By Dr. Vinh Chung
Never before have our lives been so disrupted and restricted. We are constantly cautioned by experts about what we cannot do: travel, host a party, attend graduations and weddings, visit elderly loved ones, or have dinner with friends. As everyone endures this season of cannots, we must focus on what we can do. We may not be able to control the challenges we face, but we can control how we respond. Choosing to respond with love, instead of fear, can make all the difference.
Patients diagnosed with cancer are often thrusted into an unexpected new reality. One of these patients is Dianne Derby. Spurred by a friend’s recent cancer diagnosis, Dianne decided to see a dermatologist at Vanguard Skin Specialists to have a skin check. One spot on Dianne’s arm was diagnosed as melanoma, which is a potentially fatal skin cancer if left untreated. This melanoma was promptly treated and she is recovering remarkably. But that is not the end of her story.
As a popular news anchor on KKTV, Dianne chose to leverage her personal story to help others. She enlisted the KKTV news team and partnered with Vanguard Skin Specialists to share her story widely. She wanted to motivate the community to get a skin check and potentially save their lives. Her efforts ultimately culminated in a series of free drive-thru skin checks in Southern Colorado.
Staffed completely by volunteer physicians, these free outdoor events raised awareness and removed barriers for people who have put off seeing a doctor due to coronavirus or finances. The volunteers served over 1,000 people from southern Colorado. If skin cancer was suspected, patients were directed to see any of the local dermatologists for follow up and treatment. Dozens of skin cancers were clinically diagnosed including melanoma. While it is impossible to know exactly what would have happened in these individuals’ lives without Dianne, we do know her actions directly led to their seeking and receiving medical care.
Stories like Dianne’s are not unheard of, but they capture our attention because of their significance in who we are as humans. Choosing to write our own stories is how humans have punctuated history with incredible events. In the accounts of Jesus’ life, John describes one such instance. Jesus was teaching to an audience of thousands in the remote countryside. As the day grew late, the disciples realized they lacked both food and money for the hungry crowd. Their only resource was a young boy’s meager lunch, consisting of five loaves of bread and two fish. Christians believe Jesus honored the boy’s generosity by performing a miracle, using the single lunch to feed a crowd of thousands. The young boy had little, but he offered what he had, and a miracle happened.
We believe what took place at the drive-thru skin check events was a miracle. Dianne chose to turn an undesired life event into a gift to the thousand plus people in the community. In a time when the media can be divisive or politicized, Dianne’s action stood out as authentic, simple, and courageous. She offered what she had, and that was enough. Her agenda was simply to serve others.
I was inspired to be part of these skin checks. While my medical colleagues and I do not possess the ability to stop a global pandemic, we can focus on what we can do– serve patients. We do not allow ourselves to become overwhelmed by the uncontrollable. Rather, like Dianne, we remember that we are still the authors of our own stories and are capable of using what we have to help others.
The human species has always experienced fear and faced natural catastrophes. What makes us uniquely human is our ability to imagine and create a better future for ourselves and each other. At the international level, teams of scientists and medical experts are working furiously to develop a vaccine for COVID-19. At the local level, we have people like Dianne who chose to create a better story for her and her community. We have been honored to be a part of this human story.
Imagine if we all respond with courage and generosity when experiencing fear and hardship. Imagine our collective impact if we all exercise our God-given ability to love our neighbors and total strangers. Imagine if, rather than being overwhelmed and paralyzed with fear, we decide to do what we can and give what we have, regardless of its size or significance. Whether that means offering our 5 loaves and 2 fish or sharing our own life stories with others, we all can love our neighbors, our community, and our world. Choosing to love is where miracles begin.
Vinh Chung, MD is a board-certified dermatologist and a fellowship-trained Mohs surgeon. He specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer at Vanguard Skin Specialists. Dr. Chung sees patients in Colorado Springs, Canon City, Pueblo, and Woodland Park. He is the author of Where the Wind Leads.
Vanguard Skin Specialists offers dermatology, plastic surgery, Mohs surgery, dermatopathology, and aesthetics.