Sunday, March 2, 2014

Sarah's struggle

Last night, I learned that my friend Sarah passed away after a long battle with melanoma.

It didn't really hit me at first. I think I was just in shock, because the last I heard, she was still fighting a good fight. She was diagnosed with stage 3C melanoma three years ago, and it was a long, grueling battle for her.

I first met Sarah when I moved to Newport the summer before 10th grade. My next door neighbor, Allison, who was also in the 10th grade at the time, had a group of friends over and invited me to meet everyone. That group ended up becoming my close-knit group of friends throughout high school.

From the moment I met her, I really admired Sarah. She was gorgeous, very funny, outgoing, popular with everyone, and could make anyone laugh or smile in any situation. I had switched schools when I moved, and at my previous school, I was a nobody. When I first met Sarah, I never dreamed she'd be friends with me, but we started hanging out during and after school, and we became very close friends.

Sarah is the one who introduced me to the locally-famous casserole-style mostaccioli at Detroit Beach Pizzeria--I attribute at least 10 pounds of high school weight gain to that dish! Sarah is the one with whom I had my first experience with alcohol (I still can't look at a bottle of Sour Apple Pucker without gagging!). Despite being teenagers, Sarah and I shared a love for Elmo from Sesame Street--we each had a collection of Elmo stuffed animals. Sarah was the first friend I told when I had my first kiss, at 16.


In high school, I was embarrassed of my weight, as always, and when Sarah wanted to lay out in the sun in bikinis, I lied and said I didn't have a suit; she gave me one, and I said it would be too small. She assured me it was too big on her, so I tried it on. After she saw that it fit, she said, "I lied! It's not too big on me. You're the same size as me. You look hot!"

Sarah is the one who introduced me to thrift store shopping. We loved to go on half-off day and find some very... erm, interesting... outfits. Sarah taught me to be bold, and not care about what anyone else thought of my clothes or my hair--just to have fun and be silly sometimes.

I have NO idea what we were thinking with those baggy clothes!

I remember Sarah and I going to visit one of our (male) friends in the hospital after he'd had a minor surgery, and he was sleeping. Sarah had the funny idea to whisper sexy things in his ear to see if we could get his heart rate up on the monitor!

Sarah introduced me to tanning beds, and we used to go tanning together in the evenings sometimes. That was before we knew just how bad it was for you. Now, it's a bittersweet memory--we had fun tanning, but knowing that it contributed to her cancer and death makes me feel awful.



Sarah became pregnant during our senior year of high school, and after graduation, we went our separate ways. I went to a university, while she got a job and had a baby boy. She ended up marrying the father of her baby, and just before I became pregnant with Noah, she had another baby--a girl. She was a fantastic mom; one of those "cool" moms that her kids would never be embarrassed to be seen with ;)

When my kids were a little older, we got together for playdates a few times, and it was always nice to catch up and see what was happening in each other's lives at the time. She divorced her husband, and was a single mom for the last several years, not getting much help from him. Her cancer diagnosis was tough--after her initial surgery, she wasn't able to work anymore.

I went to visit her in the hospital about a year after her first surgery, and she was the same old Sarah that I remembered. SO positive and upbeat, and I was really happy to see her. Even as her cancer progressed, and continued to get worse, she stayed positive and hopeful.

So yesterday, when I heard that she'd lost the very long battle with cancer, I was definitely shocked; but it didn't really hit me until I was running this morning. I had an awful pit in my stomach, and I couldn't even make it through my run. Sarah was way too young to die, and her kids are too young to be without a mom.

For the last few years, Sarah was on a mission to get the word out about just how bad tanning is for your body. Sarah had no family history of melanoma, and her doctors told her the cancer was most likely from tanning. Her cancer started as what looked like an innocent mole on her calf. No matter how good you may think you look with a tan, it is not worth the risk of getting skin cancer! It's an ugly and extremely deadly disease.

When Sarah was diagnosed, it really hit home for me--since we used to tan together, it very well could have been me who'd gotten cancer. I'm pasty-white now, and I honestly don't care how much thinner or better I'd look with a tan. I started using sunscreen religiously when I learned of Sarah's diagnosis. I even took my kids and myself to the dermatologist for a skin cancer screening, so that if something pops up, we can catch it early. I urge anyone reading this to do the same. If there is any good to come from Sarah's struggle, I hope that it will be to have saved someone else from going through it, too.

But for now, I am happy that Sarah is finally at peace after fighting so hard for so long. It goes without saying that she will be dearly missed by all who had the pleasure of knowing her.


52 comments:

  1. So sorry for your loss :(

    I lost an uncle to melanoma, and my mom had a mole with melanoma (luckily it had not spread before it was found.)

    I definitely wear my ghostly light skin proudly because tanning is SO not worth it.

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  2. I am so sorry for the loss of your precious friend. My dad had skin cancer, I wear sunblock everyday because I have the same fair skin he did.

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  3. Katie, I am so sorry for the loss of your beautiful friend. I had a skin cancer scare a few years ago - two moles came back as pre-melanoma/pre-cancerous. They attributed mine to be fair (I have blonde hair and am fair skinned) and having a severe sunburn as a child (and probably tanning beds didn't help the derm said). I religiously use sunscreen, get annual mole checks and have my daughter trained to use sunscreen as well. I think when someone close to us and our age dies, it really does hit us hard because it reminds us of our own mortality. You provided an important reminder for us all today. Hugs!

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  4. so sorry to hear of your loss.. will be keeping your family and her family in my thoughts.

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  5. This tribute is so sweet, not only does it remind me of my childhood friendships, but I am a melanoma survivor. My diagnosis was also stage III and I had a freckle on my stomach. I was also one who frequented the tanning salon but my doctor also told me melanoma is found where the sun doesn't shine, so it is good to see a dermatologist yearly. Melanoma changed the direction of my life.

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  6. I'm sorry for your loss. I will keep her family in my prayers.

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  7. I am so sorry to hear of your loss, I will keep your and her family in my prayers.

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  8. What a beautiful friend. So sorry she had to leave so soon. And thanks for reminder about the importance of sunscreen & skin checks.

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  9. Katie, I'm very sorry for the loss of Sarah. I can't imagine what it would be like to lose a close, dear friend, and I can only hope I don't experience it for a very, very long time....but more importantly than that, I wouldn't want to cause the same tragedy and grief for my close friends, as I was a serial tanner for years and years, and I myself have already experienced a skin cancer scare at the age of 25.

    I had been tanning since the age of 15 (my mother signed for me), and was a serial tanner, in the spring and summer months tanning everyday indoors in a tanning booth. My friends and family all did the same, and its the norm here; we live in the south, every girl has to have that glowing tan. Well, last year, a small dark spot, somewhat like a freckle, popped up on the top of my right hand, just under my ring finger. I didn't think much of it; I'm freckly once in the sun, and it was June. Then, a few weeks (Yes! A few weeks!) later, the spot had become raised, and was uneven. I became concerned, and made an appt with my dermatologist. He was concerned as well, especially when he heard how long I been tanning, and he immediately biopsied it, and sent it off.

    Two grueling weeks later, after worrying and wondering, he called me and told me to come back to the office. It was a dyplastic nevus. Not cancer yet, but well on its way. He said if it had been in a place where I hadn't noticed, it would have likely turned into Melanoma. He decided the best thing to do was surgically remove it, to prevent it from returning and spreading.

    Now, I am tanning bed free, plus one more scar, and scared beyond belief of cancer. I now am 70% more likely to develop cancer than someone who hasn't had a spot pop up, and I now wear sunscreen religiously. Tanning is an addiction; it makes you feel good, people compliment your tan, and its nice to look good in the sun. But now, its not worth it. At all. I'm slowly embracing the paleness, and the majority of my friends and family have decided to give up tanning as well, after they saw me with a bandaged, scarred up right hand.

    Sorry for the long post, but seriously ladies (and gents too), DO NOT TAN. It can happen to you, and given enough exposure, will happen. Never think that its not affecting you, because it is, every time. No golden tan is worth losing your life over.

    -Dani

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  10. So sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing her story. She sounds like an amazing woman.

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  11. So sorry for your loss, and to Sarah's family as well.

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  12. I´m so sorry, cancer is so terrible. :-(

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  13. Im so very sorry for the loss of your friend Katie.

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  14. I'm so sorry to hear about your loss :-( Melanoma is very high here in Australia, I had a family relative of mine pass away last year so I know how you feel.

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  15. Oh Katie, I am so sorry! I remember the other posts you've written about Sarah and this was a very special and touching tribute to your precious friend. Thank you so much for sharing her with us!

    P.S. I know exactly what you were thinking with the baggy clothes - it was the 90s! I think I had the exact outfits both of you are wearing :)

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  16. So very sorry to hear of the loss of your friend.

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  17. Katie

    I'm so sorry... what a wonderful gift you were to each other.
    We should all be so lucky to have these kinds of memories of cherished friends...
    Prayers for you, her family and her children....

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  18. I am so sorry for your loss. I am now prompted to make an apt. to have a mole looked at on my arm.
    It is amazing to me that bonds in high school have lasted well into adult hood. So many of my best buds are long gone from me. I wished we had stayed in touch.
    Odd that a wedding photography studio piped in during this sad but thoughtful comment stream.

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  19. Katie, I'm so sorry for the loss of your dear friend, Sarah. Her family (and you and yours...) are in my thoughts.

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  20. So sorry to hear about your friend Sarah. You can tell in each picture of her just how full of life she was. It radiates from her smile. Her family, her children, and you & your family will be in my thoughts and prayers during this difficult time. xoxo

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  21. So sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing the memories of your lifelong friend.

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  22. Katie, thanks very much for sharing Sarah's story with us. Our condolences to you and everyone else mourning her loss.

    Sharing Sarah's story is important. I was diagnosed with melanoma at 29 years old. I had the good fortune to find it at stage 0, so treatment was a minor surgery and my prognosis is just fine. I had never tanned, but probably childhood burns on my fair skin caused it.

    If only everyone understood there's no such thing as a healthy tan.

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  23. Oh Katie, I am so sorry. Thank you for sharing the story with us.

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  24. I am so sorry to hear about your loss Katie.

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  25. I'm soooo sorry for your loss! And for her kids, family and friends.

    Thank you for sharing this story. This really hit home for me. I recently had a suspicious mole removed and I'm still waiting for the lab results. Luckily they don't suspect melanoma, but possibly basal cell carcinoma. And it's probably also from tanning. I haven't been tanning in years. I didn't know how bad it was for you at the time, but have been religious about sunscreen ever since I found out tanning can cause cancer. As tragic as Sarah's story is, I hope your sharing it helps other people learn about how risky tanning is and that everyone reading this gets a skin cancer screening from their doctor.

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  26. So sorry for your loss. I spent many hours in tanning beds in high school and college. I even proudly (then) got the "bronze goddess" award one year in my sorority. While I haven't had any known skin problems yet, I certainly worry about it coming back to haunt me someday, and I make sure my kids wear sunscreen religiously. Thanks for getting the message out there!

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  27. Katie, I am so sorry for your loss. I know how hard it must be to lose a friend at such a young age. Big Hugs.

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  28. So very sorry for your loss Katie. When you're barely 30, people aren't supposed to die. I feel so badly for you, for Sarah's kids and for Sarah. I know how much she wanted to be here to watch her kids grow up. Tanning is something I did a lot of when I was growing up back in the 60's and I never got very dark, since I started from a pasty white state. But my husband was the one who got melanoma. He is a redhead and spent many hours of his youth on his Uncle's farm, outside in the hot sun with no protection. We were lucky, the spot on his calf was big and they had to do a skin graft over it, since they took so much of it out. But, the lymph node biopsy showed that they GOT IT ALL! That was back in 2006. Of course last year we learned of his terminal prostate cancer diagnosis, but at least we had these last 8 years, and I am grateful for that. WEAR SUNSCREEN!!!!

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  29. I'm so sorry. I know what it's like to lose a friend. . . that's a hole that is just always there. {hugs}

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  30. Sad and good to know about getting checked out

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  31. Soo so sorry to hear about your friend. I was one who used to tan regularly in tanning beds as well. I decided the cost of it and the thought of skin cancer was not worth it. Yes I miss being tan but found the lotions like dove and jergens give you a nice glow and in a healthy way.

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  32. My heart aches for her family and for you. Thank you for sharing her story. I made a long put off dermatologist appointment this morning.

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  33. So, so sorry for your loss and for her son and daughter, as well.

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  34. I'm sorry for the loss of your friend Sarah. I know how hard it is to lose someone you love to melanoma cancer. Thoughts and prayers are with you and her loved ones!

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  35. Oh Katie, I am SO sorry for your loss. Cancer has touched me personally in the last couple of years, but I am stronger and doing much better. I always go for skin cancer screenings now, even though my cancer wasn't skin cancer.

    Hugs and prayers to you and her family.

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  36. I'm so sorry to hear of your loss, Katie! I had melanoma and while I didn't take it very seriously while having it removed (I sang "chest moooles roasting on an open fire" as they were cauterizing the now VERY large scar on my chest) I later learned just how lucky I was, as it's one of the deadliest of cancers. I tell everyone I can about the dangers of tanning and show my scar to scare them. If I can prevent just one case it will be worth the embarrassment! Thank you for sharing your memories and for spreading the word. Again, I'm so sorry the world has lost another sweet soul to cancer! :(

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  37. This is so heartbreaking. I am so sorry for your loss, and for her family. I worked for a couple years at a plastic surgery office where we saw young, beautiful girls come in with melanoma diagnoses. When they were tanning, they had no idea what it could cause. I hope and pray that others will become more aware of the unbelievable dangers of tanning beds and skin cancer.

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  38. I'm so sorry that you have lost your friend. It sounds like ya'll had a lot of fun together and shared a lot of great times. Good friends are such a blessing.

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  39. That is a very nice tribute to your good friend - I'm so sorry to hear the sad news.

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  40. I'm so sorry to hear that you lost your friend. Losing a best friend is the worst.

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  41. Katie,

    I am so sorry. I lost my mom to this same horrible cancer 25 years ago this month. She was only 64, but Sarah was WAAAAAAYYYYYY too young to die, especially sad with having young kids. My thoughts are with you. You are also too young to lose a best friend!

    Dede

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  42. Katie, I'm so sorry about your friend's passing. I wish you (and the rest of her friends and family) the best.

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  43. Katie, I am so very sorry and touched by the loss of such a young person as Sarah. Her story and fight will keep going by the people she loved like you telling her story.
    I will fight skin cancer the rest of my life along with so many because of that one sunburn, that one time in the tanning bed, that one time of laying out at the pool.
    Keep her memory alive by spreading the word to help others get educated about skin cancer.
    I hope you will follow my blog at http://efudexskincancer.blogspot.com. With your permission I would like to post your story on my blog about Sarah so my readers can know her fight.
    Thank you for sharing,
    Betty

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  44. I am so sorry for your loss Katie. No friend, parent or child should have to go through this type of loss. May her spirit and message live on in people like you!

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  45. I'm sorry for the loss of your friend, Katie. I lost my husband to melanoma when he was 43 years old. A mole he was born with started to change, and despite my best efforts to make him see a doctor, he ignored it. By he time he had it removed, it was too late. Melanoma is no joke. Wear sunscreen, see a dermatologist and forget the tanning beds. It breaks my heart every day to think that he cut his life because he ignored the warning signs.

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  46. I'm sorry for your loss of your friend. Praying for you!

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  47. What a beautiful post. You did such a great job of describing Sara's personality, it made me cry just reading it. She was lucky to have a friend like you to help keep her memory alive.

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  48. I am so sorry for your loss, Katie. Sending prayers to her family and friends who loved her. It sounds like she was a wonderful person, mom, daughter, friend, and everyone who knew her got to have their lives uplifted in some way. xoxo

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  49. I'm sorry to hear about this, Katie, it truly is a terrible thing to happen to such a young woman. :(

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  50. I'm very sorry to hear your lost such a close friend. It boggles my mind how many friends of mine, people I know, seem to be losing loved ones due to cancer. My close friend just lost her father to brain cancer....from the time it was diagnosed to when he passed was mere months. You'd think after all this time they would find a way to cure this horrible disease. I'll keep you and her family in my prayers.

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