Remembering Sunscreen and Butterflies

I think Christy would want us to remember sunscreen … but also everyday miracles like butterflies and the feeling of a child’s hand in our own.

When I decided to share my “Hands Free” journey with an online community, I had no idea what insight this would bring me. There I was striving to grasp what really matters and it appeared, what matters most in life, right in my inbox.

On January 20, 2011, I received a message from Christy.

A mutual friend had posted “Butterfly Part 2” and from that post Christy said she read entry after entry on my blog. She wanted to know if she could read the original, unpublished version of “Your Mother is a Butterfly.” She then added that she was going through treatment for cancer and had quite a bit of downtime with her recovery.

I sent her the butterfly poem and was pleasantly surprised when I heard from Christy a few months later. She needed to document her battle with cancer for a fundraising flyer but couldn’t seem to find the right words. Although I am uncertain about many things in life, I am certain of one thing; my purpose is to write difficult, beautiful words when someone else can’t.

As I worked on the wording for the flyer, I felt certain Christy’s story should be shared with as many people as possible. I asked Christy if she would allow me to write a blog post about her. Being a private person, Christy needed time to think about it. But ultimately she decided she would. I’ll never forget her selfless rationale: “If ten people use sunscreen this weekend because they read the post, or if a few more kids are lathered up because of me, how can I say no?” Christy’s story became one of my most popular posts, and many people wrote to tell me Christy’s experience changed the sunscreen habits of their entire family. I completely understood what they meant. I, too, thought of Christy on a regular basis. I often felt compelled to drop her a line just to let her know I was thinking of her.

Once in awhile Christy would write back and let me know what treatment she was going through. One thing was for sure; Christy was always fighting. Perhaps that is why the email message from one of Christy’s friends came so unexpectedly.  I blinked back tears as I read her friend’s words, thinking surely there must be some mistake—not courageous, beautiful, strong, determined Christy … not the woman who had become a hero to me and so many … not the amazing mother of three who would defy the odds and outlive us all.

Christy passed away on September 1, 2012 in the presence of her loving family. For several days, I had no words, only heartache. But then inspiration came—I like to think from Christy herself—offering a chance to save one more.

The following pledge is how I will live out my days here on earth—inspired by Christy, the remarkable one whose life was the epitome of grasping what really matters.

In Your Honor

In your honor, I will wear sunscreen.
Even when it’s cloudy. Even when I’m in a hurry.  Even I think a little color on my cheeks would be nice.

In your honor, I will smile at the surly cashier. I will smile at those with no smile because I don’t know what battle their facing today.

In your honor, I will say yes to gumball machines and to holding that big, fat toad that will probably pee on my hand.  Because these things make my kids happy—and one day they will remember I said yes to gumballs and toads.

In your honor, I will buy the pretty undergarments on the same day I say, “Yes, I’ll take extra hot fudge.”

In your honor, I will celebrate the rare occasion when my 9-year-old grabs my hand as we walk through a parking lot.  And I will relish the unusual occurrence that she leaves her hand in mine far longer than necessary.

In your honor, I will let that agitated driver into the line of traffic even though I waited my turn. I will even wave and wish him well.

In your honor, I will pause for sunsets and butterflies that cross my path. I will acknowledge such things are miracles. Everyday miracles.

In your honor, I will take the stairs. I will take the scenic route. I will take a chance if it’s something worth fighting for.

In your honor, I will carry spare change just in case I see that man on the corner of Clairmont and 30th with a sign that says, “Can you spare some change?”
Because I always have a little hope to spare.

In your honor, I will schedule my mammogram and dermatologist appointments.
And I will pester my friends to do the same.

In your honor, I will slide my hand beneath the covers until I find my husband’s hand. Not for any reason, just because he’s there … thank God, just because he’s there.

In your honor, I will sing in the car. I will sing in the shower. Even though it sounds unpleasant. Even though I don’t know the words. I will sing.

In your honor, I will pick up live sand dollars washed ashore on Hilton Head Island and place them back in nourishing waters. Because you loved Hilton Head Island. And because you would save anyone, anything from pain and suffering if you could.

In your honor, I will stop prefacing sentences with “when I lose 5 pounds” and “when things slow down.”

In your honor, I will live life now, not “someday.”

In your honor, I will call my sister at least once a week. Even if it goes to voicemail. Even if all I say is, “Have you heard the new Citizen Cope album? I think you would love it.”

In your honor, I will listen to my child’s heartbeat at bedtime. I will let her listen to mine. Even if she does it to stall going to sleep.

In your honor, I will say, “I am sorry.” Even when it’s difficult to say. Even when I think the other person should say it first.

In your honor, I will visit my kids in the lunchroom until they say, “No more Mom. I am too old for that.” And then I will periodically ask—just in case that is the day they were hoping I’d ask one more time.

In your honor, I will keep writing the stories providentially placed on my heart. For that is what brought you to me.

In your honor, I will bless the butterfly that crosses my path. For you taught me everyday miracles are abundant if we just open our eyes and look for them.

In your honor, I will not let life pass me by.

In your honor, I will wear sunscreen.

*****************************************************

I leave you with Christy’s ultimate wish taken from her post, “Where The Sun Doesn’t Shine” …

“I would like to see awareness raised about melanoma. I would also like to see tanning beds banned. Teenagers are too young to understand the extensive damage that tanning beds can have on their skin.

People think that skin cancer can be easily removed, and then you just go on with life; I know I did. People do not realize skin cancer can be deadly. It is the fastest growing cancer and affects more people than prostate, breast, colorectal and cervical cancers combined. One person dies every hour from skin cancer.  I don’t understand why no one is talking about it.” – Christy B.

In honor of Christy, talk about skin cancer. Talk about sunscreen. Talk about living and loving like today matters, because it matters.

*Thank you for being a part of  The Hands Free Revolution, a community of people striving to let go of distraction and grasp the moments that matter.

If you are interested in expressing love and support to Christy’s family, memorial contributions should be made to the Christy Barford Memorial Fund c/o any 5/3 Bank.

Signature

Comments

  1. 1

    says

    My heart hurts.

    The following day…9/2/12…my dear friend lost her husband to Metastatic Melanoma. He was 41. They had been married for almost 20 years, and have 4 sons (ranging in age from 8y – 16y).

    Three of their boys have Type 1 Diabetes.

    The journey ahead is daunting and overwhelming.

    And lonely.

    Thanks for the reminder to love and live passionately.

    She told the world about his diagnosis here…
    http://www.ourdiabeticlife.com/2012/02/cancer.html

    And she shared her heart after he died here…
    http://www.ourdiabeticlife.com/2012/09/aching.html

    Sunscreen — Check.

    • 2

      says

      I am so sorry, Wendy. When I pray for Christy’s children and husband, I will pray for your dear friend’s family, as well. Thank you for the links to her site. I will be reading tonight. I know there is much insight into grasping what really matters there. Much love, Rachel

  2. 3

    Julie says

    I am a melanoma cancer survivor. I was one of the lucky ones who caught it before it was too late. I have a 6″scar across my back shoulder blade to remind me of how fortunate I am….but I take it for granted. I live in the Hilton Head area and the sun’s strong rays is unforgiving here…but I take it for granted. I don’t take the time to put sunscreen on unless I’m at the beach or going to the pool and even than…I’m not always consistent. After reading your article about Christy….well…lets just say I wont take it for granted. I am blessed to be here and I will do my best to wear sunscreen and not waste the life I was given. Christy, your story did get through to someone… just as you wished :)

      • 5

        Julie says

        Rachel,
        Thank you so much for creating your blog. I am a mother of 5 ages 6-21 and I love your website. I have been searching for ways to simplify my life and appreciate all that God has blessed me with. It is a tough job no matter how many youve been blessed to raise. This year has been the most focused I have ever been in sticking to my “Simplification”. Less clutter, more organized, thriftier shopping etc all in the desire to live a life worth living with my family. I am still in the process but to come across your website…the timing couldnt have been better. I so needed to let go of the guilt and just breathe and your writing inspires me to do that. In doing so, Im hoping to live a more fruitful life and learn to live in the moment rather than feeling compelled to keep up with the world around me.

        Ive just shared your post about Christy to all my mom friends and encouraged them to follow your blog for inspiration on our journeys through motherhood. It can be a bumpy and endless road at times, thanks for reminding me to look at the positive and to keep holding their hands for as long as they’ll let me :)

        Sincerely,
        Julie5kids

  3. 6

    Lori says

    I think this article is so appropriate for today…so appropriate for all the people that we lost on 9/11/01. I know it’s about your friend, Christy, but it applies to so many more. And, so, today, in their honor “I will slide my hand beneath the covers until I find my husband’s hand. Not for any reason, just because he’s there … thank God, just because he’s there.” Thank you for your amazing words.

  4. 10

    says

    If this message will ever be heard, it will be heard because of you Rachel; because your voice sings through the din of the internet; because your vision shines through the clouds of hopelessness; because your heart breaks so freely and with such clarity.

    In your honor, and all the victims of melanoma (my brother is a survivor), I will slather the next generation with sunscreen mixed with tears of despair, and hope. I promise.

    • 11

      says

      I really don’t know what I did to deserve such a faithful companion on this journey–one who always seems to have the precise words my heart needs to hear … but for you and your eloquent words, I am thankful. Again and again, thank you for your messages, Bill.

      P.S. Give your brother a hug from me.

  5. 12

    says

    Thank you so much for this, Rachel. My cousin Elmer died 4 years ago at age 45 of melanoma, and he was such a fighter too. I have email messages from him telling me of his treatment and progress and I stay in touch with his wife and daughters. In fact, I hope to be at his oldest daughter’s wedding in November in his honor. Your message is so important.
    Love, K

  6. 13

    says

    When you the butterfly post long ago, I had no idea it was Christy from HS. As a melanoma survivor, I was devastated to read her obituary in our hometown paper. Godspeed to her family and to yours. Hugs.

  7. 14

    says

    Thank you so much for sharing this, Rachel. You are truly talented when it comes to conveying messages that matter. I’m sending my thoughts and prayers to Christy’s family and to you. Thanks to you and Christy for reminding me today to see the miracles in everyday events.

  8. 15

    Cindy Briggs says

    Rachel- This is beautiful! As a friend and sorority sister of Christy’s I was so touched and moved by this post. Thank you for keeping her story alive and thank you for reminding your readers about the dangers of skin cancer. I completely agree that we DO need to keep this conversation alive! Your post will bring so many smiles to the people who knew this amazing woman.

  9. 16

    Brian Daugherty says

    Christy sounds like a remarkle person, woman, and friend…and above all else, loved by soo many. I don’t comment often, who am i kidding, i dont comment at all. Yet I always am reading….and my heart is one that will think of her and her family for quite sometime. It’s stories like this where sometimes you just dont know whether to feel happy or sad. For me, I think i will be happy for a moment knowing the strength that Christy had and what her story can do to build strength for others. I’ve had the pleasure to meet and know a lot of people in my life. To her family and friends, such as you Rach, i can only say that i am sad i never knew her…..much love to her and her family and friends..

  10. 17

    Kellie says

    Rachel,
    Thank you so much for sharing this article about Christy. I was one of the MANY people that were blessed to have been able to call Christy a “good friend”, although the time was way to short. Christy and her family are also neighbors of ours. I have to share something with you. My daughter was the one that brought your article to my attention this morning. As we were talking she asked me, “Didn’t you see the butterfly at the visitation?” You see, after Christy’s visitation was over and it was just her family and a group of friends left, some of the neighborhood kids and Christy’s children were sitting around in a small circle talking and my daughter said that a butterfly kept flying around all of them! Keep in mind, this was @10:30pm and inside! It still gives me chills but I have smile…..that is so Christy. Take care and God bless.

    • 18

      says

      Oh Kellie, thank you! Although I type through tears, I am greatly comforted by your daughter’s beautiful observation. I am so grateful you came her to read and share this incredibly hopeful experience.

  11. 19

    Elizabeth says

    This was so beautiful and touching!
    You are a gifted writer and your site always leaves me profoundly touched! Keep on writing, and sharing stories about what matters. I so need to be reminded often, and apparently – so do others!
    Thank you again!

  12. 20

    Tom Barford says

    Rachel,
    Thanks so much for the beautiful words about my wife, Christy. Family was so important to her which is why she loved reading your blogs. Christy turned me on to this site and we used to read them together. I remember the night Christy and I talked about wether she wanted a story written about her. Christy never wanted to be the center of attention so it was a tough decision to say ok to this but she really wanted others to know about melanoma and help others not have to go thru what she did. Like you I always thought Christy would beat this terrible disease, she was a fighter right up until her last breath. I miss her so much. I hope others will listen to my wife’s advice about sun screen. No tan is worth what I saw my wife go thru. My advice is, don’t take for granted the time we have on this earth. Spend time with your family and friends. I was deep in work this week and my son came up and asked me to come upstairs and just watch what he was doing, without hesitation I went up and sat with him. In the past I might have told him I was busy, not anymore.

    Thank you and I pray for all those who have melanoma and for the caregivers, it is horrible watching someone you love go thru this.

    Tom Barford

    • 21

      says

      Dear Tom,

      I am truly honored and touched by your message today. I am grateful that you shared a little more about your extraordinary wife and also the perspective of where work should be in the priority list. Although I hate it that I need reminders like this, I will admit that I do. I pray that I will not take your reminder for granted. Although I have never had the pleasure of meeting you, I feel like I know the most important thing about you from Christy. She had gone for a treatment that was only supposed to be one night, which turned into 5. She said you “dropped everything” to be “by her side” (her words) and then attributed the reason she was able to make it through those 5 days was you and only you. I celebrate you for that, Tom. And your actions inspire me greatly. I am sure that is only a fraction of what you did to support Christy in her battle. I will continue to keep you and the children in my thoughts and prayers every single day.

      With gratitude and love,

      Rachel

  13. 23

    says

    I have no words, other than to thank you for telling this story, and to Christy for allowing it to be told. My heart aches for Tom and the rest of the family who miss her. I wish them peace and many happy memories, and I will honor Christy by making sunscreen a priority.

    • 24

      Chris K says

      This post and the comments touch me deeply. I will add Tom and his children to my prayers. I will also highlight this post on my Facebook. I also wanted to add that in the medical field, they are noticing a connection between melanoma and breast cancer. Two of my sisters have had melanoma removed several times. My little sister now is fighting breast cancer. People, please heed these words. Use sunblock and stay out of the sun. A tan is not worth it. I’ve argued with friends the danger of tanning beds. Also continue your derm screenings and mammograms. God bless you, Rachel, for your blog.

  14. 25

    Nilofar Khaleel says

    The post is very touching and heart wrenching. Not only skin cancer, every type of cancer is disheartening. Two years ago, my sister lost her 17 year old son to liver cancer. God bless everybody. I wish Christy’s family peace and many, many happy memories. All of us should use sunscreen in Christy’s honor. May her soul rest in peace.

  15. 26

    says

    I just shared your blog post on my blog. The risk of melanoma is so high, and yes, so little is communicated about a potentially preventable cancer. I’m trying to help pass Christy’s message on.

    My heart goes out to Christy’s family. No words can adequately express their loss.

    Thank you, Rachel, yet again, for your life-changing writing. It is truly a gift that you have, and you are using it to make the world a better place.

    Peace and blessings,
    Kate

  16. 27

    Jessica Raspanti says

    My prayers go out to Christy’s family. I was so touched by your “Honor” to Christy. It made me really think of the way I have been living my own life. I have not encountered a loss from skin cancer, however many of my immediate family has passed from some form of cancer. I am so grateful that my own mother has beat it three times over. I plan on sharing this article with her because I have yet to see her apply sunscreen . I believe she feels them same as the general public: it’s easily caught and removable. Christy is proof that that notion is not true. Thank you for sharing this story.

  17. 28

    says

    I just wanted to thank you for sharing this beautiful and heartbreaking story. It came to me at a perfect time as I have been wanting to spread some generosity to a cause or person that I don’t know. My sister has been battling a brain infection for the past several months and we have recieved SO much support and kindness from strangers. I really wanted to give back and didn’t know how. After reading Christy’s story I knew I wanted to donate to their memorial fund. It just touched close to home and because so much of the support we’ve recieved has come from social media, I thought since I found this story through that same route it was a great place to pay it forward. So, thank you for the story and your words. I hope it inspires others to give randomly to strangers and to always wear sunscreen.

    • 29

      says

      Thank you, Angela. Your message and kindness touch me deeply. I am truly sorry about your sister’s infection. How wonderful to know that your family have received so much support from people you don’t even know. Stories like this give me hope. There is so much goodness in the world. Thank you for confirming this in your experience and in your actions. I wish the best for your family and pray for a complete recovery for your sister.

  18. 30

    Emily says

    What a beautiful tribute! Christy sounds like an amazing woman. I lost my sister this past April to melanoma, a few weeks after her 30th birthday. It is a horrible disease. Like Christy, she was a more private person, but also like Christy she felt very strongly that she wanted to educate others and raise awareness about melanoma. In hoping to carry out those wishes we have created a foundation in her name to educate, raise awareness, and help patients battling melanoma financially, particularly in Ohio (The Katy Ault Phillips Melanoma Foundation). Hopefully together we can all help to reduce the number of young people taken much too early by this horrible disease. It will be through such wonderful people like Christy who are willing to share their stories that will help to raise awareness. Christy sounds like an amazing woman who I am sure will be truly missed.
    To Tom: my heart aches for you, your children, and your entire family. I know you are going through an incredibly difficult time and I will keep you all my prayers.

  19. 31

    Sally W says

    As I am preparing to bury my only sister this week and my last sibling this poem and article went straight to my heart. She was older so she was always there and a part of my life. I can’t imagine her not being a part of my life and I will definitely miss her!

    • 32

      says

      Sally, I am truly sorry for your loss. As someone who has an older sister, I know there is a bond between two sisters than cannot be described. When I found out my husband and I were going to have a second daughter, I was overjoyed. I watch my daughters’ bond grow with each passing day. I pray that all your wonderful memories of your beloved sister bring you comfort and make you smile in the trying days ahead. Thank you for taking the time to comment. Love and peace, Rachel

  20. 33

    Wendy Ashley says

    I stumbled on ur blog post about Christy a few days ago, which is when I learned of her passing. Her husband and I worked together a few years ago. He recently posted pics on Facebook of their daughters graduation, and that is when I learned of her passing. It has weighed heavily on me. She was such a sweet person, always so nice to me. I remember how sweet she & he were together. It breaks my heart. I take some comfort, and hopefully she will know this somehow, that I became an Esthetician and try to educate my clients about suncare. And when someone once asked me “Do u kids ever play outside? They have no tan.” I took ot as a compliment cuz my kids r always covered and lathered up, and we all wear hats. Its something I have always done. But know, I think I will always think of Christy when I am applying sunscreen to their precious bodies. Thank you for sharing this sweet story of Christy. I will revisit it often.

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