Life After Melanoma
How to live life without regrets after cancer
"Oh my gosh, girl—you have on WAYY too much sunblock."
"Didn't you check the weather? It's going to be 90! Why are you wearing long sleeves?"
"Wait—you set a personal record in sleeves and leggings? How is that possible?"
Everyone has a story—and everyone you meet has gone through, or is currently going through, something big that's invisible to you. This 5-minute read is about life and racing after Melanoma—and whether you're a "Melahomie" or not, you are a survivor—you've overcome some kind of challenge that changed you. So, how will you retain the life lessons learned?
You know what they say… cancer changes you. It has a way of showing you that life is both precious and very, very fragile. It helps you get your priorities straight. You stop sweating the small things. You promise to live each day with gratitude, to hug your loved ones tighter, travel more, and work less. It's been almost six years since I've been cancer free, and I can honestly say, while it did undoubtedly change me for the better in so many ways—those lessons, once crystal clear, have faded over time. Time for a refresher course!
Here are eight questions and a few stories to guide you in living life full out with no regrets:
- What have you been called to do? You know—your "Why." What's your spiritual compass? What are your values? What are your special gifts and how are you sharing them with others? Don't look back. Now is the perfect time to design a future that reflects what matters most.
- Who's important to you in your life, and are you spending time with them? On a scale of liking a Facebook post to spending real quality time, where are you at with your relationships right now? Write down the names of 8-10 of your closest friends and family members. Check on them for no reason. Send them some love. Send flowers, a handwritten card, a text message. Plan a trip, create a bucket list, make memories. Stop the endless scroll and connect on a deeper level.
- How are you serving others? After I first got diagnosed with skin cancer at 31, I pestered roughly a zillion people to get skin checks—three of them had deadly cancer that got removed. And that felt good but trust me when I say that random strangers don't appreciate you pointing out the spots on their back while you're in the checkout line at Publix, then handing them a Dermatologist's business card. Just as I'm reflecting on how obnoxious this is, I had for a routine visit with my favorite Dermatologist Katie. She opens the meeting with, "This is a weird question, but did you talk to a woman about melanoma in the grocery store line?" I'm like, "Yeah… did I go too far?" She told me that whatever I said worked—and it may have saved the woman's life because she had melanoma and had never been for a skin check. I didn't (and still don't) want this to be my calling. Why, did God bestow on me the un-glamorous gift of spotting skin cancer like a hawk? The lesson here—you might think that the small (or, bizarre) ways you serve others go unnoticed. They don't. Keep doing what you do no matter how ridiculous you think you are. That smile you smile at the stranger crossing the street might be the only kind gesture they feel all day—do not take any act of kindness, no matter how small, for granted.
- What's your reminder to celebrate life? For me, triathlon is a symbol for celebrating that I am healthy enough to attempt something I once thought was impossible. I signed up for my first tri in the parking lot of Moffitt Cancer Center on the day I got cleared—a year later, I called my first 140.6 a victory lap, and am on track for victory lap #5 this November. What rituals do you have in place to remember the challenges you've overcome? How will you remind yourself that you are courageous, strong, and capable of anything you set your mind to?
- What are you grateful for? While I waited several weeks to get scheduled for surgery, I kept a gratitude journal and made at least one entry a day. I continued for a whole year. In fact, it worked so well I stopped doing it. The more you reinforce positive neuropathways, the less negative thoughts you will experience. You get to choose how you interpret each life experience: A gratitude journal is the difference between "I am so blessed I found my cancer early at stage 1" and, "I could really do without this 5-inch crater across my lat and all the nerve damage that came with it." It's time to bring back the gratitude journal!
- How are you taking care of yourself? Not just physically, but mentally and emotionally, too. I've graduated from bi-monthly to twice-annual skin checks, found a badass Concierge Doctor I love (Dr. Gabrielle Lyon—check out her podcast here), discovered Wim Hof, and even listen to my Oura ring on occasion when it tells me to rest. You know this—you can't serve others if you don't take care of yourself first. What are you doing for you? (Yes…new bikes, and fresh kits absolutely fall into the category of self-care.)
- Who or what do you need to forgive? Whether it's the seemingly oblivious person sitting next to you on the plane who's playing their music too loud (currently me as I write this), a loved one you got sideways with, or YOURSELF, now is a great time to forgive. And here's a bonus—you can forgive someone and wish them well, even if they are not sorry! Is resent stealing your joy? Do it for you. Check out Jay Shetty's chapter on this in "Think Like a Monk."
- What do you need to let go of? I'll be honest—for a lot of years, I had an unhealthy paranoia about being out in the sun. I still do most of my long runs at night in our horse pasture—my neighbors legit asked me if I'm a vampire. I just found out I'm majorly Vitamin D deficient. Gee—I wonder why?! At some point, you can choose to let your past trauma define your life, or you can let it go. I still keep a full zip Tri Sirena hoodie in my car and cover up at the beach, and while I'll probably leave the bikini at home, I've concluded it's OK to race in shorts. Here's to not living life in fear!!!
Finally, this year, Gulf Coast 70.3—to the guy who told me I had the best damn hat he'd seen all day—all three loops on the run… Thank you!!! Everywhere I go, I get flack for covering up—you knew nothing about my story, but you made me smile and laugh all… day… long!!
Remember—each of us has the power to lift up a total stranger, every single day! Each of us has the ability to reach out to someone who is going through something we know nothing about—and make them feel special.
For more on health & wellness and what works and what might be holding you back, Sarah recommends: