I Wore A Black Dress — Sun Pale Part 4

Not a big deal really, to wear a black dress. It was formal. It was short-sleeved and it was the first time I had worn one since last summer.

It’s a dress that usually makes me feel put together, elegant, confident and more. But on this day it did not. Removing the dress from the dry cleaning cover, I inspected it for creases and marks. Nothing. Then put it on and attached the empire waist belt, noting that overall, the dress was a bit loose. Normally something I would celebrate and beats having to get out the spanx and figure out how to get them on and strategically planning much-needed bathroom breaks.

This time it was different. I was feeling self-conscious and trying to figure out a way to deal with an emotion that is not usually a part of my personality. I added some jewelry and touched up my hair, hoping this would raise my confidence. It helped a bit. I then applied a strong and vibrant lipstick as my Nana always told me that a little lipstick goes a long way to making one look and feel better. Words to live by in a red-haired and pale-faced family.

I shrugged my stress to the back of my mind as I put on my coat and grabbed my notes, as I would be saying a few words at the event. By the time I arrived at the event my anxiety had mostly diminished as I was now preoccupied with supporting a friend in a time of need and putting her needs first. It was a needed distraction.

Everything was fine until that moment. “What happened to your arm?” The question came out of nowhere and from someone I had met only once or twice and albeit, briefly. I looked into her eyes and asked, “Do you really want to know?” She nodded her head. I took a deep breath and quietly shared that this was the result of a melanoma diagnosis late last summer.

“Oh,” she replied. “I’m a bit sensitive about the scar as it’s been covered for most of the winter and I’m still acclimating to it,” I offered. She shared her opinion that it wasn’t that bad and would fade. Yes, I told her, I knew that but I was grappling with the chunk missing from my arm that would never grow back. She was dismissive and pointed to her husband and started talking about his love of the sun and how he needed to be careful and then listed numerous other people she knew with cancers.

I slowly backed away, dismissing her as politely as I could, given the event that we were attending. There was no acknowledgement of my journey, no empathy and no words of encouragement. I felt sidelined by her lack of manners and etiquette. Feeling forced to discuss something that I didn’t feel comfortable sharing with someone I barely knew was one thing. Her not acknowledging my journey or acting supportive was something else. I was left feeling a bit sad, frustrated and mad.

You see I am more than willing to share my journey. I have blogged about my melanoma journey and have been interviewed by a national newspaper about patient advocacy. I am not hiding. I have chosen to deal with this health challenge that I have no control over by taking control with my actions and by becoming an advocate about sun protection education and skin cancer prevention.

I was never someone who worshipped the sun for that ultimate tan and never lied down in a tanning bed yet I still got melanoma. My oncologist calls it unlucky genes and family heritage. I am of Irish descent, pale, auburn haired and freckled. I always sun blocked and stayed pale year round despite knowing that a tan “looked” healthy, which it’s not.

When you see a woman, or anyone for that matter, in a t-shirt or a little black dress and her physical flaw shows and you decide to ask her about it, make sure you are willing to acknowledge her journey and offer empathy and support. If you can’t, just don’t ask. We will all be better for it. It’s my journey and my battle scar; my shark bite, my gangster look and it’s certainly not anyone else’s place to diminish it.

Laurel or Lola as her friends call her, was diagnosed with Stage 2b ulcerated melanoma late last summer. She is currently being watched like a hawk by a team of 5 doctors and at this time has “no evidence of disease” (NED). She writes about her melanoma journey here under the tag #SunPale.

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