My Story: Al Estep from Black is the New Pink

Grief. Its intense emotion can keep us on our path or take over with such a consuming force that we go through with the motions of life not living, just like the one we lost. 
Skin cancer

Grief. Its intense emotion can keep us on our path or take over with such a consuming force that we go through with the motions of life not living, just like the one we lost. Al Estep, the author of Black is the New Pink, found that after the loss of his brother to Stage 4 Melanoma his grief gave him the urge to write. He writes to remember Jeff.

In 2004, Jeff noticed an unusual mole and after having it diagnosed and removed as un-stageable he was sent on his way without any follow-up appointments. One day in August of 2010 Jeff complained of dizziness and blurred vision. The Melanoma had returned and he now had Stage 4 Metastatic Melanoma that had spread to his lungs and brain. Jeff passed away in November of 2010.

Al recalls that while visiting the hospital gift shop there wasn’t anything appropriate for melanoma awareness, everything was pink for breast cancer awareness! During his battle with Melanoma Jeff was active in Relay for Life and wore a black Melanoma awareness bracelet every day. Jeff had once said, “I wish black was the new pink–just for a day.” It was from those words and a promise that Al made to Jeff that allowed Black is the New Pink to be born.

“Skin cancer IS cancer.”

Al admits that he was very angry and asked: “why?” He still asks that question, although he knows that there isn’t an answer. He found support for his grieving through blogs, AIM, and MRF where he was able to research, learn, and talk with other people going through similar situations. Real people. People with families. No matter how sad, angry, or lost we feel there is always someone out there that we can relate to. And there are people who make an impact on us. Al shared proudly that Jeff made an impact and continues to make an impact. He just hopes that he can make an impact.

Jeff’s passing caused a change in Al. His focus changed and he immediately realized that with a wife and two young children–he would need to change. Sun protection became a priority. He now talks with his children about the importance of sun protection. They see his efforts and sometimes remind him to “cover-up and wear sunscreen.” As unfortunate as it is, he admits that the funeral of his late brother (their uncle) had a huge impact on his children. He urges everyone to get checked by a Dermatologist and to wear sunscreen.

“You can enjoy the sun without being afraid.”

I asked Al what he learned from Jeff’s experience and what inspiration he has gained from it. This is what he told me.

What I have learned is that melanoma is a nasty, mean disease that affects every demographic and shows no compassion. It kills far too many people every day. But during Jeff’s treatment, I spoke with his doctor at MD Anderson (Dr. Patrick Hwu) and he told me that “great things are happening.” Dr. Hwu knew about Yervoy and the other medications and advances coming up. He knew great strides were happening to fight melanoma. He was hoping that Jeff could hang on a little longer to benefit from these great things. But alas, he passed away too soon.

So, while I really found no inspiring quote during his illness, I have to say that Dr. Hwu’s words have been inspiring since Jeff’s passing. Great things ARE happening. There have been great advances in medical treatments. There have been great strides in legislation against tanning beds. There have been great efforts by the blogging community as folks like Chelsea Price and Melissa Collins, as well as Meghan Rothchild, have become public figures and voices for melanoma awareness. And there has been a great rise in awareness within the community in general. Great things ARE happening…and we can only hope they keep happening so that perhaps other people won’t be asking–why?