by Rita Hooper
I am ‘vacationing’ at Church World Service this week in Maryland – as we prepare to ship out all those kits many of the churches in CNY have been working on the past few months.
In my absence I have asked my son, Jim Hooper, a 1992 Hannibal graduate, to write the lead for me:
Some of us, like myself, have even made a career of playing in the sun. I was a summer camp counselor, activity leader and assistant director at Camp Hollis from 1992-1998, and then worked seven years with the County Parks in Ohio as a naturalist and agriculture educator.
I am currently working with Cornell Cooperative Extension, overseeing the educational programming at 4-H Camp Bristol Hills in Ontario County. I think it’s fair to say that I’ve spent my fair share of time in the sun.
Like most of us, I occasionally enjoyed working on my tan. Like most of us, I tried to avoid the sunburns.
Things changed for me on a cold, snowy day in February 2009 I was sitting in the sun in my living room while my wife Alyssa was cutting my hair as she always did. “Jim”, she said, “you’ve got a spot on the back of your left ear, here. Did you know that?” Of course, I didn’t have a clue as it was on the back of my ear, but my first instinct was to scratch it to see if I could feel anything unusual. A trickle of blood dripped down my ear, and spilled on my fingers. I quickly jumped up to grab a paper towel, and managed to get it to stop, but I was a little unnerved.
I’m not typically one to go running off to the doctor for every little bump, bruise, or ding, and I certainly hate to agree with my wife when she suggests such things, but even I had to admit, this had me worried. I would go check it out, but never let it out that I was concerned about what we might find out.
My doctor refused to touch it, and instead, referred me to my ear doctor (whom I’ve been working with for other ear issues for seven years now). Doctor Kaza took one look and said he didn’t like it, because it was in a location that was known for skin cancers. Cancer? Seriously, Doc? My father passed away from cancer, my grandmother passed away from cancer, and I can’t tell you how many other friends of the family had fallen to cancer. But, I was only 35 and in pretty good physical health!
Doctor Kaza decided to remove the spot and send it in for testing. We got our results and it was worse than I’d imagined. It was cancer…That word alone is enough to scare you, but it got worse as we talked. It wasn’t “just” skin cancer. It was melanoma, the deadliest form of all skin cancers, killing nearly 9000 Americans every year.
May is National Skin Cancer/Melanoma Awareness Month, and I was invited to share my story with you and try to help people understand this awful disease. Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States with roughly 20 percent of all Americans being diagnosed with some form of the disease in their lifetime.
Melanoma is the most aggressive skin cancer, and fortunately the least common. Sadly for me, I drew the short straw. It is estimated that nearly 125,000 new cases of Melanoma are diagnosed each year, and almost 8 percent of those cases prove fatal.
And while many people think of cancer as a disease for the elderly, the fact is that Melanoma is the most common form of cancer affecting people ages 25-29 (second most common for people 15-29).
Interestingly, while cancer rates are falling for most cancers, the incidence of melanoma actually increased 45 percent between 1992 and 2004. In the United States, one person will die of melanoma every hour.
These are the numbers that I had to look at when Dr. Kaza gave me the news Friday, the 13th of February 2009. I was embarking on a whole new, and entirely unwanted, journey in my life.
The decision was made that I would need to undergo a second procedure to remove a bigger chunk of my left ear, and that surgery was scheduled for Friday the 13th of March (pay attention, numerologists!). The surgery went well, and my doctor had the tissue sent off to pathology. We got the test results back on (you guessed it!) April Fools Day, and the entire sample tested negative for any signs of cancer.
I was reminded, however, that melanoma doesn’t play by the rules, and can come back at any time, even if it doesn’t show on any scans. And if we don’t catch it early again, the outcome may not be as positive.
We were looking at more surgery. The recommendation was to undergo a radical neck dissection, removing all the lymph nodes on the left side of my neck, as well as sacrificing the nerves, tendons, and other good stuff in my neck that control my left arm. I’d never be able to lift my hand over my head again. I asked for a second opinion, and was referred to a great Head and Neck Cancer Specialist in Rochester. His recommendation was slightly less invasive, a “modified radical neck dissection,” which would preserve the use of my left arm, but would also take out my parotid glad on the left side.
That surgery was completed in May of 2009, and all of the tissues were, yet again tested, and no cancer was indicated.
November 2011 it was back. My heart sank. I cried in the office. And then I had to tell my wife.
Our world was shaken again. With everything we’d done, with all we’d been through, how was this possible?? But this was not the time to ask why or how.
It was a time to act. Dr. Kaza immediately referred me to the Wilmot Cancer Center at Strong Hospital in Rochester, where I met with a whole new team of oncologists, surgeons, and nurses. We decided that there was no choice but to go back and take off even more of my ear. We’d follow up with chemotherapy, and pray for the best. We did a lot of praying. A lot of praying.
When I awoke from surgery, my good wife was at my side, trying her best to hold her tears back, but not succeeding very well. I was still very groggy, but I opened my eyes, and braced for the worst. “They took it ALL off, Jim,” she sobbed.
My entire ear was gone. They’d taken every bit of it off. We were told that it might be necessary, but we didn’t expect it, so it was a bit of a shock. Still under heavy anesthesia, I asked her if I was alive, and she confirmed that I was, so I told her I didn’t need that ear anyway, I had another.
The months that followed were difficult. The 18-inch gash in my neck was sewn shut with 43 staples, but the ear canal was preserved and I was still able to hear in that ear (though somewhat diminished by not having the earlobe to catch the sound waves). We followed up with a form of chemotherapy known as immunotherapy, but my body didn’t tolerate it, so we had to abandon the treatment after I was a little over half-way through it.
So now we’re in a holding pattern with lots of monitoring, doctor visits, and tests, but so far, the healing is going well. I’m working with a physical therapist to rebuild the strength in my arm (some nerves were stretched and some were even severed). But I was recently cleared to go back to climbing trees, which is a huge plus for me as a Ropes Course Manager for the 4-H Camp.
So, as National Melanoma Awareness Month draws to a close, I wanted to leave you with some food for thought. When I was a young child, less than five, I went to the ocean with my family, and as I played in the sand (no pina coladas for me at the time), I got the worst blistering sunburn of my life. Years later, when I was diagnosed, I asked my doctor if a single severe burn at such a young age could have played a role in this, I was told that even one blistering sunburn in our childhood years doubles our risk for melanoma! But it doesn’t take a blistering burn to increase your risk. Just five moderate sun burns in your youth can drastically increase your risk by up to 50 percent.
My dermatologist tells me that 45SPF is great, and that anything higher is just a marketing ploy. But the key is to re-apply often! And please, please, please, stay away from the tanning salons! Remember that you don’t need to be planning to spend hours and hours in the sun to warrant putting on the sunscreen. Even sitting at your desk in front of the sunny window can put you at risk.
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Add to your garden’s beauty by making a glass mosaic stepping stone May 26 and June 2 at the Hannibal Library. Join glass artisan, Cathy Pence who will guide you though this two part garden art class. The time is 10 a.m. each day. All materials are included for a fee. Register at the library or call 564-5471. Call Linda at 564-6643 with any questions.
The Jammers will meet this week at the American Legion on Rochester Street from 7 to 10 p.m. If you enjoy country music, just want to sit and relax a spell or would like to join in making some music, come on over and see if it’s to your liking.
Senior Nutrition will meet this week at the Senior Center for lunch at noon. Come early for coffee, conversation and games. Call Rosemary at the center to make your reservation.
Members and friends are reminded to make reservations for the Hannibal Historical Society’s Annual Banquet to be held Monday, June 4 at the Hannibal United Methodist Church located at the corner of West Street and State Route 3 (Church Street), Hannibal. Gordon and Judy Prosser will be honored. Reservations can be made by calling Louise Kellogg at 564-6690 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Thursday soup/chili lunches at the Hannibal United Methodist Church are still being served from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Come enjoy some good food and fellowship. Takeouts are available.
Can you Help? I received a note from Beth Hilton on behalf of the Hannibal Nursery School. They will be celebrating their 40th anniversary soon and would appreciate hearing from any of the early founders or perhaps someone in their first graduating class to confirm the date. If you can help, please contact Beth Hilton at email@example.com.
Hannah Crego, an 11-year-old girl from Martville with Cockayne Syndrome and her family are going to California for a Cockayne Syndrome conference and retreat. The conference is a wonderful way for Hannah and her family to interact with others, and gives Hannah the opportunity to spend time with children like herself.
There will be a chicken barbecue benefit June 3 at the Hannibal American Legion, Hannibal to help with the cost of the trip. The barbecue will be from noon until gone. There will also be raffles and a bake sale.
Cockayne Syndrome is a rare (200-300 individuals) genetic disorder characterized by poor growth, microcephaly, progeria (premature aging), sensitivity to sunlight, moderate to profound developmental and neurological delays, and a shortened lifespan.
The Senior Band is inviting alumni and friends to join them for their June 5 concert. Music is available on the website,http://ww1.hannibalcsd.org/teacherwebs/sterrino/ and anyone wishing to sit in on a rehearsal can arrange to do so by contacting Shirley
Terrinoni at 564-7910, ext. 4132. Students have chosen music by The Doors and Jurassic Park, familiar to most of our alumni!
Our Lady of the Rosary Church’s annual Strawberry Festival will be Sunday, June 10 from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the church grounds on Cayuga Street. Breakfast begins at 8 a.m.
There will be many booths to interest you from Plants & Books, Baked Goods and Games and Grandma’s Famous Attic – aka garage sale! There will be lots of good food too! Hamburgs, hotdogs, coneys, sausage, chicken barbecue, and of course strawberries and ice cream.
They will have assorted entertainment, including a talent show, and a raffle as well. So come and have some food and fun. Call Diane Miano at 564-5833 or the church at 564-5201 for more information.
Plans are underway for the Hannibal Central School Alumni Banquet Saturday, June 16 at The Oasis Restaurant, just off Route 48 south of Fulton. Classes of ‘42, ‘52, ‘62, ‘72, ‘82, ‘92, and 2002 will be recognized. The Class of 1962 (50th celebration) has chosen to honor all veterans of their class for the distinction of Honored Alumni. For further information watch for posters or call 564-6690. Reservations with remittance and dues are due by May 29 to Faye Kimball, 32 Hannum Rd, Hannibal, NY 13074.
Remember to get the news of your club or group to me by Monday at the latest for the following week. Please note my phone number is 706-3564 and my e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.