Saturday, March 15, 2014

Blowing Out Birthday Candles ...

March 16, 2007. It was a beautiful, warm and sunny Spring day. It was my birthday. It was a perfect day for celebration ... but it was to be the worst day of my life. On that date many years before, I had taken my first breath; on that same date 60 years later, my only daughter Jaime would take her last.

The nightmare begins

My baby girl was diagnosed with melanoma when she was 20 years old, after years of searching for the perfect tan with the help of tanning beds. She was a frequent fryer and paid the ultimate price. A mole on her back seemed to be where this cancer wanted to set up shop. That damn mole caused more pain, suffering, and broken hearts than I can find words to describe.

Initially she was determined to be in an early stage of melanoma, and we were told after 3 years that she was cured. NOT! I know now that you are never "cured" of melanoma. If you are lucky, it becomes inactive until something wakes it up at a later date. February 2002 Jaime's cancer awakened (see my blog With This Ring ...), and our nightmare began. She was in the final stage, Stage IV. Her cancer had spread, and there was no stopping it. Jaime faced this challenge with amazing strength and courage and a positive attitude, which she also demanded from those around her ... and always with a smile on her face. She was so determined that she would not die from this horrific disease that we were all convinced that she would indeed beat it. We chased it around her little body for 5 years with surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, every treatment option available ... until ... until March 16, 2007.

Sleep, my little one, sleep

Her last night was a good one, considering. Her brother Ben and I slept by her side at the hospital that night. I guess the word "slept" isn't really the best word choice. We watched her tiny body in the huge hospital bed move up and down gently with each breath she took, like I used to watch all my babies as they slept. She was curled up in a ball, just like she liked to sleep and hadn't been able to for many months because of breathing problems caused by tumors pressing on whatever they were pressing on. We listened to her softly chattering away. We couldn't make out what she was saying, but her sweet child-like tone was assurance that she was enjoying the conversation. And then she would giggle. And that giggle is the last sound I heard her make ...

The end of hope

By the following morning (Friday, March 16), Jaime had drifted into a coma. Her oncologist came to see her in her hospital room as he did every morning and evening. He wasn't on call that weekend, and without giving it much thought, I said, "Well, see you on Monday." He looked at me with the saddest of looks and shook his head no. The air seemed to have been sucked out of the room, and it hit me ... we will not be here on Monday!  I think that is the first time that I really allowed myself to understand that we were at the end. All the treatments, medications, scans and reports, doctor office and hospital visits, clinical trials, barf bags, cases of Ensure, doctors and nurses, new friends made through this journey, old friends lost who didn't understand, a new melanoma vocabulary, the dark sense of humor we had developed to help us cope, all the fear, all the pain, all the tears, all the prayers had lead us to this point. There was no more room for hope ... the hope we had clung to for 9 years; the hope Jaime demanded that we have.

Happy Birthday, Mom

Then my son gently reminded me that it was my birthday. I told Jaime that I would love for her to open her eyes and wish me a Happy Birthday ... but if she couldn't, then the best birthday gift she could give me would be to leave her melanoma-battered body behind and just fly away. And off she flew ...

But Jaime's story doesn't end there. I am not telling you her story to solicit sympathy but to make you aware of the torture that tanning beds and melanoma has caused our family and friends. I am telling you Jaime's story because she can no longer do so ... and it is a story you need to hear. Her story has been featured on local and national TV news, radio, magazines, newspapers, public service announcements ( ... and even in theaters. Almost every lawmaker across the country in any state considering tanning bed legislation has heard her story, along with the FDA and the CDC. Her story is told on Facebook and Twitter and at melanoma walks and events. A scholarship at her alma mater University of North Texas has been started in her name, and her professors tell her story to their young students. Her face has even smiled down from melanoma awareness billboards! Don't count her out because she is not done yet.

On March 16, 2007 ... like blowing out candles on a birthday cake, the light of a young life, my sweet Jaime's life, flickered and was gone. And all our lives have been darker without her laughter, her joy, her courage, her love, and her light. We miss you, Jaime girl, with every beat of our hearts!

 Melanoma Mama (Jaime's mom, Donna)
Twitter: @melanoma_mama
Facebook: (Remember Jaime) (Pull the Plug on Tanning Beds)
Etsy: (Jjem Creations)
Ebay: (Jjem Creations)


  1. Dear Donna,
    Thank you for your courage and grace in writing this beautifully written, heartbreaking story. You continue to be an amazing mama. I love you. Your neice Debra.

  2. May Jaime's story continue to change lives for the better. I remember her with deep awe..she was a fighter and an inspiration.

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  4. God bless you. I lost my sister to melanoma and understand.

  5. Prayers and love for all you do and continue to share with all of us!

  6. I am so sorry! I lost my Daddy 20 years ago to Melanoma. His was on the back of his head, under his hair. It was not spotted until it was too late. I get checked every 6 months.

  7. The pain is fresh as though yesterday, but it was October 5, 1993 when I lost my father to melanoma. He was a timber man, spending his life in the South Georgia sun. Then, in 2010, my then 39 year old daughter was dx with ocular melanoma (she'd spent her teen years in a tanning bed)...we wait for the other shoe to drop as the melanoma lurks.