arm cut out of me. It was so large, in fact, that they could not properly close the wound. I felt alone. I had just finished college and was out on my own. No one understood my diagnosis or at least it seemed that way. According to conventional wisdom (conjecture) skin cancer was treated easily, simply and nearly painlessly and there we very few repercussions. It was something that your grandpa got and was burned off at the doctor’s office, easy peasy.

Finding the right melanoma support

Here is what I've learned through my experience.

Feeling alone

There was no Internet at the time. We made long-distance calls on push-button (dare, I say rotary dial?) phones, and LA Law was a hit. I didn’t know anyone who had had my diagnosis. I was 24 years old at the time and we were all immortal, right?

For years, er, decades I never ran into anyone who had melanoma. I was alone in my battle. When I did share my struggles, most people just shrugged their shoulders. There was very little information out there and very few of my friends understood the seriousness of the malady.

Find your peeps

Today things are different. Information is powerful and discovering what you don’t know is at the tip of your fingertips. The Internet age has been a game changer in almost every way and the battle against skin cancer is no exception. Helpful research is now available to everyone. Online communities, such as Health Union, play a vital role in the dissemination of information and advancement of the conversation regarding this potential killer. Talking to others is critical.

Sympathy is a powerful emotion

Yesterday, I was on set for a movie shoot. I was talking with a guy about our online community. He told me about two of his friends who had died from melanoma. He was very matter of fact about it. I had a hole in the pit of my stomach as he spoke. For him, these were stories, albeit sad ones. For me, I was busted to the core. I wanted to leave right then, but I felt trapped. It made me realize that it is not just important to talk to others about your battle, but to inform them and help them be more sympathetic.

So is empathy

Sympathy is being sensitive to another’s situation and that is very important, but empathy is even more effective. Empathy says that I have been in your shoes and have walked in them and I know what you are going through. Anyone can be sympathetic, but one must find another who has had cancer to find empathy. It took me decades to find empathy and most people were not sympathetic. This is changing.

We “get” it

As information spreads at an Olympic rate, people are less ignorant and depending upon their nature, more sympathetic. Also, finding others who had walked down this path is much easier. My advice is to find them. Find others, talk with them, console them, let them console you. There is no shame in this. Most of us were blind to the effects of sun tanning. We all “get” it. There is no need to go it alone. That is one reason that Health Union is here. We “get” it. We understand the hats, the awkward beach vacations, the parasols, the SPF. We know.

Be a good pal

For those of you who have people in your life who have had skin cancer, help them. Help them by being understanding of their needs and limitations. Help them by advocating on their behalf. Help them by realizing that this is scary and that stories of death and dismemberment are wrapped in fear. Those who have had the diagnosis cannot discuss these things flippantly at work or anywhere else. Be sympathetic and realize that this is a life-threatening disease.

Final thought

I left the movie shoot early. Thankfully, I had other engagements. I was ready to go. Find others who are sensitive, those who make you want to stay. True friends will understand.

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