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Bob Marley and Melanoma

bob marleyBob Marley was a superstar Jamaican singer, guitarist and songwriter who sold more than 20 million records by bringing Jamaican music and the Rastafari movement to the world.  He was the first major rock artist to come out of a Third World country.  He mixed protest music with popular songs of rebellion and faith, and his "No Woman No Cry," "Stir it Up," "Could You Be Loved," "One Love" and many other songs are still very popular today. 
 
Abandoned by his Father
He was the child of a black mother and a white father  who was a plantation work supervisor.  His father was a former captain in the English Royal Marines, born in Jamaica in 1885 from Jewish parents who came to Jamaica from England after leaving Syria.  His father met his mother when she was 17 and their love relationship went unnoticed for a year until May 1944 when she became pregnant.  He offered to marry her, they became engaged, her father approved and the wedding date was set for June 9th. She told many people that, "He told me he loved me, and I believe that he did."   However, a week before the wedding, he told her that he had a hernia that forced him to change jobs and move to Kingston.  On February 6, 1945, she delivered a baby boy without the father present.  A few weeks later, he returned and they named the child Robert Nesta Marley.  
 
For the next few years, his father would leave for work in Kingston, but would return every month or two for short visits and continued to support the family financially. However, after a few years his father broke all contact with his young son and his mother.  Marley grew up in a poor black neighborhood where he was scorned because of his white blood.
 
Marley had a very difficult time because both the black and white populations of Jamaica looked down on and mistreated mulatto children.  In 1962, at age 17, he fell in love with a neighboring young black girl named Esther, but the girl’s older brother wouldn't allow his sister to see Marley because he "didn’t want no white man screwing up our bloodlines."   At that time, Jamaica was 77 percent black, 20 percent brown, one percent white and two percent Asian. The absence of his white father influenced him as an adult to support black causes such as pan-Africanism and  black-based religions.  
 


 

His Start in Music
His best friend in primary school was Neville Livingston (later known as Bunny Wailer) because they liked to sing and make up songs together. When Marley was 10, his father died at age 70 of a heart attack.  When he was 12, his mother and Neville's father moved with their kids to Trenchtown, Kingston and had a daughter named Claudette Pearl.  The two best friends now had the same younger sister.                                                                                                                                            
In Trenchtown, a group of kids living in the same neighborhood would get together to sing and write songs.  Joe Higgs taught Marley and Bunny Wailer how to play the guitar.  They sang and played music together, eventually recorded records and several of the members became famous musicians:  Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh, Beverley Kelso, Junior Braithwaite, Joe Higgs, and Roy Wilson.  However, Bob Marley became the most famous of them all. 
 
Almost Killed for Principle
On August 6, 1962, Jamaica won its independence from England and the country experienced terrible power struggles.  On December 3, 1976, Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley attempted to distract combative political factions by scheduling a "Smile Jamaica Concert" featuring Bob Marley.  Two days before the concert, Marley, his wife and his manager Don Taylor were attacked and wounded by unknown gunmen inside Marley's home.  Marley was wounded in his chest and arm, while his wife and Taylor suffered more serious wounds.  Marley gave his concert as scheduled before 80,000 fans, but the other scheduled band, members of "The Wailers" did not show up.  His life was threatened and he left for England, where he lived for two years and brought reggae music to the western world for the first time. He was politically active, believing that all African countries should be independent from European domination.  In 1978, he was awarded the International Peace Medal by the African delegation to the United Nations for supporting Pan-African nationalism.  He was an official guest at Zimbabwe's independence celebration two years later.  In 1987, singer Peter Tosh and longtime Marley drummer Carlton Barrett were murdered in Jamaica in separate attacks. 
 


 

From Catholicism to Rastafarianism
He was born into Roman Catholicism and at age 21 became a Rastafarian, but that wasn't black enough for him so in November 1980, Archbishop Abuna Yesehaq baptized Marley into the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.  In his early teens he was told that god had to be black and Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia was the living God, the 225th ruler in a line traced from Menelik, the son of Solomon and Sheba.   Rastafarianism told him that black children exiled from Africa would find peace and fulfillment only in Africa. 
 
While Marley was living with his mother and working in the U.S., he had a dream in which he saw a short man wearing a military uniform take a ring from his pocket and place it on Marley's finger.  When Marley told his mother about his dream, she showed him a ring that had belonged to his father and told him to keep it. She said, "He never give yuh anyt’ing when him alive."  Marley refused to wear the ring because he said it made him feel uncomfortable. In 1977, Marley lived in London and met the Ethiopian royal family who were living in exile there.  Haile Selassie’s son, Crown Prince Afsa Wossen, placed on Marley's finger a ring that belonged to the emperor.  Marley wore Selassie’s ring for the rest of his life.  Marley had found an acceptable replacement for his absent white father.  
 
He was a vegetarian and wore long dreadlocks from never cutting his hair because of Rastafarian beliefs that came from the ancient Hebrews.  He started every performance by proclaiming the divinity of Jah Rastafari who founded Rastafarianism in the 1930s when he was  crowned emperor of Ethiopia. 
 
The bible says that the Queen of Sheba, the ruler of Ethiopia visited King Solomon, King of Israel and they had a son Menelik, who became king of Ethiopia.  The Queen of Sheba adopted the Jewish religion and Menelik transferred the Ark of the Covenant from Jerusalem to Axum to found the new religion of the Falasha Jews in Ethiopia.
 
According to Jewish law, a person is Jewish if his mother is Jewish.  Being Jewish does not depend on the father.  The Queen of Sheba was Jewish even if she may not have known it at that time. According to genealogical lists from the book of Genesis, the direct descendants of Noah are Ham and Cush (Ethiopia) and Mizraim (Egypt), and the sons of Cush are Raamah, Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, and Sabtecha. The sons of Raamah are Sheba and Dedan, thus Sheba was descended from a grandson of Cush, a direct descendant of Noah (of Noah’s Ark) who was Jewish.   
 


 

His Love Relationships
Bob Marley married Rita Anderson in Kingston, Jamaica, on February 10, 1966 and had three children with her and adopted two of her children from her previous and present relationships.  He had several children with other women, and the Bob Marley official website acknowledges eleven children. Two more of his children are not listed on the website. 
 
After music, his major interest was soccer.  He was very athletic and played it regularly with his friends and loved the Brazilian club Santos and its star Pele.  He told a journalist, "If you want to get to know me, you will have to play football against me."
 
He considered cannabis a healing herb and used it regularly. In 1968, he was arrested for using marijuana as part of his religion.
 


 

Diagnosis and Death
In July 1977, he was diagnosed with a skin mole cancer called malignant melanoma under his toe nail.  Because of his religion, he turned down his doctor's suggestion to have his toe amputated.  Just his nail and nail bed were removed and the area was closed with a skin graft taken from his thigh.  He continued to tour and gave his last concert at the Stanley Theater in Pittsburgh, on September 23, 1980.  Soon after that, he fell down unconscious while jogging in New York's Central Park and found out that the cancer had spread to his brain, lung and liver.   He cancelled the rest of his world tour and went for treatment to Dr. Josef Issels in Bavaria. The dietary changes that were recommended did not help him. While flying from Germany to his home in Jamaica, he had a seizure and became very short of breath, got off the plane in Miami and on May 11, 1981, at age 36, he died. He was given a state funeral in Jamaica 
 
About Malignant Melanoma
Malignant melanomas are cancers that start in skin moles and can spread rapidly through your body to kill you.  This year an estimated 76,380 Americans will develop invasive malignant melanoma, the type that can kill you. About 46,870 will be in men and 29,510 in women.
 
Doctors use a mnemonic "ABCDE" to predict whether a mole is likely to be malignant. 
* Asymmetry: the mole is not a perfect circle and most of the mole is on one side of its border.
* Border Irregularity: The most significant predictor of malignancy is an irregular border.  Moles that have perfect circular borders are almost never melanomas. 
* Color: Colors vary from darker and lighter on the surface. It is often tan, brown and black and can also have some red, white or blue. 
* Diameter: The mole is larger than a pencil eraser, 1/4 inch or 6 mm
* Evolution: It has increased in size, changed shape or color, has started bleeding or become itchy, sensitive or painful. 
melanoma ABCDE
 
Risk Factors for Melanoma
* Excessive exposure to sunlight: Sunburns and cumulative exposure to sunlight increase melanoma risk.
* Smoking
* Family history:  Some genes control when cells grow, divide into new cells, and die.  Genes that help cells grow, divide, and stay alive are called oncogenes, while genes that keep cell growth in check or cause cells to die at the right time are called tumor suppressor genes.  We do not yet know why increased susceptibility to melanoma appears to run in some families.
* Fair, light skin, blond hair, blue or other light eye color.
* A previous melanoma: You are at increased risk for another melanoma after you have had a first melanoma, or a basal or squamous cell skin cancer.
* Decreased immunity: Factors that decrease immunity include chemotherapy, organ transplant, excessive sun exposure, lymphoma and diseases such as HIV/AIDs.
 
Predicting the Seriousness of a Melanoma
We have no specific test for cancer.  A diagnosis is made by a pathologist who looks at the cells under a microscope and describes what he sees.  Cells that appear very young and premature are more likely to be cancerous.  Next the pathologist looks specifically to see where the malignant cells are.  Melanomas start on the surface of the skin and grow down into the skin. The further down they grow, the more likely they are to have already spread through your body.  
 
If the malignant cells are all on the top surface of the skin, they are called melanoma in situ and they may be just precancers and not even be cancer at that time. Superficial spreading melanoma is on the skin surface and you have a very high chance of being cured of that cancer before it spreads.  Lentigo maligna melanoma and Acral lentiginous melanoma are other superficial melanomas that are usually cured with the first surgery. 
 
When the melanoma has grown down into the skin, it can already have spread through your body and be very dangerous. Level 2 means that it is deep, level 3 is deeper and level 4 may have spread already and has a very bad prognosis.  
melanoma levels
 
Treatments for Melanoma That Has Spread
At the time of Marley’s death in 1981, there were no effective treatments for melanoma that had spread to other parts of the body.  Today the treatment for these melanomas includes wide excision and often removal of local lymph nodes, interferon, radiation, immune drugs, T-VEC vaccine,  Bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine, interleukin-2 (IL-2) directly into the melanoma, imiquimod cream, limb perfusion, targeted therapy, immunotherapy, chemotherapy or a combination of immunotherapy and chemotherapy, and newer research protocols.  Last December, former president Jimmy Carter announced that his recent brain scans showed that he was clear of the melanoma cancer that had spread to his liver and brain. He took the FDA-approved immune-stimulator drug, pembrolizumab (brand name Keytruda). These drugs may be effective for treating melanomas that have already spread to other parts of the body. They stimulate your own immune system to recognize, attack and kill cancer cells. 
 
February 6, 1945 - May 11, 1981


 

October 23rd, 2016
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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