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An insidious mole took out a big man
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On Monday I went to a memorial service for a good friend and member of my wife's family. Chris died after a 15-month battle with a skin cancer that proved deadlier than I could ever imagine.

The church was filled with mourners who lamented how kind hearted and light spirited he was as a man, father and husband. It was true, not flowery hollow praise. Everyone loved Chris.

He was married to my wife's niece. Chris, who was 48 years old and two years my junior, liked the effect on me when he'd see me and say, "Come here, Uncle Jeff, and give me a kiss." When he'd pucker that got everyone grossing out or laughing. Of course, he didn't kiss me - thankfully - but he'd crush me with a hug. Chris was a big guy.

I wondered - had he been given a futuristic glimpse of mourners assembled in a church watching slides of his life to very tender songs - if he might have been motivated to do something sooner about that damned dark mole that appeared on his forearm. Instead, he waited like nine months to have it checked out. It was an insurance thing - he didn't have any at the time. In retrospect it was worst thing he could have done. Medical bills can be paid off. Sadly, his waiting cost his life.

The mole only grew worse and started giving him pain. By the time the doctors got to it, the mole had rooted into other parts of his arm. From there it spread like wildlife. In his last days, tumors in his brain were caused pressure and pain that even morphine could not cover.

I had heard that some melanomas can be fierce and this certainly was an example. Chemo and radiation did some good for a while but he never got the upper hand. Melanoma won a cruel victory and took down a very big man.

I visited Chris in his San Francisco hospital room on Feb. 18 and he appeared gaunt and only a remnant of the man he was before. But on this day he was able to speak and remembered my name after being non responsive the day before. When I left he wanted to be bundled up and wheeled outside where he could have a smoke. That's where he was when I left.

Six days later I was in the city again - Saturday, Feb. 24 - to get my wife (battling leukemia) out of the hospital and together we dropped by for a visit. The room was somber as his family surrounded him in a death watch. The insidious cancer had just decimated him. He could not talk now, only moan. I put my hand on his, the life was just about gone. It was a sad experience. He was gone by Monday, leaving a 40-year-old wife and two teenagers.

It is a heart-breaking realization knowing he could have likely spared himself of the disease had he tended to that mole sooner.

Most of us have been acquainted with those who have been affected by cancer. Lately it seems my circle has taken some big hits. Chris' death comes on the heels of the death of my next-door neighbor of 24 years who died of lung cancer last month. Gordon was a lifelong smoker.

Through these experiences, it dawns on me that perhaps we all just prefer to remain ignorant about cancer issues, pretending that if it's not there that it won't get me. But it's knowledge that can save our lives.

Cancer treatment is so more advanced than it used to be. Early detection is king. Our attitudes often get in the way. How many men have you known who won't get a prostate exam because it's too embarrassing? Or any loved one who won't get a colonoscopy because it too is a humbling experience? What about regular check-ups? Do you get mammograms, ladies? How about routine blood checks?

Don't take your health for granted. Make check-ups a priority. And take control of the issues that affect your health.

But beyond that, there's the whole issue of making choices that can have a direct bearing on whether or not we will get cancer. According to the Mayo Clinic if there were seven things you should do to prevent being a victim of cancer. They are as follows:

1). Don't use tobacco. That goes for smokes and chew.

2). Eat a healthy diet every day. We are talking fruits, vegetables, grains, low fat diets.

3). Maintain a healthy weight and get regular exercise.

4). Limit exposure to the sun.

5). Get immunized against hepatitis B and HPV.

6). Avoid risky sexual behaviors and don't use needles.

7). Take early detection seriously.

We would all be wise, too, to get on the bandwagon to raise funds to continue advancing cancer research and treatment. The annual Ceres Relay for Life is coming up in May and it's a great cause to support. Plan on participating or visiting the event. Don't be stingy with a donation. It just might be the life of someone you know who you'll be helping to save.

How do you feel? Let Jeff know at