Melanoma Messengers Training & Philly trip

This weekend I attended the Melanoma Messengers Training through Melanoma Research Foundation (MRF).  My father, went with me at my request.  I just wasn’t ready to go to a strange city by myself (I’m a country gal) and didn’t want to stay alone in a hotel.

Before we left, Dad & I stopped at Brookview.  I said my words to John and asked him to help guide me and do what is right and to watch over Nathaniel.  I ask him that a lot.  I don’t know that I’ve gotten an answer yet, but I also trust that he left this Earth knowing that I’d always try to do the right things and do my best.

We arrived in Philly and found the hotel without any problems.  I didn’t realize that Philly was so close… it was only a little over an hour.  I always thought that Philly was 1 1/2 or 2 hrs away.

One of the ground rules for the meeting what I’ll call the “Vegas Principle”– What happens in the room stays in the room.  The reason being we’re dealing with sensitive issues and some people shared very personal stories that they wouldn’t want shared across the internet.  I’ll just summarize key points and feelings.

Let me just say, the training was AWESOME.  The people were great.  So many stories… so many different walks of life- we had people who were survivors as well as people who had lost family members or friends and several people who are looking for a great cause to support.

The enthusiasm in the room was PHENOMENAL!!!!   Everybody wants to do something to fight melanoma, raise awareness, educate, fund raise… to do their part to stop this terrible disease.  Fresh minds!  Great ideas!  Great collaboration.  And did I mention tremendous enthusiasm!   I left the training with the idea that this group of people could really make something happen.

I personally felt that I held everything together well.  A few times, I felt tears creeping into my eyes, but I kept them mostly at bay.  It was great to see long time survivors of more advanced stages, but my heart broke for those who had lost loved ones.

In the education portion we learned that in most cancers one out of ten cancer cells can produce a new tumor.  In melanoma every cell has the ability to produce a new tumor.  Wow!  No wonder John couldn’t beat it.  No wonder it has the researchers left researching.  No wonder the doctors can’t cure it.  No wonder the survival rate for stage IV is so low and so short.  It all made sense.  In my head (which my add isn’t always right) this also explains why mitotic rate is one of the new measurements for melanoma.  I don’t know if John’s was ever tested since it is just recently that they’ve added it.  But I can’t help but think it must have been pretty high for him to have progressed so quickly between stage III, IV, and beyond.

MRF is very dedicated to research.  Without research we won’t find more effective treatments and eventually a cure.  We need more research.  Melanoma is so aggressive and so often just just shouts a big FU at any and all treatments that are thrown at it.  We need to find that big gun that can shoot the FU at melanoma!  I’m sure it’s out there…. it’s too late for John… but maybe in Nathaniel’s lifetime it will be found.

I have visions of what I would like my role in the fight against melanoma to be.  I hope I don’t have my sights set too high and I hope that I can find some people to help me with my goals.  John fought melanoma with everything he had, I fought for him with everything that I had.  Without a cause, I feel somewhat empty.  I have a need to continue to fight– both in John’s memory and for myself.

  • I would love to organize a memorial bike ride in John’s honor.  I think it would be a fitting tribute and a fun fund raising opportunity.
  • I also hope to raise awareness in firefighters of their cancer risks and how they can prevent them.  We need firefighters- we also need them to live long and healthy lives and to be there for their friends and families.
  • I would also be interested in tackling the legislative areas as well.  Some can be done locally in communities to raise awareness and promote protection.  Those sort of activities can fall under the banner of community resolutions.  Wheels in my head are turning… wondering if Annapolis or Rising Sun governments might be interested.  Rising Sun also lost beloved music teacher, Mr. Dudley, to melanoma a few years ago.  John played in Jazz Band and Mr. Dudley was his favorite teacher.
  • Also… thinking about some cinnamon ornaments… thinking of black ribbons… I have the cookie cutter in my possession… found it online and bought it about a month ago… have the ingredients…  I’ve almost started them already and then it brings back too much emotion… that was my thing at Christmas… the only crafty thing that I can do… and John liked them too.  I’d even try to make unique ones for him with fire themes.  One year I even took a scale drawing of the Rescue that he was on the committee for (his #2 “fire baby”) and made him an ornament.  So, it’s hard to bring myself to make them with him gone.

The training was very motivational and inspiring and left me with a feeling of what can I do?  And a feeling that I can do something!

On Saturday, when we found our rooms.  I looked outside.  I wanted to see what ‘big city’ view I had.  I was disappointed as it looked across to a plain building and over a street.  Then at the corner of my eye, I noticed a mural with firefighters.  Then I looked at the building sitting diagonally and realized it was a fire station.  How cool was that?

View from hotel window.

View from hotel window.

A walk, later, revealed Engine 8, Ladder 2.

Philly Fire Station

Philly Fire Station

I even had the pleasure of watching the Ladder head out on a call.  I thought of John and smiled.  The rooms were spread out all over the hotel, I appreciated the irony of being diagonal from the firehouse.

A call home revealed that Nathaniel and the horses were well behaved, but it had rained heavily… even thunder-stormed… and the power had went out.  I thanked John for the generator.  I wouldn’t want to picture my mother with Nathaniel and no power.

After we were done, I asked my father if we could go get a REAL Philly cheese steak .  I’d never had an “authentic” one.  Some friends had suggested Jim’s.  So, off we set by foot to the ‘hippest street’ in Philly– South Street.

As I crossed the street I thought… why are all of those people standing there?  Are they waiting for a bus or something?  Then I realized… that was the line for Jim’s!!!!   It went out of the building and around the corner and partway down the building.  We’d walked blocks to get there, so we decided to wait.  The line actually moved fairly quickly.  As I looked at the people on the street… I realized how “un-hip” I was.  lol  I don’t think hip is ever a word that will be applied to me except maybe for that lovely comment of “a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips.”  lol  I wonder what John would have thought of the unique dress, hair, and piercings we observed.  I do know… he would  have liked the cheese steak (provolone for the cheese- he would think cheese whiz was insane- I kind of had that feeling to, but I guess you can’t knock it till you’ve tried it… I stuck with provolone.).  I will say, the cheese steak was DE-licious!!!  ” Mmmmm!” in the words of Nathaniel.

I wanted to experience some Philly history– because I’m a dork like that.  Walking the historic streets reminded me of the trip that John & I took to DC to see our friends, Shannon and David.  I had so much fun on that trip.  It was just a little day trip… pre kiddo… we took the train and just had such a fun experience.  We were carefree, in love, and just being spontaneous for a day.  In all our years together we rarely were just spontaneous…  I so loved those times or when we’d just drive on random back roads (being a firefighter John knew so many routes) and talk and enjoy each others companies.  Just a happy couple.  Pre-cancer.

Mary & John in DC, Spring 2006

Mary & John in DC, Spring 2006

John & Mary in DC, Spring 2006

John & Mary in DC, Spring 2006

John & Mary in DC, Spring 2006

John & Mary in DC, Spring 2006

But on this trip to Philly, John wasn’t there in body, but he definitely was in my thoughts and memories.  A widow site refers to widowhood as “Chapter 2.”

The name Chapter Two is representative of the new life one begins after the loss of a spouse. It implies moving forward, rewriting your life one day at a time. It starts the moment you learn your spouse has died, and continues into a happier time in your life. It gets you from point A to point B.

I’m establishing a”new normal”- I wish I could have back the “old normal.”  But, it’s gone.  I do my best to move forward with what I have to do with life and to try to be positive and strong.  I allow myself time to grieve.  I still cry every night (usually multiple times a day).  I still miss John tremendously and I think I’ll always miss him and love him.  But, life goes on.  And he wouldn’t want me to be ‘stuck’ or sad.  Heck, he probably wouldn’t even want me to be lonely.  He wants me to be happy.  I don’t want to be sad or miserable.  Through Nathaniel, the critters, family, and friends– I usually do a pretty good job of being positive and moving forward and finding time to smile and appreciate the simple pleasures of life.

We had hoped to go to Independence Hall, but the free tickets were “sold out” for the day.

Independence Hall

Independence Hall

We did make it to see the Liberty Bell.

Liberty Bell

Liberty Bell

We passed the horse drawn carriages all lined up.  It made me miss my guys.  I longed for the touch… the smell.  I asked one of the drivers if I could pet an old flea bitten grey gelding.  He agreed.  The grey was grumpy, I think he was worried that we’d make him work again.  Poor guy.  All of the carriage horses stood quietly if not a bit dejectedly.  Only one pricked it’s ears occasionally.  My guys don’t know how good they have it.  That is one of the reasons that selling them scares me so badly.  Once they’re gone you have no control over their homes.  My crew is all so happy and I’d hate to ever see them in  a position where they hate their work or weren’t cared for well, or were just tossed out like yesterday’s garbage when they became old, lame, or “didn’t work out.”

We headed for home.  I stopped at Brookview and said my few words to John.  I think he’d be proud of me.  When he was facing stage IV cancer, he still developed Team Smitty to support LiveStrong.  He could have chosen to just focus on him and his health, but he thought of the greater good.  I remember how happy he was as he checked out the stats of Team Smitty and watched it grow into something bigger than he had anticipated.

When I got home, Remi was very glad to see me.  I rubbed his forehead and practically snuggled with me.  Silly horse.  It was nice to have him being affectionate.  I told him he was lucky to not have to pull a carriage around Philly.  He’s such a chicken… he wouldn’t have lasted long… lol…

Nathaniel was ecstatic to see me.  He’s such a good cute kid (most of the time).  It was great to see his smile and give him a big hug!

It was nice to get away… nice to spend time with my dad… nice to have a wonderful training session and leave feeling like I can make a difference… but it’s also nice to come home!!!  I’m just a homebody by heart.  And as John said, of our new house- something to the effect of-   “When you have this, why would you want to go anywhere else?”

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About Mary K. Smith

I was widowed in July 2009, when I lost my beloved husband, John, to melanoma. Cancer SUCKS. We have a young son who was just a year old when his father died. I live on a small farm in Maryland which is home to horses, cats, and a dog. I started this blog as a way for me to heal, a way to remember my husband, and eventually I'd like to share it with our son so he can see the love that his father had for him, the love that we had for each other, what a great person his father was, and how hard his father fought to live.
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