When I started writing about this battle with melanoma, it was to update concerned family and friends. We had a mailing list and a Facebook page, and after my first surgery, I took over the main task of letting everyone know how I was doing and what was next. Some posts made people laugh, others were a little more emotional, but most of them seemed to resonate with that small group. Soon the circle started adding layers of friends, and the number of people being reached grew.
I realized what I wrote was touching people; quite a few emails or messages began with a variation of “Hi T.J., you don’t know me but…” My brother Jason got me in touch with the right people at Philly.com and they agreed to share this story online. My first reaction was “Damn, that’s pretty cool.” The second was more along the lines of “Um, what did I get myself into – I need to come up with something to write every week, for a much bigger audience that doesn’t have some kind of vested interest in my recovery. All while undergoing treatments, and living in a rented house in Indian Rocks Beach, FL. Am I crazy??”
After a couple posts, though, I got the feel of how to connect with people who don’t know me personally, but know someone who has gone through a similar medical challenge. I also realized I had a forum to do something I told my Mom during my first hospital stay, back in August – when this was all over, I wanted to help others. Right now, the only things I can really do are lead by example, and continue to remain upbeat and positive.
However, there are others who have done much, much more – maybe not in the midst of a Phase I trial, but more none the less. So I was quite surprised (shocked, really) when one of those organizations who are dedicated to helping others – the Melanoma International Foundation, based right here in the Delaware Valley – reached out to me and asked if I would accept their Patient Advocate of the Year award. Considering I set out initially to update friends on Facebook and email, this was quite a big step forward.
The people at MIF have been very helpful in looking into my Plan B, and I wish I had contacted them early on. A friend had sent us a link to their message board back in August, but other than reading one of the posts, we had never followed up. They are a small but well-connected organization whose goal is to help melanoma patients wade through the waters of their diagnosis and offer guidance and support so they (well, we, I guess) can make informed decisions on courses of action. So, in a bit of good fortune, their selecting me as the recipient is actually aiding in my next treatments (since we didn’t use their resources until after they had contacted me about the award).
Being selected for something like this is a nice, fulfilling honor, and I am thankful to the MIF for thinking enough of this blog to even consider it as a contender. The bigger picture, though, tells me that what I have been doing for the last twenty-five posts is more than just updating people and getting some therapeutic ramblings out along the way. Helping others fighting this disease; raising awareness of melanoma; giving back to others and paying it forward – these are the things I envisioned while laying in a hospital bed in August with a fresh slice up my abdomen and a whole different perspective on life.
On Sunday, April 21st, I will accept the award and join others in a 5k Run or 2-mile walk as part of the MIF’s Safe From The Sun awareness event. Consider stopping by and joining us – it is at Wilson Farm Park, in Wayne, PA, a quick 5-mile drive down Rt. 202 South from the King of Prussia Plaza mall. There will be melanoma screenings by local dermatologists; a recent and much smaller event produced more than 10 people who needed moles removed and at least two who had developed melanoma. Mom put together a pretty big team of Team T.J. people to walk that day, so if you are going, look for the teal-clad loud group. If you make it out there, come find me and say hi.
Online registration is available, or you can come the day of at 9am to register. The kids dash is at 10 a.m. and then the main event will be held at 10:30 a.m. My hope is that you won’t be part of the sub-population that checks off the “cancer” box on all those doctor’s forms, but if you are, that you caught it early. If just one person who reads this and decides to come by Sunday joins that latter group, the award becomes a secondary thing of importance that day. I know the MIF team would have it no other way.
To learn more, visit melanomainternational.org or MIF’s Facebook page. You can also download the event flyer here.
T.J. Sharpe shares his fight against Stage 4 Melanoma in the Patient #1 blog. Read more »