Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Giant Hug (aka Melanoma Patient Symposium)

As soon as my husband and I stepped foot off the plane from Dallas at Newark New Jersey Airport, I knew I was in trouble. My eyes began that now familiar feeling of a waterfall starting to cascade down over my cheeks.

This was the first time I had been to New Jersey in 10 years ... and the first I had ever been there without my best friend and precious daughter Jaime, who died at age 29 after a 9-year battle with melanoma. So many times I had walked through that terminal shadowing our princess and pulling our bags ... but not this time.

What had I gotten myself into when I agreed to speak at the AIM at Melanoma/Atlantic Health System patient symposium in Morristown? Why didn't
I think about it for longer than 2 seconds when Dr. Eric Whitman, Jaime's melanoma specialist for 5 years, asked me to tell Jaime's story and update the audience on the ongoing battle with the indoor tanning industry? Really ... what was I thinking???

Well, I did have a few moments of being a blubbering idiot, but then I felt Jaime's presence and the love that everyone there still had for her and I knew that I belonged there. It had been 10 years but Jaime had not been forgotten, and I realized that even though she couldn't speak herself, she was speaking through me (although I did censor some of her more favorite 4-letter words!).

So even though public speaking is not really my thing, I put on my big girl panties and did what I was asked to do ... what I needed to do ... and that was to spread awareness about the dangers of tanning bed use so that maybe ... just maybe ... someone would be spared from losing their Jaime. 

I entered into this as a rookie. I had not attended a patient symposium before and frankly thought they sounded stuffy, with a lot of technical/medical terms that I might recognize but certainly couldn't understand. After all, I had failed my college biochemistry course so it doesn't take much to put me into anxiety mode!

To my surprise, the doctors who presented (Dr. Whitman and Dr. Bickenbach) brought the information down to a layman's level, and I was totally fascinated with what I heard. As I mentioned, Dr. Whitman was Jaime's wonderful melanoma specialist and now Director of the Atlantic Melanoma Center and the Carol G. Simon Cancer Center at Morristown NJ Medical Center. Dr. Bickenbach is a surgical oncologist there and the new (really cute!) kid on the block. You need to remember his name because I'm pretty sure you will be hearing lots more about him in the future.

But my main take-home point (term I learned from the symposium!) was that the auditorium was just bursting with love and compassion and hope. My first thought was that it wasn't just a symposium ... it was a giant hug.

The doctors were both very approachable and made everyone feel comfortable and welcome. The patient panel told stories of their difficult roads to survival, and all showed such gratitude and admiration for the two amazing doctors who had helped them along the way.

I know, I know ... it all sounds so warm and fuzzy. Well, it was! And in the world of melanoma, warm and fuzzy just doesn't come along that often, so it was most welcome.

So as I reflect back over my trepidation upon our arrival in New Jersey, I realize that I needed that giant hug ... to be around people who understood what Jaime had gone through, people who had loved and cared for her so many years ago, people who wanted to hear the message about melanoma prevention by staying out of tanning beds.

Thank you, Dr. Whitman, for asking me (and Jaime) to be part of such a wonderful event ... and thank you, sweet Jaime, for being by my side the whole time.

See all videos from the symposium at https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLOnM_erAQqID5av4kIzM1PkeCoNLYZfw1

Melanoma Mama (Jaime's mom, Donna) 
Twitter: @melanoma_mama
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/donna.h.regen
http://www.facebook.com/jaime.regen.rea (Remember Jaime)
http://www.facebook.com/BanTheBeds (Pull the Plug on Tanning Beds)
Etsy: https://www.etsy.com/shop/sweetpea321 (Jjem Creations)
Ebay: http://stores.ebay.com/Sweetpea321 (Jjem Creations)