Posts tagged “survivor

Awareness is beautiful

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By Kate Trimarki

My journey begins the week of my 26th birthday. Birthdays are such a happy, memorable time, aren’t they? At least that had always been true for myself, and this was one I would truly remember for the rest of my life. This birthday week would be the point of impact for my story, because it is indeed when the bomb was dropped that would change the rest of my life. Up to this point in my life I was free-spirited, outgoing and driven but after this, things would be different forever.

Let’s rewind to my teenage years and my early twenties. Back then I loved tanning and being tan. It didn’t matter if I was laying on the beach, in a tanning bed or in the standup machine, I just wanted my skin to have some color. I have milky white skin, which I undoubtedly inherited from my Irish father, and call it a blessing, call it a curse or maybe even one of those cases where you want something you don’t have, but all I longed for was that sun kissed skin tone. In order for myself to obtain this, I had to follow a process which consisted of getting a real good sunburn and letting it fade until I ended up with just the right color. The sad truth is, what I was actually doing was arming all of these little land mines, “moles”, under my skin, and it would just be a matter of time before they decided to detonate.

Let’s jump to me being 24 and at an annual physical, still 2 years before impact. Physicals were never an issue for me because I always knew I’d get a clean bill of health. Somehow however, this physical was a bit different. During this visit, while my physician was listening to my lungs from my back, his focus turned to a mole sitting just below where had placed his stethoscope. Now, he had mentioned before that it may not be a bad idea to see a dermatologist due to all my freckles and moles, precautionary of course, but today his tone was different. He became insistent that I have this mole checked out immediately. I explained that mole had been there forever and my pediatrician always kept an eye on it. He then explained regardless of the past, it was irregular in shape and quite dark and needed to be checked. So in the interest of maintaining my clean bill of health, I appeased him by assuring him I would make an appointment with someone in his group ASAP. The truth is, I did nothing of the sort.

So we’re at the week of my 26th birthday and it’s been two years since my last physical, so I may as well get one out of the way. I’m not even thinking about the fib I told my physician last time, that I would have that mole checked out, but he was thinking about it. He had not forgotten and was in shock to learn I had done nothing about this mole. The physical quickly turned to “cancel whatever you have going on for the rest of the day” and he would make sure I was seen by a dermatologist in his group today. In my head, I couldn’t understand why he was overreacting like this. I just didn’t see why the sense of urgency, but decided to just go along with it knowing it would be a minute to have this thing removed and I would be on my way, and indeed that was the case. About 48 hours later, when I was asked to return to the dermatologist’s office due to the biopsy results, the reality of the matter still hadn’t kicked in. I went to the appointment alone, figuring this would be a quick visit, and after showing up, “you have malignant Melanoma Kate”, “you’re going to have to meet with an Oncologist and have surgery as soon as possible”. I simply replied, “Why can’t you just laser it off?” which I was then greeted with the response “obviously, you do not understand the severity of this.” He was right, I did not.

To say I was naive when it came to skin cancer was an understatement. I always associated it with the elderly or someone that looked like Magda from the movie There’s something about Mary. Regardless, this was happening to me, and my entire birthday week turned into one big blur to me. The only way to describe it was like if I was a famous actor on the press tour from hell. I was being rushed off from one place to the next, answering the same questions and giving the same answers. I was poked, prodded and studied from every angle. Everything felt so invasive however the surgery and partial lymph node biopsy did prove to be a success. Of course this was at the cost of a whole lot of pain and a huge reminder on my lower back of what I went through. The remainder of that year proved to be one of the most challenging I would ever live.

Adjusting to this new lifestyle of being constantly biopsied and having surgeries, all I really wanted was my life to go back to the way it was before my diagnosis. Until now, the focus of my biopsies and surgeries were all on my back, so I began having the mentality that I would treat my body like a paper doll. Focus on the front and just ignore the back, ultimately pretending that nothing ever happened. Then I had to have surgery due to squamous cell carcinoma on my breast and stomach. I received many stitches during that surgery and when I could finally shower, I remember catching a glimpse of my front in the mirror and it hit me like a ton of bricks. That was the first time I had felt an emotion, anger, and I was overcome by it. My body was no longer the paper doll, instead I saw a body that was quite broken and I did not like it. I began punching things and yelling, yet surprisingly, not a tear would fall. And with that anger, my life just took a downward spiral. My boyfriend and I had ended our relationship, I decided to just up and quit my corporate job, and I could not concentrate or focus on anything. I was separating from the person I once was, and people were noticing. It was my Oncologist that finally requested I see a cancer therapist. His recommendation and a dash of my parents telling me that they hadn’t seen me smile in so long was just the right mixture for me to agree to see someone.

The first few times going to therapy I let the therapist do most of the talking because I still really had nothing to say. It wasn’t until our fourth session that she pulled out my chart and read the notes that my Oncologist had written about me. He described me as the following:” Kate has made a decision to avoid in engaging emotional connections. She runs from situations and I am concerned that as a survivor of trauma that she has developed into PTSD”. The therapist then pulled out a book and said that she was going to read me a poem. The poem was about a day at the beach with friends. One of the friends decides to swim out by themselves in the ocean. The undertow and waves prove to be too much for him or her. He or she can see their friends on land. There is no lifeguard on duty, so in order to be saved, they would have to ask for the help of their friends. The person tries to swim and fights to get closer to the shore but ends up letting the ocean take them instead of calling out for help. The therapist looked up at me and says to me, “that person in the ocean, that person drowning, is you. You would rather drown then be saved by asking for help.” She said to me that I am running away from something that will eventually catch up to me. Through everything I had been through, I finally cracked and broke down crying. I actually began to weep and the sadness overwhelmed me. I did not realize how much I was alienating and distancing myself from my family and friends.

Halloween Party with Shonda, G and Curt-2Months had passed and I continued therapy. I felt like my therapist was the mirror that was showing me the destructive path I had been taking. She explained that my impulsiveness, like quitting my job, was all about control. I could not control my skin cancer, but I did have control over the decisions that I made. I had so much regret, but I was trying to become a healthier person. I began to educate myself on Melanoma and all types of skin cancer. I was like a sponge and I just wanted to read everything and anything about this disease. I wanted to embrace it instead of running As better of a mental state I was in now, the one thing I was still missing was having someone I could relate with. It was great talking with my therapist but I needed someone who had been through what I had, someone who dealt with the same cancer I had. Enter Shonda Schilling. It was at this point I had found my Melanoma Survivor Soulmate.

Ironically, prior to my therapy, my mother had made mention of Shonda and her story, which had made headlines because of her exposure being married to Boston Red Sox Pitcher Curt Schilling. She was a Melanoma survivor but when my mother first mentioned her, I was in denial and not ready to hear anything about her. But one night out of curiosity, I went on the Shade Foundation website, which was founded by Shonda and her husband Curt, and I read Shonda’s story. I immediately felt compelled to reach out to her via the website. Within 24 hours, I received a response from her. It was surreal, like hearing from a long lost friend. After several email exchanges, she invited me and some of my family to be her guests at one of Curt’s baseball games at Fenway Park. Being from Massachusetts and from a family of diehard Sox fans, I was overjoyed by the invitation.

Meeting Shonda in person for the first time was like a revelation. I saw that you can truly be happy again even after a nightmare like Melanoma. I could see that Shonda was genuinely comfortable in her skin, whereas I wasn’t quite there yet. She was proof that you can love again and be loved, scars and all, and that you can have a career, a family, friends, laughter, smiles, and a beautiful life. For so long I thought I was being punished with this diagnosis that I deprived myself of all the good things life has to offer. Not only has Shonda inspired me in so many ways, she has become a role model and a friend whom I will always hold close to my heart.

In 2007, 6 years after my initial diagnosis, I have my happy ending. I found the love of my life and 9 years later, we have 3 beautiful girls, a five year old and twin 2 year olds. My journey still continues. I will always have dermatology appointments and biopsies once in a while but I have accepted that. I have also made it a personal mission to raise awareness for Melanoma. Yes, even I am still learning new things about Melanoma every day, I do try to put myself out there as much as possible and I was even honored to be part of OLAY’s Best Beautiful Campaign to help promote skin cancer awareness. Social media has also proven to be a huge part of raising awareness and serves as a vehicle for victim and survivor personal stories. I commend these people because it takes a strong person to share something so raw and private and that was always something I had great difficulty with.

Today, though, I too am like Shonda, happy and comfortable in my skin. My priorities in life may have changed and the meaning of what is “beautiful” has changed. I have grown in so many ways. As I conclude, I want to share two things that I have learned:

Everyone has scars, I just wear mine on the outside and AWARENESS IS BEAUTIFUL.

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