Living with advanced melanoma is a daunting task. I have been existing in an altered state since my diagnosis in 2014, when one phone call from my physician made me aware of how desperately I wanted to LIVE. To think about the alternative was not a concept I had had to consider before.
My life froze on the spot. My carefree habits turned into painful reminders of a future I would not have; my choices became centred around one thing: surviving melanoma, an invasive form of skin cancer.
Discussing my journey
The cancer experience is different for every patient, with side-effects and genetics and anatomy all a cacophony of challenges unique to those touched by it. Everyone deals with it in different ways, some can speak openly about it and others remain private.
Personally, I am consoled by having the ability to share my story in the hopes that it can help others. Whether or not a fellow melanoma warrior speaks openly about their own diagnosis, I can give my perspective, and my new-found optimism, to those who may feel as isolated as I did when I found out I have stage 3b skin cancer.
This summer I was asked as part of a group to share my story through photographs, a unique way to document a cancer journey. Six survivors, including myself, were given the opportunity to explore our melanoma journeys through simple photography; the Melanoma Through My Lens Reflection Project was born.
The project showcases personal journeys with the disease, through a photo e-book that is available online. It is an insightful collection of stories which chronicle the roller coaster of emotions along a skin cancer journey: from diagnosis to treatment, fear and pain, to recovery, and hope for a healthier future.
All six sets of photos are inspirational
I was stunned by the final edit; identifying immediately with the other contributors to the e-book. Although I have not met all of them I feel we have a connection through our stories documented in similar ways, through photographs and vivid emotions. The scars, the metaphors, the lessons learned.
I was able to see it through a new perspective, through that of my camera lens.
The campaign, a collaboration with Save Your Skin Foundation, aims to kick-start a public conversation about advanced melanoma, the patient journey, and to raise awareness about the various gene mutations involved with it to empower Canadians to know more about the disease.
One step at a time
Thinking outside the box about how to portray my experience with melanoma, I recalled mental images of my greatest physical and emotional limitations in the two years since my diagnosis: Stairs. Steps. My leg, post-surgery. Painfully slow recovery... One day at a time. One step at a time. And there it was: my theme. I would photograph the steps along my journey.
I started at home, taking photos of my once off-limit basement stairs, and my front deck. Each stair felt like an uphill battle... even the porch steps into my house were nearly impossible some days. Then I explored the town where I live, noting the twists and turns that represent my life of the last two years. I was able to see it through a new perspective, through that of my camera lens.
I remember not being able to physically climb these stairs, but today, melanoma is easier to navigate.
My contribution to the e-book begins and ends with photographs of my favourite place in Meaford: the harbour break-wall where for years I have walked and explored. The path of huge rocks that my kids and I love to climb all the way to the harbour light, clear calm water inside the marina and windy crashing waves on the other side. The pink sky at dawn and the beacon's reflection lighting the way.
At that place I was refreshed, and I saw it in a new light. I was able to capture the feeling of hope I have whenever I am there, and I was able to transfer it to my part in the project. I could show everyone that there is a light at the end of the tunnel; it is possible to take that next step.
According to the Canadian Cancer Society, melanoma accounts for about three per cent of all new cancer cases, placing it among the top 10 cancers diagnosed in Canada.
Since my own diagnosis in early 2014, I have learned many details about this disease and the effects it has come to have on my body. Multiple surgeries and treatments have left my family and myself exhausted but motivated.
I remember not being able to physically climb these stairs, but today, melanoma is easier to navigate. I can't always see what is around the corner, down below or what will be there when I reach the top, but I still take the steps to get there.
Click to view the Melanoma Through My Lens Reflection Project
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