When Donna Bowie had the opportunity to nominate a charitable organization through her employer, Crane Currency, there was no doubt which organization she would bring forth this year to the Crane Fund for Widows and Children (CFWC). She chose IMPACT Melanoma.
The CFWC provides direct assistance to the under-served by financially supporting local agencies, charities and schools in the communities where Crane Company and its subsidiaries conduct business.
Crane Currency received generous funds again this year from the CFWC, to be distributed to qualified organizations throughout its global workforce locations in Nashua, New Hampshire, Dalton, Massachusetts, Alpharetta, Georgia, Tumba, Sweden and Hal Far, Malta.
IMPACT Melanoma was an easy choice for Donna, who has been impacted significantly throughout her life with family members with melanoma. Most significant was the loss of her mother, Nella, in 1980 at the age of 47, when Donna was only 15.
In this post, Donna details her personal experience with melanoma and what it has taught her. Graciously, she shares what she hopes others will learn from it, too.
In her own words…
Nella Querel, a native of Trieste, Italy, met my father, Phil Belanger, while he was stationed with the U.S. Army in Italy. They married, and my mother immigrated to the United States via the U.S. Naval Ship General R.E. Callan in 1955 by way of Ellis Island. They relocated to Cambridge, Massachusetts where my father was raised, and started a family there.
Nella received her initial melanoma diagnosis in the mid 1960’s after an initial misdiagnosis. She underwent major surgery, and was left with a softball size scar and skin grafts in her lower leg. Despite this, she lived her life to the fullest, while suffering from extremely poor circulation in her leg.
As a child, I remember my mother having an over-sized lower leg with poor circulation due to her surgery, but I never really understood the magnitude of what she had undergone, or the high likelihood of the cancer returning again down the road. I don’t even think I knew it was “cancer.” It wasn’t talked about too much because she had recovered and made the 5 and 10-year milestones cancer free, so as far as I knew, it was…done.
She lived a very full and active life, and was a talented seamstress who worked for designer Sara Fredericks on Newbury Street in Boston, followed by a career as a seamstress on her own. She enjoyed entertaining friends and family and dancing with my father. She never complained.
When I reached my sophomore year in high school in 1980, my mother got very ill and collapsed at work. After going to the hospital, she learned that the melanoma had spread again to her same leg—more surgeries.
After that, she was still working, but had undergone chemo, so she was losing her hair and had to wear a wig. I’m sure that was one of the worst side effects for my mother. Not that she was vain, but she took pride in how she looked, so I have to imagine being bald and having to wear a wig was not something she felt good about. Still, she never complained.
Nearing the end of my sophomore year of high school my parents celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. A few weeks later she took a turn for the worse and passed away at the age of 47.
I have little recollection of that time period, other than visiting my mother in the hospital and not understanding why she would not carry on a conversation with me about school, etc. I had no idea the cancer had spread to her brain and it had impacted her motor skills, including speech. It was years later that my sister informed me the cancer was in her brain – I had no clue.
Living with the legacy of melanoma
Fast forward—my sister and I are highly aware of melanoma, how serious it is, and how we are at a much higher risk than others, due to my mother dying from this disease.
In our 20’s we started going for regular skin cancer checks and over the years, we have each had hundreds of moles and irregularities removed from our bodies and we continue to go for skin checks every six months. Each of our daughters also go through this.
Due to the vigilance of our dermatologists, we are still alive and well. My sister has had a few melanomas removed, but since she is checked frequently, they were caught early. My worst test result to date was a ‘borderline’ melanoma. I couldn’t believe that a mole, no larger than the tip of a pencil, would be cause for concern.
Thankfully, my wonderful, amazing, talented (and funny) dermatologist, Dr. John Tomich, knew exactly what to look for and took it off. When I had to return for a larger removal section, I could not believe something so small would result in a 3-inch scar! But I was alive and well.
To this day, I will never skip an appointment with my dermatologist. I have told him he can never retire, because I would be lost without his great care, compassion and expertise.
My message to others…your suntan is not worth it! Be smart and protect your skin and get regular skin cancer checks. When you get an annual physical, go to a dermatologist and get a skin cancer check. It is simple and could save your life! People need to understand how aggressive and deadly this cancer is, especially if not caught early.
The educational programs and resources provided by IMPACT Melanoma made this organization an easy choice for a nomination this year. They are getting the word out, educating parents, teens and children, care providers, teachers, etc. about the importance of sun protection and melanoma. And just as important, they provide resources for melanoma patients and families to provide support to them during their treatments and while living life with melanoma.
I am truly grateful to the Crane Fund for Widows and Children for their generosity in financially supporting such wonderful organizations, such as IMPACT Melanoma, and in helping me to honor my mother.