Saturday, April 5, 2014

Birthday Girl

April 6. It's Party Time! ... but where is the birthday girl? Today is my daughter Jaime's birthday. It should have been her 37th birthday celebration, but, thanks to her obsession with tanning beds and the melanoma that resulted, she will not be celebrating this one or any future birthdays. There will be no party, no presents, no birthday cake and candles. And she will remain 29 forever.

During an April blizzard in the Cleveland, Ohio, area in 1977, Jaime was born. She was my 10-month pregnancy. Her due date was actually on my birthday, March 16 ... which (insert Twilight Zone music here) also happens to be the date on which she died just 29 short years later. (See my blog Blowing Out Birthday Candles.) One of those things that makes you go hmmmm!

Anyway, I was more than ready to meet her. And it didn't take long ... about an hour. The doctor missed the delivery (and I refused to pay his full bill); Daddy missed it too because he was busy getting dressed in his delivery room gear. But between me, the nurse, and Jaime, we got the job done! 

I was crying when my husband arrived in the delivery room, which alarmed him. But they were tears of joy that she was a girl ... a Jaime and not a Jacob! We didn't have sonograms in those days to tell us the sex of the baby ahead of the delivery, so it was always a surprise. Jaime had two very rambunctious brothers at home, one had just turned 3 years old and the other a little over 1, so I was overjoyed and felt blessed to be the recipient of a quiet, dainty, demure little girl. I would live in that fantasy for only a few months before it became crystal clear that she was every bit as wild as her brothers ... or maybe more so!

Now Jaime's birthdays weren't just birthdays ... they were BIRTHDAYS (and often extended to birthweeks and birthmonth).
April 6 was her special day, and everyone was expected to celebrate that day, even strangers ... although to Jaime there was no such thing as a stranger. She would start planning her birthday celebrations on April 7 for the next year ... reminding us that her birthday was only 364 days away. It was intense. Just ask her friends. And this enthusiasm for her day ... Jaime's Day ... continued throughout her short life. But she would only see 29 birthdays ... just 29.

When she turned 25, her new husband threw her a surprise birthday party. Unfortunately only a couple weeks before that (see more in the blog With This Ring), we discovered that her cancer had spread and she was rediagnosed with stage IV melanoma. There was not a dry eye at that party ... except for Jaime, who with her usual beautiful big smile told all in attendance to stop the crying because it wasn't like she was dying or anything. Always the optimist; always positive. But everyone there knew that she was, in fact, dying! We didn't know that she would only celebrate 4 more Jaime Days, but we knew those special days were limited.

Jaime's life ended just 3 weeks before her 30th birthday, and her death could have been prevented. If her vanity had not driven her into the tanning beds for a darker skin tone than what she was born with, she might have gotten to celebrate #30 and beyond. We will never know what might have been in Jaime's future because the melanoma caused by the excessive tanning bed UV radiation cut her life way too short.

Birthdays are not the only things that melanoma can steal from you. Melanoma can take pieces of your body, a chunk of tissue here or an eye or ovary there. It can take your energy and your hair. It can take your time and your job. It can take your friendships and relationships. It can take your security and peace of mind and restful sleep at night. It can take your ability to walk or talk or breathe. It can take your dreams and your future. It is an evil monster of a disease that will take whatever it wants whenever it wants and should never be invited into your life by frying your skin.

But Jaime had it right. Birthdays are special; they are precious. Celebrate each one and make lots of memories. And do what needs to be done to reach your next special day. Be proactive with your health. Get regular check-ups and skin checks, stop smoking, eat healthier, lose that extra weight, exercise, go for that mammogram, be sun smart ... and stay out of the damn tanning beds. Too many birthdays have been lost that didn't need to be!

This year and every year since April 6, 2007, we don't light birthday candles for Jaime Day ... we light a memorial candle. Sadly, the party has been cancelled.

Happy Birthday in Heaven, sweet baby girl!

 Melanoma Mama (Jaime's mom, Donna)

Twitter: @melanoma_mama
Facebook: (Remember Jaime) (Pull the Plug on Tanning Beds)
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