*Permission granted to use authentic first name
When I began publishing my Hands Free journey seven months ago, I had no idea where it would take me; I had no idea who it would bring me.
But I have discovered the most meaningful things are unplanned; the best things happen when you least expect them.
This is not my story; this is *Christy’s story, and I am privileged to put it into words today…
A few weeks ago, a woman named Christy contacted me. She said she was creating a flyer. This flyer would be going to a large number of people in hopes of raising money to offset the cost of her medical bills.
The design of the flyer was not a problem for this professional graphic designer, but the wording was. It is difficult to find the words when you are writing about the fight of your life, the fight FOR your life.
That is where I came in.
Christy asked if I might be able to add my “special flair” to her story, as she so generously described my talent as a writer.
These are the moments that I know with certainty that my journey to grasp what really matters is taking me somewhere. These are the rare occasions in my life when for one brief second, my purpose on this earth is crystal clear.
Christy sent me her information over email. Once I got my daughters to bed, I took her information and jumped on the treadmill, which is where I do my best thinking.
Within twenty minutes, the emotional impact Christy was hoping for appeared before me in jagged, uneven sentences across the page.
This is Christy’s story; this is what she has lived. I simply had the easy part of putting it into words…
Imagine at age 39 being diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of malignant cancer.
Imagine thinking you had beat cancer, only to find that it had returned.
Imagine having to look into the hopeful eyes of your three beautiful children and tell them, “I have cancer.” Not once, but twice.
Imagine being told that in order to survive, you must leave your beloved family over and over again to receive life-saving treatments.
Imagine wondering what devastating news today will bring, let alone tomorrow, and the next five years.
Imagine never being fully free from pain, worry, frustration, and despair.
Imagine a long, bleak road that currently has no end in sight.
Christy does not have to imagine these things; she has lived them all, and continues to live them today.
In November 2008, Christy was diagnosed with Stage 3 Melanoma. Because this is a rare type of malignant melanoma, the oncologists in Cincinnati referred Christy to a national melanoma specialist in Pittsburgh. It was there that she began a yearlong treatment with a drug called interferon. Christy’s children will never forget holding their mother’s hand as their father administered the injections.
Six months after being given the “all clear” and told to resume life as normal, Christy noticed a small mass at the original surgery site. The melanoma had returned, but this time it was in the form of a tumor.
Christy was immediately sent back to the melanoma specialists in Pittsburgh for an evaluation. She was fortunate to be selected as a patient in a clinical trial for a new drug developed to fight melanoma. She received four treatments in five months and underwent and one intensive surgery to remove the tumor.
Christy is still experiencing many side effects from the treatment, which will remain in her system for up to six months. The medication she takes to combat the side effects make it very difficult for Christy to balance work and domestic duties, while being a loving parent. Yet, Christy rises above her daily struggles simply because she views each and every day on this earth as a precious gift.
Sadly, Christy feels certain there is a new tumor near her original site, which will mean more surgeries and treatments in the near future.
Christy recently had new scans and evaluations in Pittsburgh and will soon learn if there has been any new tumor growth.
Imagine bringing peace to an aching heart.
Imagine touching a broken soul with a loving hand.
Imagine looking into scared eyes and saying, “You are not alone.”
Imagine offering something that can only come from the heart.
You don’t have to imagine these things; you can make them a reality.
Every touch, every embrace, every word of comfort, every prayer of hope, every gesture of kindness is like a ray of hope to an incredible survivor with a tremendous will to live.
Just imagine the possibilities.
I sent the completed manuscript to Christy and requested she let me know what needed to be added, deleted, or modified.
I expected to hear back from her quickly, as I had in our previous correspondences, but I didn’t this time.
When I didn’t hear from Christy, I assumed I had not captured her story the way she wanted; I was afraid perhaps it was not to her liking.
When I did receive her response, she immediately explained the delay. This is what she wrote:
It took me a while to get through the first part. This was difficult hard for me to read; I kept tearing up. I read stories about people like this, but never imagined I would be reading one about myself.
I knew I owed it to Christy to go back and read it again, this time not as the detached author.
And when I did, the overwhelming, breath-taking, agonizing realization hit me.
This could very well be me.
I baked my skin in the summer sun year after year.
The skin on my nose peeled off in strips like a band-aid, over and over again.
I shunned SPF and used baby oil instead.
This could be me fighting for my life against malignant melanoma.
Suddenly my own words came rushing back to me as I re-read Christy’s story.
In a post entitled, “Healing Hands,” written right after a deadly tornado devastated my state on April 27th, I wrote:
When tragedy strikes your backyard, a cold, harsh reality hits you between the eyes and breaks your heart in half. Suddenly you realize the difference between “us” and “them,” is a matter of five miles, is a slight change in wind direction, is the placement of your home.
With a frightening realization you discover the difference between “us” and “them” is a radical cancer cell, a clogged artery, a misjudged runway, a reckless driver, or a deadly undertow.
You realize the difference between “us” and “them” is simply being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
You realize it could have just as easily been “us,” instead of “them,” standing in utter despair and shock wondering where life as you once knew it has gone.
Christ’s story could be my story.
That is just a simple fact.
There might come a day when my doctor looks into my hopeful eyes and whispers unimaginable words that swallow me into a dark, desolate hole.
And suddenly I will find myself on the other side of that line, praying that somehow I could go back to the day before when my good health was something I took for granted.
In a correspondence with Christy, I asked, “What do you dream about being able to see or do when you are totally healthy?”
I thought she might talk about seeing a place she always hoped to see or doing something she never thought she would get to do.
But alas, she is much farther on her journey to grasp what really matters than I am.
This is what she said:
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.
Two days after I received these words from Christy, a friend posted a video entitled, “Dear 16-Year-Old Me.”
Once I watched the video, I knew Christy’s story must be shared. I knew her wish to educate more people about melanoma must be honored now, not later.
I was already ultra-cautious about protecting my family’s skin, but Christy’s story, in conjunction with this video, has tripled my awareness and my determination to guard my family.
Our children rely on us to guard them from the dangers of skin cancer that they do not yet know about or understand. Their precious skin needs protection now, not later.
Please do not navigate away from this page before watching this video. It could save your life or the life of someone you love.
Video: Dear 16-Year-Old Me
Today’s challenge is twofold:
Whenever you go out in the sun, put sunscreen on yourself; put sunscreen on your children. One bad burn before the age of 18 doubles your chances of cancer. In addition, invest in sun protection swimwear shirts like the ones found here.
Secondly, spend time with your family. Tell them you love them. You just never know when you might find yourself on the other side of that very thin line between “us” and “them.” You just never know when you might find yourself in that dark and desolate place where the sun doesn’t shine.
*Update on Christy: Just mere days ago, Christy’s story took a devastating turn. The recent scans in Pittsburgh led to a painful lung biopsy that confirmed melanoma. This diagnosis will now require a new approach to Christy’s treatment, which is yet to be determined.
Please pray for hope, courage, and strength for Christy and her amazing family as she bravely fights to beat cancer once and for all. And please help spread greater awareness about skin cancer by sharing her story with someone you love today.
*Thank you, Christy, for sharing your story so that someone else can be spared the pain you have lived. You are an incredible inspiration to us all.
Indiana Lori says
I shared this link on FB. This was very hard for me to read. Melanoma gave me a sense of my own mortality that I’d like to forget. The fear never leaves, and life takes on a new sense of urgency. The Big M is relentless and vicious. My most fervent prayers to Christy tonight. I pray for her remission as I pray mine will stay in remission. Godspeed.
Rachel Macy Stafford says
Thank you, Lori. My heart goes out to you. I cannot imagine what that fear must be like. I am thankful for your remission and will pray for your continued health and well-being. Thank you for sharing the video, as well.
Thank you, Rachel. This week my whole family is vacationing at Gulf Shores and my situation is a bit reversed. I had some bad sunburns as a kid and hated it and never got into the whole tanning thing ever as an adult. (I even wore sunscreen everyday when I taught preschool because I spent so much time outside.) I’m the one trying to tell my mom and aunt and boyfriend to put sunscreen on all the time. This will definitely help me to convince them I hope!
I hate to say it but curse Coco Chanel for starting such a dangerous trend.
Rachel Macy Stafford says
Good for you, Ashley! You are very wise in your young age. You have the most beautiful skin, and I am so proud of you for preserving it. Your family is blessed to have you looking out for their well-being.
Kerry Foreman says
Ugh. Hard story to read, I like others have personal experience with Melanoma. My best friend was diagnosed seven years ago with stage 3 Melanoma. She had it removed, thought it was gone, and it returned, when her daughter was only 2 years old. She too participated in a clinical trial for a drug called Interleukin and has now been cancer free for 5 years. The treatments were horrible, I saw her go through hallucinations, and much, much more…..but she is here and that is all that matters. Thanks for sharing Rach.
Trish Priest says
I think you know that my mom was diagnosed with Stage 4 Metastatic Melanoma almost 6 years ago. She also lives in Cincinnati and has been treated there as well as recent clinical trials at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, MD. Please pass my info on to Christy if she would like to contact my mom
Just found your site yesterday thanks to a comment you left on The Happiest Mom. I love the “Hands Free” lifestyle and want to join you on this journey. This is life-changing stuff. I just wish I could spend the next 3 hours on my laptop reading your entire blog, but I guess that wouldn’t be very “Hands Free” would it?! I’ll just try to read a few entries each night after the kids are sleeping.
Susie Mc Sellers says
It’s interesting. I just got back from the beach. Before I left, friends were saying, hey go enjoy and get a nice tan. For many years (when I was a teenager and in college) I soaked in the sun and would not bat an eye when I was sunburned, that’s what Solarcain is for I thought. Now, I am extremely cautious, wearing sunscreen almost always. It’s very serious, and I will be praying for complete healing for Christy as she struggles through this pain. I had also seen the video on facebook you posted …thank you for sharing this with others…bless you Rach!