Thursday, October 29, 2015

Donna Moncivaiz- We Love You More!

I was in Tennessee when I heard that Donna had decided to go on Hospice care. She told me melanoma had reared its ugly head once again, and had spread. There were no more medical treatments available. 

We talked about her amazing family and how they were taking such good care of her and how much she loved them. We ended our conversation with the promise that I would come to Chicago the following Friday and we'd enjoy pizza and beer together. I never made it. Donna made her way to heaven that day, October 23, 2015, leaving behind her family, friends, and the melanoma community to mourn her passing.

It has taken me this long to blog about my friend, and my words are inadequate in describing what her life meant to those who loved her. Instead, I am going to share some stories that were written in her honor. Please feel free to message me if you would like me to include yours. .

Today Donna is being laid to rest. Her family plans to have a celebration tonight as it is also Donna’s birthday. So for those unable to attend Donna's Celebration of Life, please join together at 10:00 PM ET and raise your glass in her honor. Cheers to the Winner!

~Peace Donna. We love you more

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Keeping Melanoma In The Spotlight....

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I see pink where ever I go. You see pink, you think breast cancer. I know several people who have been touched by breast cancer. My sister was involved with a program where a patient recovering from a mastectomy could join other women dealing with similar issues. There was a retreat where these women learned to fly fish. What a neat idea. This helped strengthen the muscles and also helped cancer patients to know they are not alone.

I believe that what ever cancer someone is dealing with, the emotions they face are the same. I do wish  that melanoma cancer and other cancers got the same recognition as breast cancer does.

I was researching that topic last night trying to get some answers. One of the reason's is marketing. So....What can I do to market my mission? Billboards. I think it is important to keep melanoma on the radar visually. I get email and messages from all over the country from people who have seen the billboards.

I had the below creative done awhile ago, but did not have funds to get this up and running. This is of actual loved ones who have been stolen by melanoma.

Would you be able to help by donating? The cost of one billboard is $1650. I've already spoken to the person I work with and he thought that although you would not be able to see the names clearly on the billboard as you pass by, the message, much like a wall, would be powerful.

If you can donate- we can help to make melanoma cancer a household world. We are in this together. Fighting.

What do you think?

Love and Peace....

Friday, September 25, 2015

I Was Here....

While I was pregnant with Jillian, I didn’t want to know if I was carrying a boy or a girl. I wanted to be surprised.  Already having two boys that filled my world with busyness, noise and joy, I said that it didn’t matter. But if I did have a girl, I wanted to dress her in pink dresses with pink bows. I wanted to have that strong mother/daughter connection that I had with my own mother. I wanted a girl.
On September 24, 1989, I gave birth to that little bundle of pink. Jillian. My precious little girl. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the pink bows and dresses were to be soon replaced with her brother’s high-top sneakers, no shirt, and a ball of some sort. A young force of energy that knew no boundaries surrounding her abilities. A confident, loving, funny, caring human being.

When Jillian died that cold December morning, the bright light that was her essence went with her. The light was extinguished not only in my heart, but in the world around us. She mattered. She was here. She interacted with others. She loved and she played. She had a sister and brothers, a husband. Grandparents, in- laws, nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles that she loved and cared about. Friends.

She mattered. And she was here.

Each day can be a struggle for those who have lost a loved one, but there are two days a year that are especially difficult. The birthday of the one missing, and their death anniversary. Two days where we fall apart and really drink in our grief. We NEED to do this. We need to taste each drop of pain, sorrow and loss. It is our way of honoring our loved one. And we do not need to sugar coat it or pretend it’s okay. Because it’s not.

Now, I’m not saying that yesterday, Jillian's 26th birthday, was all black and gloom and doom. It wasn't. This is where God comes in. I was given little “God Gifts” all day long yesterday.
  • My kids  and only grand kids moved to Tennessee recently. The twin girls are just eight weeks old. Right when the tears began to flow in the morning, I receive a picture of those babies, reminding me that this is life. There is joy. And even though I am not there to watch them grow up, I’m blessed with a son and daughter in law that make it a point to include me. 

  • At work I’m blessed with a boss and co-workers that truly care and recognize that this is a rough day for me. 

  • At my favorite greenhouse , I was able to talk with the owner and cry on her shoulder and talk about God’s grace. I left with several things to plant, and a gift just for Jillian from her. 

  • Dinner was Hungry Howie’s and beer, in Jillian’s honor. All the kids except the southern ones were there, along with friends, and Jillian’s Steve.  It is a gift in itself that we have stayed close, even though life moves forward. I’m blessed to stay in touch with Steve’s mom and dad, and their family. I love them all dearly.

  • Josh and Kaytie celebrated in Tennessee by singing Happy Birthday with cupcakes, Charlotte blowing out the candle. 

  • I completed Jillian's celebration by texting with Joshua from 2am until 3am, expressing the anger at our loss, but knowing it’s okay to feel that way. And to feel the support and connection,  the love between our family. Oh my God. If that isn’t a gift, I don’t know what is. 

So, things are hard, and that’s okay. We will get through this in our own way. But please be patient with us. And for goodness sakes, please don't offer your opinion on how or what we should feel. That will only shut us down.

For those that are going through the sharp knife of grief, I pray for you. I pray that for one minute you will be able to see that silver sliver of hope, the sparkle of joy, and to know that your loved one mattered. That they still matter. And so do you. And that it’s all okay.


Friday, September 11, 2015

The Ball and Chain....Let Me Share Yours....

Shame. Regret. Understanding. Confusion. Joy. Sorrow.

Yesterday was the day from hell. And although I’m on the other side of the darkness of the day, I’m left with yet another lesson while my inadequacy is exposed layer, by layer, by bloody layer.

As I sit here waiting for the words to come, to express what I need to share with you, I actually chuckle at the irony that I’m private and don’t like feeling exposed. That I hide from my feelings. I’ve been accused of that. Well, the first part is true. I really don’t like being exposed. But my quest to continue to share Jillian’s story, my story and my family’s story is stronger than my embarrassment. I go through this battle inside each time I get ready to post a new entry. What a joke. A promise is a promise, suck it up Buttercup. So here goes….

Jillian’s birthday is coming up. The anniversary of my Dads death is just a few days away. It’s a month filled with memories, reminders of two very special people who are playing pranks on one another in Heaven.

I can honestly say that I have no regrets looking back on that difficult time. Except one. I really, really wished that I could have gotten inside of Jillian’s head. I mean deep inside so I could feel and share her deepest concerns, her worries, her fear. I knew all about my fear, but I needed to get to the place where I could feel what she was feeling.

Since July I’ve been dealing with some health issues. I’ve had a couple of kidney stones, one is still hanging out, not quite ready to make an appearance. It feels like I’m living with a ticking time bomb, never knowing when I’ll get that first twinge that something isn’t quite right. And not to minimize the pain of labor, especially since I’ve had four children of my own, but damn it hurts. I may even go so far as to say that it is a little worse than childbirth. Or I may not. It just might depend on who I’m talking to.

While I was in the ER in Tennessee, the CT scan picked up a spot on my liver. What the heck. I’m here for kidney stones. I don’t have time for this. I have grand babies I need to love on.

After I arrived home and several doctor appointments later, I had an MRI with contrast scheduled to help diagnose the spot on my liver. I’d never had an MRI before, while Jillian had too many to count. Most of my friends in the melanoma community have had MRI's.  How hard can it be?

So this past Tuesday, I got to meet Mr. MRI up close and personal. He is loud, and obnoxious. Any thought of sleeping through the procedure was blown with the first siren screeching, banging, clanging noise piercing my skull.  Take a breath in. Breathe out. Take a breath in…hold it…seventeen seconds….breathe. One hour later, I left with an awful taste in my mouth, a splitting headache, and an upset stomach. That is when the first trickle of fear started to snake its way into my thoughts.

This is NORMAL for a person fighting melanoma. Normal protocol. What a fool I am taking for granted what someone with cancer has to deal with on a regular basis. And that is just one thing. Only one thing.

So now I get to wait for the results. I’ve heard that story many times. The fear and anxiety that overshadows the day while waiting for results.  I’ve lived it with Jillian, but now I get to experience it for myself,with my own body.

Today, living in a technical world, we are able to see our results online. Sometimes even before our doctor does. Wednesday night I received an email telling me that I have new results on my health portal. Of course I’m going to look. I’ve looked at all the other test and lab results and I’ve been pretty good and deciphering the medical jargon.

There was a term on the radiology report that I didn’t understand, so I checked with my friend, Dr. Google. Google scared the crap out of me. Google kept me up most of the night researching.

……..“due to imaging features often raises a concern of a malignant process rather than a benign one”.  Crap.

I spent the day yesterday in fear, waiting for my doctor to call me. I was finally able to go over the report with him late afternoon, and I raised my concern. He reassured me that he had talked to two radiologists, and agreed that everything looked okay. Due to our family history with melanoma and just to be on the safe side, he ordered more blood work to see if anything was “cooking”. The results from my blood work came back fine today. I have the option to have another MRI in six months to make sure nothing has grown or changed.

What’s changed is me. I wanted to know what Jillian was feeling. I wanted to get into her head. Well I did. For one night, one afternoon, and it wasn’t pretty. I am ashamed at how I’ve taken my own health for granted. I’m appalled at my lack of understanding when I hear about a friend who has discovered another tumor. Another scan scheduled. I had one day. Just one day trying to figure out how to live with a possible cancer diagnosis. The fear I felt at leaving my children, at not seeing my grand kids grow up. The joy I felt for a minute thinking that I’d get to see Jillian and my dad. That really did make me smile.
But what I’m struggling with today is the knowledge that the friends I’ve grown to love so deeply have to live with this fear every single day. They go about their business between scans and treatment,trying to live each day the best way they can. They go to work. They take care of their families. They take vacations. But there is always this thing. The ball and chain they lug with them at every turn, while the darkness threatens to swallow them up, trying
 to pull them down into the abyss. 

And how they fight against it, and try to find a balance of acceptance. How they fight for you and for me, just to stay alive.

You are true, brave warriors fighting a war. A physical war, and a mental war. Each day.

That is just so humbling to me. I am ashamed that I didn’t feel it completely before. I sure hope you can forgive me. I am really, truly sorry.

Jillian- With what I’ve learned yesterday and today, just when I thought I couldn’t be any prouder of you, I am. You’ve been busy teaching your mother about life.

Thank you.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Choice....

 I love the fall season. I love when the nights become longer and the days drift in to a lazy coolness. I love fallen leaves, especially now since I’m not spending all of my Saturday's removing them. I love the fall colors. And I love Halloween.

But with fall comes a heavy sadness. I become teary easily. I have less patience with myself and others. It takes me a few days to realize that I’m moving into the season when Jillian started to go downhill. And once she started, the ball gained speed with its momentum. Once that avalanche shifted, there was no stopping it.

Until it stopped all together. On December 29, 2012.

 I’ve written several times about grief and some of my Pet Peeves. But this particular post is directed toward those that have no filter. The ones that have no field of reference. No vision of what it means to lose a child to melanoma, a mother’s most precious gift.

They haven’t seen their sister waste away from brain tumors until they could no longer feed themselves. They haven’t been to the place where their once fiercely independent child can no longer get out of the bathtub without help. They haven’t had to sit and listen to the wracking sobs coming from a sibling, when their own heart has been shattered into a thousand pieces.

 This post is for the persons that sit safely behind their judgments.
 Because just when I’ve thought I have heard it all, I hear that Jillian had a choice.That most of you with melanoma had choices.

That these beloved people, our family, my daughter, my melanoma family, have chosen to spend their time primping and preening. They’ve chosen to get that beautiful tan by entering into a tanning bed. Or by laying in the sun. And because of that choice, they get what they deserve. They get melanoma. DUH!! Now I feel better. Now I know!! Thank you for your insight!

 Shame on you.

 I am hoping that you never, ever, in a million years have to experience the loss and the pain of losing a loved one to this vicious disease because of a choice they've made or otherwise.

But if you do. I’ll be here to support you, and to love you. This is my choice.

 PS. Do Not Mess With Mama Bear.

Monday, August 24, 2015

My Hope....

The internet has been buzzing, my email has been flooded with articles, news stations across the nation are all talking about former President Jimmy Carter and his cancer diagnosis. Melanoma. Jimmy Carter has metastatic melanoma. I was saddened, along with many people, to learn that his cancer has spread to his liver and his brain.

Mr. Carter plans on receiving a relatively newly approved drug, Keytruda, as well undergoing targeted brain radiation.  He is 90 years old. There are far more options available in treating melanoma than there were when Jillian was diagnosed. 

I am selfishly hopeful that the knowledge and awareness generated with President Carters melanoma diagnosis will open many doors. I would love for melanoma to become a household word so that parents and our children are educated about the disease and how to prevent it. That tanning beds will be a thing of the past. That our young people realize that melanoma in not just an old person’s disease, and that it can happen to anyone, at any time.

So beautiful friend of Jillian’s who is laying on the beach right now? Family members who love that tanning bed? Listen and hopefully you’ll learn.

Because no matter what a person’s age, melanoma really doesn’t care. It is a heinous disease, and it shatters lives where ever it takes residence. I’ll be picking up pieces for the remainder of my days.

And I really don’t want that to happen to you.

My thoughts and prayers go out to President Carter, his caregivers, family and friends.


Monday, July 27, 2015

The Gifts of Life. Welcome, Precious Children, Welcome....

My heart is full tonight. I’ve been trying to process and sort out the last couple of weeks with little success. Until today.

I’ve been struggling through my grief since Jillian died. One day at a time, one tear at a time. I hear her voice, “Fall seven times, Stand up eight”. I know, honey. I hear you. I do try. Am I trying hard enough? I think I am. But I miss you. I’m angry. And there are days that I just really don’t care. I love my children. I love my family and my friends. And yet…

The summer is screaming by me, with no signs of slowing down. I’m not slowing down. I was hoping that our long awaited vacation would help with some of that. Would force me to slow down and just be.  And it did.

Just before we left for a week at the cottage I’ve rented the last few years, I was admitted to the hospital with a kidney stone. I’m rarely sick, and having to come to terms with the fact that I’m not immune to illness rattled me. But what really opened my eyes is the health I’d been taking for granted. I’d been running, chasing, hiding and not appreciative of the blessing I live with every single day. My health. I’m ashamed. This is not the first time God wacked me over the head to get my attention. J

On a starlit evening, while fishing with my family, I look up to our vast universe, shining and blinking in all its majesty. I’m brought down to the level where I need to be. Grateful. Grateful for my family. Grateful for our Universe, and grateful for the gift of life. 

"I am here tonight. I am alive. I'm with my family, and I'm making memories. It's a pretty big deal". 

Today. Today my world has been blessed with two beautiful new souls. My twin granddaughters. I’m overwhelmed with the beauty of it all. The miracle of birth. The love, the strength and the unbreakable bond of family.

Thank you Lord, for Your everlasting gift of life and for all of your continuous blessings. Thank you for Joshua and Kaytie. Please continue to watch over them in the weeks and months ahead as they care for their children.  

Welcome, precious girls. Your Mimi loves you.

Sydney Jillian Hayes 6lbs, 2oz
Cheyenne Julia Hayes 5lbs 2oz

~Peace and Love

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

I AM....

 As we begin to prepare for the upcoming Fourth of July holiday weekend, like so many holidays where the original meaning gets lost, I am grateful. I am grateful to be an American.

I’m not sure where this reflective person comes from sometimes. Perhaps it’s because I’ve become more aware of the world around me. Maybe it’s all part of living and growing older. Maybe it’s menopause. But most likely it’s because I’ve learned how fleeting and precious life is, and how easily it can slip through our fingers without fully appreciating its textured value. Much like the warm sands of Lake Michigan, when summer turns in to fall.

It can be a challenge to be grateful for this great country when it seems that all we see is what we hear. The tickers flying across our screens displaying news headlines that may lead us to wondering, “What is happening in our world”?

       I am free…
Our country is incredibly diverse. We come from all over the world, and with that we bring along different cultures, different religions, and we enjoy the freedom to celebrate them. I am allowed to practice my religion and attend the church of my choosing. I can marry who ever I want. I can choose to divorce, or I can choose to be single.

I have the privilege to work…
I have the opportunity to work where ever I want to. I have the freedom to support myself and to pass down that strong work ethic to my children. I have the freedom to pursue a higher education, to become a veterinarian, an owner of a restaurant, or a master gardener. We are the land of opportunity, and it is my firm belief that if we want it badly enough, we can succeed.

We're encouraged to express our opinions and to be our own individual…
We have the freedom of speech. We can express ourselves freely without censorship or persecution. I have my own blog, and I can write in the knowledge that I have that right. We each have our own religious opinions and political preferences. We have that right.

We are entrepreneurs…
We have the ability to be innovative and to exercise creative thinking.

We support one another….
I am proud of the way our country shows their support after devastating tragedy. This was evident with the terrorist attacks on 9/11.  

The Boston Marathon where two bombs exploded near the marathon's finish line.

And most recently, the tragic shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina

In spite of the controversy and tragedy that we have been historically involved in this past year, I am choosing to remember what my Independence means and why I am grateful. To have the privilege to be an American. And to be proud. Because, I am.

"My God! How little do my countrymen know what precious blessings they are in possession of, and which no other people on earth enjoy! " ~Thomas Jefferson

~ Peace and love

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

May 2015, Melanoma Awareness Month: Because of You....

The billboards in Grand Rapids, Michigan went up today. The beautiful people on the billboards this time are those who have melanoma or have died from melanoma due to tanning bed use. One person in the US dies from melanoma each hour. Each hour! The pain and destruction this disease causes long after that person is no longer here is almost impossible to fathom. So many grieving families shattered by a disease that may have been prevented by staying away from a stupid tanning bed. I would give anything if I had known.

But I didn’t know, so now all that’s left is to try and share my experience with others, by tapping into that deep well of emotion, digging deeper and deeper, hoping that somehow I can explain this place I’m at. Exposing the things I try and shove down. To help someone who is really struggling with their situation. Whatever that may be. To know you aren’t alone in this.

There are things that may be helpful to keep in mind when someone you know has lost a child. Below is just a glimpse into the window of a grieving heart.

When you ask me how I’m doing, and I reply that I’m fine. I’m not. I lie to you. I’m not sure you can handle the real me. The real “me” died with a melanoma cancer diagnosis. I’m grieving the loss of innocence for the life I had planned. (I’m a planner so this is especially difficult). So I protect you, and I protect me.

Before Jillian died, I blogged about The Face of Melanoma, and how a person with Stage IV melanoma can look as if they are healthy. It is much the same with a person in mourning. They wake up, they go to work, participate in life. You probably wouldn’t know that they are bleeding inside. You can’t see it, unless we feel safe enough to tell you about it. But even then, we are very cautious with whom we share our “pearls”.

When we celebrate a holiday or a special event, there is always that empty spot at the table. Mother’s Day is coming up. A toughie, and the white elephant is lurking about. We will always grieve that empty spot, and wonder what this occasion be like if you were with us.

I think we need to slow down. Slow down and feel. Appreciate the ones that enter into our lives and get to know that person. They may be hurting in some way we can’t even imagine. Our life is a story. Who’s going to tell our stories once we are gone? How will the world know we were even here? Each of us has gifts that have been given to us. I believe we can all use those unique gifts to make a difference in this world. How can we help to make this one wild and beautiful life a better place? Only you know what that is for you. Oh, God. We have to make this count. Because we only get one chance at it.

As May, Melanoma Month approaches, many of my melanoma friends will be involved in projects sharing melanoma awareness. I’m excited to see what they have planned this year. We CAN make a difference. And because of you, and all of your generous donations toward the billboard, we are doing just that.

 It is my hope that this billboard catches a young person’s eye and gives them pause for thought.

In 2015, it is estimated that there will be 73,870 new cases of melanoma in the United States and 9,940 deaths from the disease.

Could this really happen to me? Yes. It most certainly can.

~Peace and love

Billboards will be displayed in Grand Rapids, Michigan:
April 27-May 31, 2015
I-196 .3 mi E/O Chicago Drive SS Facing East
US-131 .5 mi S/O West River Drive WS Facing North

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

It's Not About Me...

The Big Guy on my shoulder is talking to me again. I’ve been hiding. I’ve been running. He always finds me.

An old story I read as a teenager comes to mind. As a child, I always had my nose in a book. Still do, actually. I don’t remember the name of this particular book, but it involved an injured dog.  The main characters of the story were fearful that their pet ran away from home, since they hadn’t seen their faithful friend for several days. I remember feeling a profound sense of loss as I was reading the story. I could relate, as I had experienced such sadness when my Bumpy run away from home. This story ended better than mine, however. The family finally found their beloved pet hiding under their front porch. The dog had been severely injured and was isolating himself as he healed.

I compare my partial withdraw from most things related to Melanoma to that long ago story. I’m healing, I’m processing. But you can’t run forever, Forrest. You can’t hide forever either. Life has a way of forcing itself on you, whether you’re ready for it or not. Some days I feel like I can tackle the world and dive in. Other days, I can only get my big toe wet.

With the month of May fast approaching, Melanoma Awareness Month, I feel like I’m being pushed closer and closer towards the water, and off my solitary island.  I’m afraid.

I see the stories of young children as they are battling this heinous disease. I feel the mothers pain as they try to be optimistic for their child and to be an anchor the rest of their family. Even when she feels like she can’t go on anymore, she does.

I see the pain of a brother or a sister as they try to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives after they bury their sibling.

I read about a mother and a father as they try to find some sort of joy left in their world after they lost their child. How do they go on? I don’t know.

I read about a mom that shares her daughters last day on earth with her own birthday. That one rocked me to the core.

The stories are endless. I shy away from them, the photos, the fear, the pain. I’m afraid if I get too involved, I’ll sink.

But then last Sunday, in church, I’m singing an old familiar hymn . I know this song and I sing it without reading the words. Instantly, I’m ten years old sitting between my parents on Easter Sunday. I’m proudly wearing my new dress, my shiny patent leather shoes, my hat with the pink ribbon. And my white gloves. I have the corsage on my left wrist that my Grandma gives us every year. I remember the excitement as I open the refrigerator that morning and I see the white box containing my lily. I can hear the paper crinkle as mom carefully takes out the flower and allows me to hold it. I’m a princess and God loves me. I knew it then, and I know it now.

I never in a million years would have imagined then, that I’d be clinging to that foundation of my youth today.

In that moment, while I’m reflecting on the Easters of my childhood, I am reminded once again of God’s promise. He isn’t going anywhere. He promised to be with me no matter what, and He keeps His promises over and over again. He won’t let me drown if I get more than my toe wet.

So though blind faith, I’m giving it a greater effort. I’ll wade a little deeper and trust that although I have no idea what I’m doing, He does. Deep breath. I’m planning to do another billboard for May. I know this will generate exposure to melanoma, and that is what I want. But I’m still afraid. I’m afraid of what may happen to the progress I’ve made so far. But it isn’t about me, is it?  

I don’t do this for me, I’m doing it for you.

I do it for those that have never had the hair stand straight up on the back of their necks when they find out from their doctor that their precious, vibrant child has melanoma.

I do it for the parents who realize that if they had only known about the dangers of tanning beds and laying out in the sun, they wouldn’t be taking trips to see their oncologist every three weeks.

I do it so a young person can finish college, start their career, get married and have a family.

I do it so a parent doesn’t have to bury their kid.

I’d like to have this billboard honor those that have melanoma or have died from melanoma as a result from tanning beds. I’ll need help through donations to get this up and running before May. If you are so inclined, please click the donate button on the blog. No amount is too small. We’ve done it before, we can do it again. I believe that. The cost of the billboard last year was 1600.00. Let’s do this. Together.

Thank you.

~Peace and so much love


Sunday, February 1, 2015

83 or 23, It sucks....

Cancer changes you. It not only changes you physically, it changes you emotionally. You don't take things for granted as you once did. You develop a sense of self, and of things so much larger than we can begin to comprehend. Some days we get glimpses into God's window. I love those days.

But death changes you even more. Jillian's death was the single most devastating event in my life. It knocked me out of the game, wounded and bloody. I'm still wobbly, but slowly I'm finding my legs again. Please don't have expectations of me. I never imagined that I'd have to fight for my grief. But I do, and I will. I have to say, I've found this road more complicated and full of potholes than the road I once traveled.

Through the changes wrought through Melanoma, I'm a completely different person. The melanoma community I'm involved with is embedded deep within my  heart. I'm not sure I've ever been around a group of people who embrace a person as fully and as fiercely as these people do. Through Jillian's journey I have been blessed to have met several of these people in person. I praise God for these beautiful, spectacular warriors. These are the people who know and understand. The people I trust with my heart.

By writing this blog, I hope that I can be the voice for some wounded soul traveling the same rugged terrain, and navigating over some of the same obstacles. And this brings me to my story.

Because of melanoma and Jillian's journey, I was reunited with an old friend. Tammy and I worked in the same restaurant many years ago. My first job at 16. When I made 1.67 an hour and was happy since it provided gas money. Where I wore a cowboy hat, Culottes, and life was mine. Tammy and I lost touch as we both grew up. She moved away, got married and had a family. Somehow she heard about Jillian's story and contacted me. Her father in law, Don Bidwell, was living with melanoma too.

Don was stolen from his family on January 9, 2015 at 9:43 a.m. He was 83 years old. One person in the US dies from Melanoma Cancer ever hour. That was Don's hour. And that hour begins one family's journey through loss, grief, laughter, tears and every other emotion you can experience attached to the Black roller coaster from hell.

Who was Don? Who was this man who lived his life on Earth among us? Every single soul has a story to tell. The unique story of their big, beautiful life and how that story keeps going on and on, connecting, moving, surging, as sure as the tide. That Force. That Being. That Soul, to be simply "Gone" is incomprehensible.


Don was born in Brooklyn and was raised in the hardscrabble streets. His father died when he was in his teens, leaving him to care for his mother. A Brooklyn boy knowing what it means to step up and take responsibility.
Don was a son.

After Don graduated from high school, he enlisted in the Naval Reserve and enrolled in City College in NYC where he earned his Associates degree in Engineering. He then went on to active duty in the Navy, where he served his country for two years in the Korean War.
Don was a scholar and a soldier. 

After Don left the Navy, he moved to Ohio and enrolled in OH University. While at his first dance, he saw a very tall, very beautiful dark haired girl. He didn't care if she was taller than he was. He had RED hair, which always got attention from the girls. When he saw her walking across the dance floor, he grabbed her hand and said, "We should dance if we are going to get married".

Don married his dark haired beauty right after graduation and remained married for the next 57 years. 

The life Don and his bride Cherry shared, produced a son, Mark. I've asked Mark and Tammy, Marks wife, their children Aubrey and Beatrice, to write something about this incredible man. Below are their words:

Of course summarizing my father would be difficult. He was a very complex person. He was brilliant, highly emotional, and vulnerable with an incredible sense of humor. There was literally no subject he couldn't talk on. Politics, History, Religion, Finance- it was incredible. He was definitely a product of his times and hadn't adopted well as the world progressed. He was passionate about the  progress of social justice. He devoted himself to reading daily, on every subject. He read several newspapers a day. He was passionate about sports, especially football and baseball. He wore his emotions very close to the surface and thought nothing of bursting into tears when his passions stirred within him, which was often. He had many human frailties, common to passionate people. Don was a genius. I know, a lot of people say that, but he truly was. He was a Vice President at a very young age(USS Lead). But most of all, he was devoted to me and my mother. - Mark

Don was arrogant and confident and also willing to laugh at himself. He took me to the Olympics when they were held in Utah and was determined to teach me to ski. After all, he taught Mark to ski, and Mark had raced all through high school and college. 
I was so determined not to fail that I was skiing the black runs by the end of the week.  

He could talk to anyone about anything, and the same week he taught me to ski we got put on the gondola with the band members Puddle of Mud. Did he care? Nope. He spoke with them about skiing, politics and whether or not they were investing their money right and treating their women with respect. They were smitten. He could charm anyone and was a shameless flirt.

My Father in law and I fought like cats and dogs the whole 23 years I knew him. We may be the same person. Stubborn, loud, fragile. We fought and loved and fought and loved. When I married Mark, Don wanted to put me in his clan and become my leader. I was (am) bossy. He called me and wrote to me nearly every day. He bought me ridiculously expensive presents. I think he liked the challenge. We argued about politics and once when he told the girls they would make good secretaries one day I thought I would kill him. He taught me about life. I taught him about people. We turned out to be a perfect match.

I was the first person that he told when he was diagnosed. Late in 2006 he thoughy he had bad allergies or a sinus infection. Really, he had a melanoma tumor that filled all available space in his sinuses. Doctors told him that he had three months to live. His was reply, "says who? " 
"Science and Melanoma", came the reply. Very quietly Don's reply was, "Melanoma has never met Don Bidwell, and Melanoma can go to hell". 

After chemo, surgery, radiation and then a clinical trial chemo(evastin), suddenly Don was NED. For 6 years. When we found out about Jillian and began to read Susan's blog he cried his eyes out. He could not believe the cruelness of life that would take what he considered to be a baby.

When the cancer came back last April, I think we all knew...he and I spent the last 7 months together planning for the end of his life. Surgery...again 3 months. He told me he had very few regrets and the one he did have he could remember. He wanted me to know that people were more important than anything. He kept telling me to love. He was true to himself right up until he died. Trying to make the girls smile. To make a funny. About a week before he died, (he was in a hospice facility), as soon as we arrived he asked Audrey to go ask for his pain med. Audrey returned with a vial and gave it to him. He declared that it was empty and that he received not a drop of medicine. In comes the nurse. He tells her I absolutely need another vial. I did not get any medicine. The nurse mumbled something about calling the doctor to which Don replied, bring me the vial. Again the nurse was mumbling about too much medication, about calling the doctor first and overdosing. I could see the girls squirming. THEN I saw the glint in his eye and he says, so what will happen? Do you think it might KILL me? He got the medicine. ~ Tammy

Grandpa taught us to do the "Lindy" and "Jitterbug". He taught us all the show tunes and showed us all of the musicals. We knew all the words to the score of Westside Story before we could understand the story. 

When Audrey fell in love with Bulls Eye from Toy Story, grandpa built her an exact replica! Next, when Audrey expressed an interest in sailing ( Don was an avid sailor) he built her a boat. While g pa was going through experimental chemo and our Dad was in Afghanistan gpa went on every field trip. He taught us to drink coffee( behind our moms back- we were 3&4) He taught us to ski when we were 2&3. He taught us to chop fire wood, build a fire and to drive a lawn tractor. We moved around a lot because of our dad being in the army but no matter where we lived he came to see us. He wrote us long letters and made up funny stories. 

He would come and visit and spoil us rotten..taking all of us and whatever friends my parents had out for dinner. He always made us laugh. He love us and he loved people. We remember the time g pa wanted to soften his ski wax so he put it in the microwave :)

We miss g pa more than we can express and we are sick of people saying "well , he was 83". "It was his time. " He was a person and his death has left a hole that will never fill and 83 or 23 it sucks. ~ Audrey & Beatrice (devoted grand daughters)

How do you begin to scratch the surface when trying to describe a lifetime of love and memories? How do you explain how you feel when that person you love like crazy is gone? You can't. What we can do is to love hard today. To take each day and embrace it, what ever it may bring. And to understand that it doesn't matter if the one you've lost was 83 or 23. Those silly platitudes do more harm than good. What does help is a hug and a listening ear. 

Don Bidwell
August 8, 1931-January 9, 2015