When we met he said to call him James. As we dated, I learned his family called him Jimmy. We met one night while out with mutual friends. In fact, the six of us got married. Everyone else was divorced within five years. We were still not married after four but were engaged. I didn’t meet his mom until the wedding rehearsal and his father wasn’t invited. He had told me they’d had a falling out years ago, so I didn’t ask too many questions. James and I had very similar upbringings. Our moms were teachers, our dad’s didn’t live in the home, we both had a sister, we spent our summers outside playing all day in the sun, we were both in marching band, and our school colors were even the same; purple and gold! We were perfect like a comfortable pair of shoes. I thought we’d be married for ever. He was my best friend but then life happened and we drifted apart. We separated in 2005. I filed for divorce in 2007 but hadn’t established residency in California so I had to wait. Then it happened. The thing I had bugged my husband about for years just became his worst nightmare. James had had a funny spot on his neck below his right ear. It looked like a purple-pink, stork bite kind of birthmark, wring worm, crusty mole with a fleshy center and very irregular shape, coloring, and edges. It’s difficult to put into words.
For years it would crust up and flake off. He would put cortisone on it for a few days and it seemed to get better. Since we were separated and filing for divorce, I was living in another state. This time it didn’t get better. It grew! By July of 2008, it was the size of a golf ball and oozing. By September first, the day of his surgery it was a stage VI about the size of a softball or grapefruit and involved his earlobe. The surgery was a radical neck. They took all the skin, muscle, tumor, and lymph nodes. They said they got it all. They didn’t. They didn’t do any chemo or radiation either. He had to have skin grafts and a pectoral muscle graft to rebuild his neck. He had no insurance. I had stopped carrying him since we’d separated three years prior and now I couldn’t add him because it would be preexisting. I stopped the divorce proceedings. I didn’t want to fight about stupid stuff when he needed to fight for his life. Our kids needed their dad more than I needed a divorce. The melanoma came back and kept coming back. Each time someplace else and worse than before. Jamie and I had so much in common. We grew up in the summer sun of New Mexico and Texas. We both had light skin, hair, and eyes. The differences are his dad was exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam. My dad had asthma and did not go. James served in the USN as a trained active reserve and spent hours on the Tarmac and flight line. Who knows what he was exposed to and what was in all the vaccines they got for the Persian Gulf War. James died in 2010 after a devastating, horrible two year battle with melanoma with no insurance. His medical debt was over $400,000.00. I was forced to file for chapter 7 bankruptcy protection. In the course of four years, I lost my husband, my home, my savings, my job, and even my health. Many things could have been done differently to change the outcome that is my life. My hope is that by sharing his story, someone’s life will be saved because they went to get that funny looking spot checked and they remembered to wear sunscreen.