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#OutOfTheShadows: Aaron Wade in Memory of Lisa Ann Wade

Guest blog from Aaron Wade, son of Lisa Ann Wade who passed away from mucosal melanoma in 2019:

oSome of my most cherished memories with my mom took place while sitting in a worn-out office chair, in the chemotherapy wing at the back of the oncologist’s office.

See, my mom had a rare type of cancer called mucosal melanoma. Most common melanomas are cancers that originate in the melanocytes of skin cells. They are the result of unprotected exposure to intense sun or UV light, and pop up on the skin as moles or irregular looking marks. However, since mucosal melanoma originates within mucosal linings that are already inside the body (nose/mouth/eye/urethra/rectum) it is much more difficult to detect and can therefore be much more dangerous.

My mom was diagnosed with mucosal melanoma in 2016 after getting her first colonoscopy at 50 years old. It was a shock to everyone. She taught aerobics classes at the community health center for nearly twenty years, was in a tennis league, practiced yoga almost daily and her diet was incredibly healthy. She had encountered bouts of cancer before: a small lump in her breast that was removed and a spot of cutaneous melanoma on her leg, also removed without issue. These made us believe she could handle anything; she was superwoman. It wasn’t quite clear to us initially, but this time we were dealing with a new monster. No amount of diet, exercise or anything else could have prepared her for what was to come. Her calendar quickly filled with doctor appointments, visits, consults, upcoming surgeries and eventually, chemo.

It was extremely important to me that my mom never, ever, felt like she was fighting this battle alone. I would drive home from college every few days to see her, and with my amazing dad and brother, we took turns driving to every appointment. I remember the first time she and I walked into the back room of the oncology suite together. We meandered past offices and examination rooms until the hallway opened up. In front of us, a wide semicircle of drab green reclining chairs that looked anything but inviting. My heart sank at the thought of our future, sitting in those chairs. But I kept a wary smile, and we chose a seat in the corner of the room away from most people. We tried to pass the time as best as we could, playing I-spy and chatting about anything except the obvious. All in all, it was a somber morning to say the least.

When we left that first treatment, defeated, I told her that if we are going to have to be in this horrible place for a few hours every week, we might as well try and get a laugh while we are here. The idea of ‘getting a laugh’ in this situation might sound crazy to some people, but the next week I brought my laptop and after we were seated, I’d pull it out and open Netflix. It didn’t matter what we watched, but it had to be funny. I would put on a comedy, a stand-up show or a cartoon and we would sit in the corner quietly muffling our giggles as to not disturb the other patients. Suddenly, we had our routine.

A few months down the road I made friends with one of the nurses, and on the days we were scheduled to come in, he would save the only private room so we could have it all to ourselves. By this time, this little room in the back of the office had become something of our second home. We would walk with lunch in hand, straight to ‘our’ room in the back corner of the office and kick our feet up (literally). Other people must have thought we were absolutely crazy to be walking around the place so casually, then head into the private room and start laughing like children.

In a few months, it will have been five years since I was sitting next to her for the first time in that drab green recliner. And looking back on that moment now, bringing that computer was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Back then, I didn’t realize how short our time would be together, heck she was still dancing and practicing Zumba four days a week with stage 4 cancer! But I know in my heart that we couldn’t have spent our time any better if we tried. Eventually, the IV treatment ran its course and we continued to watch our shows and laugh in smaller rooms at clinical trials. Sometimes we watched them in hospital rooms, and then eventually we just watched them in bed, but we never stopped laughing. Laughing with my mom in the face of darkness, those are my most cherished memories. Those morning appointments with my mom taught me a lot. We certainly can’t change everything, but we can definitely make the most of what we have. No matter how dark the situation is, or how hopeless it seems, you can always find a reason to laugh with the people you love.

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