Guest Post: Why I #GetNaked for Melanoma Awareness
Hi, I'm Nicole Serraiocco. I'm a wife, a mother of 3 children and an IRONMAN. Completing the 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride and 26.2 mile marathon was the greatest physical undertaking of my life, but it pales in comparison with the real reason why I took on this incredibly difficult challenge.
Nineteen years ago my father was diagnosed with Stage IV melanoma. These were the days before sunscreen was widely used and my father's initial inquiries about the funny looking, ever-changing mole on his back were haughtily rebuffed by his doctor. One day, as a college student flipping through Seventeen Magazine, I stumbled across an article with photos of melanoma. Thinking the pictures were reminiscent of my dad's mole, I shared the article with my family. Dad got a second opinion.
Here's the part where I tell you that it was too late. Surgeons removed over a pound of tissue from his back but the disease had already spread to his lymph nodes. Thus began the cat-and-mouse game of chasing cancer around his body. It spread to his brain and stomach. Interferon and chemotherapy treatments slowed things down for a bit but the cancer would pop up somewhere else. The process was heartbreaking but my dad fought through it, determined to do what he could.
Throughout everything, I was blessed to meet and fall in love with the man I would eventually marry. After Carlo's proposal we realized that my father – my hero – was not long for this earth and made the decision to move our wedding up several months in the hopes that dad could attend. By this time my father was so weak that he was bound to a wheelchair, but with my brother's help he was able to stand up and give me away. For our father/daughter dance, my brother spun him around in his chair while I sat in his lap, delighted, but struggling to hold back tears after he jokingly remarked "I'm sorry, this is all I can do!" My father died less than a month after our wedding and I'm so very grateful he was there on that special day – the best wedding gift anyone could ever receive.
I took up running in 2012, completing my first marathon in honor of a friend who has a child born with half a heart. If she could deal with the terror of having a sick child, I could challenge myself physically, raise awareness and do some good in the process. It’s so powerful to do something that makes a difference in someone else's life; to stand when others cannot. The IRONMAN challenge came to me by way of my coach Thad Beaty, an IRONMAN twice over, spokesperson for their Kona Inspires program, musician, and head of the non-profit Music That Moves. When he challenged me to take on this task, I couldn't turn it down.
Melanoma continues to touch my life and those of so many around me. A dear friend was recently diagnosed with Stage III melanoma at age 36 – a mother of 3, just like me. I see so many people fighting a disease that is so treatable early on – and so deadly if not. Because melanoma is largely preventable when people are given the facts, I committed to raise $50,000 for the Melanoma Research Foundation to aid with the awareness and prevention of this disease. For 13+ hours on October 11th, I swam 2.4 miles, biked 112 miles in crazy wind conditions and ran 26.2 miles in the IRONMAN World Championships. During the race, I thought of all of those fighting melanoma and I gave thanks to everyone who supported this journey both emotionally and financially.
After the IRONMAN fundraising, I decided to do more. I loved the MRF’s #GetNaked early detection awareness campaign so much that I partnered with them to create my version of the shirts to promote melanoma awareness. I am also bringing the #GetNaked campaign to all of my races. In March, I ran an Alabama marathon where a #GetNaked booth offered free dermatologist skin checks onsite. I will carry this forward to IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga and I’m excited about the #GetNaked team at the 2016 Boston Marathon. If one new person checks their skin and becomes aware of melanoma, that could be one life saved.
This summer, I challenge you to #GetNaked and check your skin. I challenge you to buy a #GetNaked shirt and take a selfie to show others that you are ready to #GetNaked for melanoma early detection and awareness. Proceeds benefit the MRF to advance its mission of research, education and advocacy. I'm doing this for people I love fiercely, people who can't stand and need someone to stand for them. Will you stand with me? Together, I truly believe we can stop this disease.
Thank you for reading my story. Now let’s wipe out melanoma for ourselves, our friends and our family.
Written by melanoma advocate, IRONMAN athlete, MRF fundraiser and volunteer, Nicole Serraiocco. Follow Nicole on Twitter at @coco1276! To learn more about Nicole's #GetNaked awareness activities, email her at [email protected].