In late August, 2011, I had just returned from a camping trip with my young family. My son, Jacob, got a rash all over his arm during our trip and I was starting to feel a little itchy myself, which prompted a brief self-examination before my much-anticipated first shower back at home. My wife looked at me a bit funny at first when I asked “Maria…did you, Olivia, or Jake draw on my butt with a black magic marker during our camping trip?” Not that was ever a possibility, but it really looked like someone dabbed my backside (sorry, I didn’t pick the location) with one of those rectangle-tipped black magic markers. You know…the ones we sniffed in grade school.
I normally dismiss Maria when she says “you should talk to your doctor about that”, but this time I humoured her. My doctor wasn’t overly concerned, but nonetheless made arrangements to have the small, smooth, and slightly asymmetrical mole excised, to err on the side of caution. A few weeks later, just after Jake’s first birthday, I was introduced to my new favourite Latin term: in situ, which means “in its original place”. The mole was a small melanoma in situ (stage 0 melanoma), meaning the cancer had not spread beyond the epidermis, and that the biopsy was all the treatment I would need. It took a while before I could finally exhale. I was consumed for some time with paranoia, fearful that the biopsy didn’t get all of the cancer and that I would be taken away from my wife and kids way too early. I couldn’t shake the thought of not walking Olivia down the aisle, of not being there to offer fatherly advice whenever she and Jake needed me, and of not growing old as planned with Maria. I obsessively Googled search terms like “melanoma in situ recurrence” and “melanoma survival rates” for several months before I finally began to appreciate that I had dodged a (very horrible) bullet.
Once my little pity party came to an end, I came to the realization that I not only had new responsibilities (e.g., regular self-examination and dermatologist appointments, protecting myself – and more importantly the kids – from the sun, and instilling them with sun-smart habits), but I was also presented with an excellent opportunity to help raise awareness of skin cancer and its prevention. After all, I was very fortunate that I detected my mole early (purely by happenstance), and as such I had the kind of time and energy that others who weren’t so fortunate likely did not.
My timing was pretty good when I contacted the Melanoma Network of Canada to express an interest in volunteering, despite not really ever having volunteered before. As it happens, MNC was planning its inaugural Strides for Melanoma awareness walk in Mississauga, and a few volunteers had expressed interest in organizing a similar walk in Ottawa. I am very fortunate to have met and worked with Laura Davidson and Lisa Craig, who have, regrettably, been way more impacted than I by the ugliness that is melanoma. We had hoped to raise $5,000 in the first small Ottawa walk, but were over the moon when we more than doubled our target. I cannot tell you how much we are looking forward to building on our accomplishments from last year, and making this year’s Strides for Melanoma a huge success!