Victoria Crowe -- September 2013
My name is Vicki Crowe, I am 30 years old, and I was diagnosed with Stage I malignant melanoma (less than 1mm thick) on July 4, 2013.
When I was 16, I moved into an apartment situated next door to a sunbed shop - I guess looking back that is where it all started. From the age of 16 to 24, I would use the sunbed at least three times a week, usually for 9-12 minutes. As I approached the wrong side of 25, I reduced the amount of time I spent on the sunbed as I noticed premature ageing to my face and neck area. However, I still continued to tan at least once a week. I couldn't bear to be without a tan, and I really didn't care about the health risks - I thought I looked good.
About 6 years ago, my mother was diagnosed with melanoma. She underwent surgery at The Christie Hospital (which is a specialist cancer hospital in the UK). She was left with a huge scar of about 6 inches to her arm and was under hospital care for the next 3 years. I am so ashamed to say this now, but even that was not enough to stop me from using sunbeds. I couldn't understand why my mum used to get so upset about me getting a tan - I was selfish and unsympathetic, all in the name of vanity.
About 12 months ago, a small mole appeared on the bottom front of my left shin. I didn't really think anything of it as I do get new moles quite often. Over the next 6 months, I did see a change in the mole - it was dark, almost black, and raised. Things did start playing on my mind a little bit, but I put it to the back of my mind and continued to use the sunbed. Then, I was out one evening and I looked down at my leg and I just noticed that it had grown dramatically - probably doubled in size. My partner insisted that I see a doctor, so I made an appointment. My doctor said that it did look suspicious so he referred me to the dermatologist at the hospital.
I saw the dermatologist within 2 weeks, and straight away she wanted to remove it to be on the safe side. A few days later I got a call from the hospital asking me to go in that week. By this point, I was pretty sure I was going to be told it was cancer, and panic hit me. I was right....the diagnosis on the 4th of July was melanoma. I was referred to The Christie Hospital for a wide-excision, performed by a plastic surgeon.
Skipping forward to 2 weeks ago, I underwent surgery at the specialist cancer hospital. It was really scary and daunting to be in that environment with people around me suffering with cancer. I felt so guilty, as my cancer was completely self-inflicted, whereas other people were there through no fault of their own. I had my surgery under local anaesthetic, and believe me that was scary - watching, feeling everything that was going on.
I am now still in recovery mode. I have not been able to drive for 2 weeks or even walk very far. I have become reliant on my friends and family, and I have been depressed and fed up with being isolated to my house. I will be left with a scar about 4 inches long. I await my results from the biopsy in 3-4 weeks time, but I am feeling positive that the results will be ok.
I am now becoming an expert on fake-tan application! I wish I had just done this from the start, then I wouldn't have had to go through this pain and had my family worry over me. I will forever worry about new moles appearing or changes to my skin. When I hear my friends talking about using sunbeds, it really hurts me inside but I feel like I can't say anything because I didn't listen to people in the past. So please, if you are reading this - please don't use sunbeds and be extra safe in the sun!
Holly McGuire -- July 2013
My name is Holly McGuire. I am 28 years old, and I was diagnosed with Stage Ib melanoma
on June 11, 2013.
I am a natural blonde and was never able to "get a tan." When I was younger, my mom was always really good about making sure my sister and I had sunscreen on before swimming or going outside. As I got older, I stopped worrying about getting sunburned so much because being tan was the cool thing for girls my age. I went to a tanning salon no more than 10 times before I finally just accepted that I would never have a "healthy glow."
Fast forward to 2 years ago. I starting paying more attention to my body and lost almost 70 lbs. A mole I had on the back of my shoulder finally started to bother me. It was large, probably the size of a dime, and darker than the rest of the moles and freckles on my body (I have many). It had been there my whole life, but I had a gut feeling that it was time to have it checked out. As soon as I showed my family doctor, he said, "That needs to come off as soon as possible" and made me an urgent appointment with a surgeon.
The mole was removed on June 7, and I received a call from the surgeon herself on the 11th telling me it was melanoma (as I had secretly suspected and dreaded). On July 11, I had a wide excision, sentinel lymph node biopsy from my underarm, and four other moles removed. On July 18, I learned that the cancer had not reached my lymph nodes, and the skin removed during the wide excision was also clear.
This diagnosis has turned my world upside down. I am well aware that it can recur, so in addition to seeing my oncologist regularly, I will also see a dermatologist. I never thought that someone as pale as me would get skin cancer when I know of people who tan in tanning beds every single day. From now on, I will be hyper-aware of my body. I am so glad that something told me to get that mole checked out when I did.
Tanya Basalyga - June 2013
My name is Tanya Basalyga and I am 30 years old. I was diagnosed with melanoma at 29 years old.
I am a redhead with very fair skin. Growing up, I loved to be in the sun and swim in the ocean. My mom always made sure I was wearing sunblock. As I got older, it seemed that being tan was in, so there were those times when I would lay out in the sun or go to a tanning salon in the summer without using sunblock. Skin cancer was never a thought in my head until 2012, and that thought will be with me forever.
I was getting dressed one morning and noticed a mole on my back that stood out. It was large and didn't look right. I decided to go see a dermatologist for the first time in my life. The unknown is scary, but I knew I was in the right place and I knew I was doing the right thing by getting it checked out. The doctor took a biopsy of the mole. About a week later, I got the phone call that changed my entire life. I had melanoma.
The doctor told me the cancer was melanoma in situ. I made an appointment with a general surgeon to have it removed. A week after the surgery, I received another phone call that was devastating. The cancer was deeper than they thought, I had Stage I melanoma.
After my second surgery, I was told all of the margins were clear. It was good news to hear after what I had to go through the last several weeks. Since the original dermatologist appointment in 2012, I have had 10 moles removed, one coming back as melanoma and two coming back as atypical. I still have to go for checkups every 3 months, which is so important with having history of melanoma.
The scars on my body are a reminder everyday of the battle I am winning. I don't plan on losing. This can happen to anyone, so it's very important to be aware and to protect yourself from the sun. It means a lot for me to be able to share my story and I hope it makes a difference in your life.
Thank you to my family and to Steve for being such an important part of my life. Love you all with all of my heart.
Taylor Morrisett - May 2013
If it tells you anything, I was working at a tanning salon at the age of 15 for free "tanning time." This was back when we tanned for 30 minutes at a time and at least 5 days a week -- thinking the beds were safer than the sun -- mainly because this was the rumor. Far from the truth I found out in July 2009.
I have green eyes and dark blonde hair (naturally) and get a nice tan but prone to burn the first few times. I NEVER wore sunscreen when tanning outdoors --
At a wedding reception in the Summer of 2009 (age 33) a close friend that had Stage III melanoma back in the 1980's came up to me and mentioned that the mole on my bicep should be looked at -- that it did not look good at all. This was true -- it was a dark mole I had for approx. 14 years -- but suddenly developed a purplish raised area attached to the original mole within 6 months prior. The mole was about half the size of a pencil eraser. I went to the dermatologist the following week -- had the mole removed. About a week later while I was at work, I received the call that it was Stage I melanoma. I had no idea how serious this cancer was -- they sent me to a plastic surgeon to have the area of tissue around the mole removed as well.
I was so unaware and just plain uneducated on the subject of the seriousness of this cancer. When I arrived at the oncologist office, I actually went to the front desk (once I discovered I was at a cancer doctor's office) and told the receptionist I thought they had made a mistake -- that I was not supposed to be at a cancer clinic -- I was supposed to be at a plastic surgeon's office -- she couldn't help but laugh and inform me that I would not be there if my dermatologist did not send me. This freaked me out.
After seeing the oncologist, I was devastated to learn that I would have a 5- to 6-inch scar on my bicep after the surgery, and samples of my sentinel lymph node would be taken from under my arm to test if cancer had spread. I was so unaware of the seriousness even at that point -- the oncologist looked at me like I was nuts when I asked, "Does this mean I cannot go to the tanning bed anymore?" He said, "When I get done with that arm, you will never want to see another tanning bed."
He was absolutely correct. I would have rather given birth again than to have gone through that HORRIBLE surgery. The lymph node removal was even worse than the 5-inch scar that was left. So very sore.
The 2 weeks my family and I waited to get the results on the lymph node biopsy was more stress than you can imagine. I prayed CONSTANTLY for the results to be normal.
When I went back to get my results, I was clear!!!! -- no spread of the melanoma. Thank you, Lord!!! I went to the dermatologist every 3 months for the first couple of years and every 6 months thereafter. I have had about eight other moles removed (looking like Swiss cheese at this point), but better to be safe than sorry.
A few weeks ago I had one removed on my back that came back as a "Spitz Nevus" -- which is basically the type of mole that turns into melanoma -- so had to go back in and let them take a little more out -- now have a 1-inch scar on my back from that -- BUT -- VERY thankful it was not any worse.
I now do a spray tan to be tanned and wear SPF in the sun -- minimizing my exposure. This is tough when you have been a sun worshipper as I always have been since a teen -- and I tan so nicely -- you almost feel deprived -- but DON'T. This cancer is one of the worst you can get, and it can show up anywhere in your body. You are blessed if it shows its ugly face as a mere mole.
You must NOT overexpose yourself -- and NEVER, EVER, EVER, EVER go to the tanning bed!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Rays are much stronger and intense than the sun! This is exactly how mine came about -- I abused it like you would not believe -- not realizing that your skin is your largest ORGAN you have and is connected to everything INSIDE of you!!! Melanoma has a way of attaching itself.
So please, take this advice. I told my husband if I ever die from melanoma -- on my headstone I want under my name for it to read: "THE TAN WASN'T WORTH IT."
Dolina Potter - May 2013
My name is Dolina Potter. I am 61 years old. Here is my melanoma story.
It was the 1960's; the summer of '69 to be exact. It was "The Age of Aquarius," as the song goes. We would coat our bodies with baby oil and lay in the sun as the radio blared the words of that song. "... let the sun shine; let the sun shine in. Oh, sunnn... ." You get my point. We literally fried in the sun. Some girls would even use sun reflectors to get their faces good and toasty.
I am a redhead with a zillion freckles. I don't tan. My freckles just run together. I continued to sit in the sun each summer or use the occasional tanning bed, until last year. I developed some weird spots on my left arm. With the urging of my family, I went to a dermatologist last August. They were not your typical "spots." One was pink and the other was white and pink. The doctor had me come back in early September to do biopsies. While he was doing the samples, he decided to biopsy a tiny mole, also on that arm.
A week later I got the phone call that all three biopsies were positive for melanoma. The news rocked my world. I was sent to a melanoma surgeon and had surgery on Oct. 10, 2012. The margins came back clean, and I see a melanoma oncologist every 6 months since one of the spots was a Stage I. I am 7 months cancer free. I am a very grateful survivor. Sure, I have nasty scars on my arm that I try to conceal with long-sleeved shirts, but as time goes by I will consider them my victory scars. They can be opportunities to talk to someone about the dangers of sun exposure.
I owe great big thanks to my family for urging me to get seen by a doctor. Early detection is the key for survival! Let the awareness about skin cancer spread faster than cancer does! I am a grateful survivor! God is good!
Christina Bowen - March 2012
Won't Happen to Me
I was diagnosed with melanoma in Sept. 2008 at the age of 26 for the first time. Something hard to accept being a young mother of three boys, working as waitress, and a nursing student.
I have never been addicted to the sun or tanning beds. In fact, I hated being in the sun; it was too hot and gave me migraines. I would always simply burn and peal. Occasionally I would tan, though, for special occasions like weddings, summer, or vacations. Being naturally fair skinned, tanning seemed to give me a sense of self-confidence. I simply liked the way I looked with a tan.
I never had a lot of moles, but on a vacation in Mexico, I noticed a small mole on my left arm. It seemed to have a light red ring around it, which concerned me. Being a nursing student, I knew enough to get it looked at when I returned home. I found a wonderful dermatologist that did a biopsy on it, and a few days later I got the call that it was melanoma. My heart dropped, my eyes filled with tears, and I was suddenly speechless. I eventually managed to mumble the words to my husband who was packing to leave town (he travels for his job), and we cried together. How could this happen to me? I was always healthy and had a healthy family. No one can prepare themselves for such news, but I wasn't even worried about the results. I was sure everything would come back fine. I was wrong.
I got the local excision done a week later and was devastated with the results. It looked like a shark took a huge bite out of my arm. Working as waitress and reaching in front of people, I had to pack the "shark bite" with gauze and wrap it. I must say, though, years later it has filled in pretty well, and I can say I'm proud of it. I don't feel the need to hide anymore ... no shame here!!
I see my dermatologist every 3 months, and things were going good for awhile, until a routine checkup required a mole to be removed from the back of my neck. A couple days later I get the same news I've heard too many times in my life already. I go through the same procedure again. In total I have had eight moles removed, with two being melanoma. My body has seemed to triple with moles over the past few years as well. I am no longer obsessed with my body image but worried that more moles may mean a higher chance of the melanoma returning.
No one can be prepared to be given such bad news, especially when you have the mindset that "it won't happen to me." I had feelings of hate, worry, and sadness. So many unanswered questions, like why me? I worried for my children. Will I not be able to watch them grow up? Some days I was strong and thought to myself that I will beat this. Other days it got the best of me, when I felt hopeless and realized I was not in control.
Even after being cancer free for a good deal of time, I still worry from time to time that the next visit won't have such a good outcome. I have also learned to not dwell on it and live life better than I ever have. I'm now able to ignore the dishes and laundry and sit with my boys and read a book. That's something so small but previously hard for me to do. I want my boys to have the greatest memories of their mother, as we never know how much time we have with our loved ones.
I no longer take the sun for granted when it comes to myself or my children. I was told my boys have a 75% chance of getting melanoma, and that number pushes me to protect them in every way I can. Although melanoma has affected my life in a negative way, it has also been positive. I feel fortunate for my personal story, as others may have a harder battle.
If I could teach others about melanoma I would say this ... For all you regular tanners, now it may seem like a good choice to tan, but it could be deadly in the future. No one is excluded from melanoma! Remember that at one time we all believed "it won't happen to me" ... WRONG! Take precautions now to protect yourself in the future.
Meredith Miller Werdehoff - February 2012
In July 2002, I was 22, working like a dog in medical sales, and enjoying another summer of "fun in the sun" when work allowed. I am from Greek heritage, have dark hair and dark eyes, and sunburns are foreign to me. My family has always enjoyed the lake, the pool, and everything that goes along with hot southern summers, and we have NO melanoma history in my family. I live in the same city I grew up in, and I know many local physicians through my family and my job.
All it took was one trip to the dermatologist to turn my world upside down. I had gone in for an appointment to get information about products that could help with some facial breakouts I was having. As I got up off of the chair, I scraped my back against the metal edging on the side. As I felt a quick pain, I instantly remembered there was a "spot" on my back that had bled against my beautiful brand new white bath towels. I asked the nurse if she would look at it because I couldn't see what it was, but it wasn't going away and I had just irritated it on the chair. She took a look and said she wanted Dr. S to look. He came back in and said what I remember to be reassuring: "Let's take it off because it bled, but I am sure it is nothing because it tiny and looks totally normal." "How tiny?" I asked. "A little bigger than a pin head," he replied.
So, he did a punch biopsy and I was on my way. It was a Thursday.
Monday rolled around, and I was standing in a surgery working when the OR phone rang. The circulating nurse said it was for me. "Odd," I thought. I answered the phone.
"Meredith, this is Dr. S. I got the results back on that biopsy we took and it is melanoma. I have called Dr. K's office and he is going to add you onto the surgery schedule for tomorrow at 4:00pm." I just stood there motionless. Over my surgical mask, the tears began to flow. The surgeon I was working with stopped and wanted to know what was going on. I excused myself from the room, and I can remember the overwhelming feeling of being claustrophobic and needing air. Once I regained my composure, I called my dad, who is also a physician. I told him what Dr. S has said. He said he would call Dr. K directly and find out what exactly I needed to have done and what the prognosis was.
This MUST be a mistake.
They have mixed up my pathology report with someone else. Right?
I had to work on Tuesday. I worked all day, and then at 2:00pm, I went to pre-op to check in and change into a gown. It was surreal. I had been there helping doctors and patients, and now I was the patient. After awhile, they rolled me back to surgery. The whole time I kept thinking, this HAS to be a mistake.
On Friday, Dr. K called to say the depth was .88mm, which basically meant I was in the "gray zone" for the sentinal node biopsy. At that point I realized, there was absolutely no mistake. I decided go ahead with the biopsy. Better safe than sorry. So 6 days after the melanoma excision, I was scheduled for surgery #2. They injected the dimethelyne blue into the incision, and then I was placed in the scanner to see where the dye tracked. I watched on a small screen as the dye followed the path. I was mentally preparing myself.
There it goes... tracking to the left groin lymph nodes. I can do this. It is going to be okay.
I was calm and collected until the nurse pulled down my gown and with a black sharpie placed a rather large black "X" on my right breast/armpit.
WAIT!!!!! It went to my groin!!!!! Why are you marking my breast?!
I was overwhelmed with emotion. I started to hyperventilate. My legs went numb. I was crying. "Please tell me what this means!" "You were looking at the screen upside down. What you thought was tracking South, was actually tracking North. So the part of your back where the melanoma was, drains to the axial nodes in your right armpit. Dr. K will go in and remove all the nodes that are blue." She rolled me back to pre-op. Mentally, I was a wreck, and it didn't help that my entire family was staring at me fighting back tears of fear.
The pathology report came back on Tuesday ... clear. I never thought CLEAR would become one of my favorite words, but it is.
This summer marks my 10-year anniversary of being melanoma free. I guess I am what you call the "exception to the rule" of who melanoma most likely effects. It just goes to show that cancer of any kind isn't picky. If you are alive, then it could be you.
I have had many small excisions since then (I like to refer to myself as a looking like a "pin cushion") and am currently awaiting the pathology report on a spot (suspected basal cell) that I had removed this morning. I think about the past 10 years of my life and what I would be missing if I hadn't just "happened" to have that nurse look at my back.
It is truly hard to imagine.
Kristina Rist - February 2012
My name is Kristina. I am 25, a mother of a beautiful 10-year-old girl, just got my first house with the man of my dreams, a new puppy (we now have 3 dogs), and as of November 2011, melanoma.
I found a mole on my right ankle that was a bit raised, and being the paranoid person I already was, I went right in and had it removed. A few weeks later I received a letter in the mail stating I had melanoma Stage tIa, Breslow 0.4. It was like a ton of bricks hit me; I couldn't breathe and I immediately broke down crying. I am only 25, I just enrolled back in college, I have a new house; OMG, am I going to die?!?! So much goes through your head, usually the worst, too.
I went in and had an open excision done, which now means I have a big open hole on my ankle. I was laid up for almost a month because the pressure of walking was so painful. I have been very aware of every single mole on my body and have been in now and had two more excisions. I just got a call this morning saying that of the three biopsies they took 2 weeks ago, two of them are severe and will be melanoma if not excised. SO here I am again with another hole on my left leg and another scar on my back.
I have many moles on my body, so my gut is telling me this is far from over. But I WILL get through this. I spent so much time crying and feeling sorry for myself that now I just get angry and determined to get healthy, get rid of this, and live the life my family and I deserve. I, of course, am scared beyond belief but know I need to be strong for my daughter and my own sanity.
I wish teenagers knew how dangerous tanning is. I maybe tanned 10 times my entire life and got four sunburns, and that was all it took. I am hoping to organize some sort of skin cancer walk in our city to help raise awareness of how serious this cancer is. It's weird that even living in the city of the "great" Mayo Clinic I still feel like I'm not getting the answers I need or the expert eye this disease requires.
Kerri Danek - January 2012
Hi, I decided to write about my story, hoping that other young and old girls will stop going to tanning beds! My name is Kerri; I am a blond and have light skin naturally, although this does not always matter.
I can remember going to my first dermatologist in my early 20s. I have always had to have moles removed because they would look funny. I was embarrassed of how many I had, and I thought if I tanned people would not notice as much. So I would try and keep up with my dark-skinned girlfriends because I believed having a tan made you look better.
With much regret, I wish I was not a sun worshipper because I am paying the price. I did not go to tanning beds often, but I did go, like before I went on vacations to get a "base tan" and if I had a hot date. Back then I used tanning beds on the weekends, if I remember correctly, when I was 21-22 years of age, about once a week during the winter months since I live in Illinois. Once I had my first moles removed, probably at 24 years old, I did not go as often, which I felt compared to other girls was not often anyways.
My doctor encouraged me to wear sunscreen, which I always did, and watch for changes. He would remove my moles by scraping them off; then they would be sent out for biopsy. A couple came back dysplastic nevus, which is pre-cancerous, and then I would have to go back and get them cut out, with a few stitches. You would think this would make me stay out of sun, but although I was more careful, I still loved laying out. My friends would say, "Oh you will be fine, just wear sunscreen."
My life went on. I had my first child at the age of 26 years old, and I remember people saying he was going to come out tan because I was so tan. I remember having a mole cut out on my leg while I was pregnant. Life did go on, thank God, because of a good dermatologist. I want to mention that, at this time in my life, my best friend's mom, a very special person, was diagnosed with melanoma on her leg, and from the time she was diagnosed, she lived 5 years. Bless her heart, she died at the age of 52 from melanoma. So I was very aware of this disease.
Well, I got married and had two more children; we moved to St. Charles, Illinois, and every house we lived in had a pool. So I still continued to enjoy the sun! I found a good dermatologist and would go every year for a mole check. I have probably had over 30 moles removed, that's if I count my scars.
Last February I got the phone call from Dr. Blasak's nurse telling me one of my moles came back as melanoma. I cannot explain how this feels. The only people who can understand are all the victims of the many kinds of cancer when they tell you those words. It hits you hard, your thoughts go crazy, and the first thing I thought was I have 5 years. Not long enough to live out my life! I still want to do all the things on my bucket list!
I believe I think this way because of another special person I knew and loved. My friend's sister Shelly, who we had to bury 2 years ago because of melanoma that took her life at 38 years old. A young beautiful mom who had also found a mole on her leg, and from when she was diagnosed, she lived only 5 short years, not to mention she left two beautiful children (who miss her very much) behind because the melanoma had spread to her lymph nodes.
I am a survivor and I have great faith that these special people are watching over me. My doctor was able to cut mine out for now, and my margins came back clear. I am grateful.
I thought I lived through my greatest fear, but guess what? I was wrong. Just this past month, my only daughter came home from college and told me she was going to go to Dr. Blasak because she did not like the way a mole looked (brown mole with a black dot in it) on her upper thigh. I looked and said, "Oh geez, I think you're over-reacting, but if you want, make the appointment." She did! Thank Heavens! He removed it, and we did not hear back right away on the account of the holiday. It was on my mind, and the same morning I was going to call, I heard from the nurse. She could barely get the words out "It came back as melanoma."
I love my daughter more than any words could describe. I am shocked. My daughter is not a sun worshipper; she does not deserve this. I feel terrible that she has to go through it for the rest of her life. She is predisposed because I have had it. I know it can always be worse, and I thank God that she was smart enough to hopefully have caught it in time. I am telling you speaking from experience, It hurts being cut on. Ariel has no choice; she will have to be brave and go under the knife. This coming Sunday morning, we have her surgery scheduled because our doctor knows and has seen first hand how melanoma can take lives. He and his nurse are willing to meet us in the office so he can get rid of her skin cancer!
Please protect yourselves against this deadly disease. Thanks for reading!
Sincerely, Kerri Danek
Jessica Rogowicz - August 2011
I Won't Get Cancer, I'm Too Young
I am 28 years old and have recently been diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer for the second time in my life. Here is my story...
I was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Since I was 6 years old, my family vacationed at Ocean City, MD. I would wear sunscreen but had countless sunburns in my life. In high school, I would go to the tanning salon occasionally, mostly for prom and other dances. During college, I really liked the way I looked when I was tan, so I started tanning on a regular basis. I went twice a week for about 2 years. I went to a salon that offered a variety of beds. There were beds with 42, 54, and 60 bulbs. I wanted the best tan, so on top of my monthly package, I paid extra for the beds with 60 bulbs.
My dad had basal cell carcinoma on his nose. He had it removed, and he is fine. My parents warned me about the dangers of tanning beds. I cared more about what I looked like though. I decided that I would continue tanning and would stop "when I got to the risky age of getting cancer ... like in my 50s." I could continue going tanning and wouldn't damage my skin for many years, or so I thought. I figured that even if I got skin cancer, it would be similar to my dad's basal cell -- I would get it removed and then I would be fine. I had no clue that skin cancer could spread and that it can be deadly.
Over the years, I developed freckles and many moles. During the summer of 2007, I decided that I would get a mole on my knee removed. It was raised, and sometimes I would knick it when shaving. I happened to notice a darker mole on my back that seemed new and awfully dark in comparison with my other moles. I'm a teacher, and since I have off during the summer, I decided it couldn't hurt to go get it removed while I had the extra time. No big deal.
I had both moles removed by my primary care physician, Dr. Fackovec. I remember him telling me that he was going to send me to a plastic surgeon, Dr. Stofman, to take a deeper incision. I wasn't worried, because even if it was skin cancer, skin cancer is a "pretend cancer" that people don't die from. I remember receiving a call from Dr. Stofman a few weeks later and him telling me just to keep an eye on those areas and make sure the moles don't grow back or the scarring doesn't change. Once again, it was no big deal. I hate to admit it, but I still went tanning. Why stop? After all, I didn't have cancer. I thought all of the testing was over...just had some moles removed, as I have in the past, and have always been fine. October 31, 2007, changed my life forever.
I vividly remember getting the call that the mole on my back was melanoma. It was Halloween Day 2007, 3 days shy of my 25th birthday. I was in my classroom at the end of the day, and I noticed that I had a voicemail on my cell phone from my plastic surgeon's nurse. I thought, "That's strange. Wonder why the doctor needs to talk to me, all of the tests came back fine." When I called Dr. Stofman, I remember him telling me that I have melanoma. He went on to say that he was referring me to Dr. Edington, who works through Magee Women's Hospital. I remember responding to everything he said with, "Okay." I couldn't ask or say anything else, because if I did, I would start crying. I got off the phone and started hysterically crying. I called my husband, who was my boyfriend at the time, and told him that I had melanoma. For some reason, I didn't fear that I had cancer and still didn't think that someone could die from skin cancer, but at the same time, it was horrifying getting that call. In my head, "Oncologists are cancer doctors. Why do I have to see one of those? Why can't my plastic surgeon just remove the cancer?"
I was diagnosed on October 31, 2007. My surgery was scheduled for November 28, 2007. My cancer was still in the early stages, and it was slow growing. I understood that they had to treat patients with more severe cases first. The month of waiting was torturous. For the first few weeks after my diagnosis, for whatever reason, I didn't do any research online. Looking back, my life was a fog. Two weeks after being diagnosed, my grandmother passed away. My family and I were dealing with me having cancer and now the loss of my grandmother. I still had no idea that melanoma can be deadly. My family, boyfriend, and friends knew it could be fatal, but they wanted to keep my spirits up. I remember my sister crying to me on the phone asking, "You're not going to die are you?" I'm the big sister, so I had to be strong and pretend like I was fearless.
I had a lymph node removed and had a deeper and wider incision taken out of my back. I have a scar that is about 6 inches long and about ½ inch wide. The mole that was removed was no bigger than a pencil eraser. I had a tube in my back to drain fluids to avoid infection. I didn't leave the house for 3 days. My husband asked if I wanted to go to a basketball game. That was the first time I left the house since surgery. I still had my drain tube in and was still a little sore. Before the basketball game, he took me to the elementary school where we had first met, and he proposed to me.
Just to recap, I was diagnosed on October 31st, my grandmother passed away on November 14th, had surgery on November 28th, and got engaged December 1st. My life was a roller coaster, but luckily things were looking up. I was newly engaged, and at my follow-up appointment I found out that the lymph node showed no signs of cancer. It was all gone!
I had instructions to stay out of the sun and wear sunscreen everyday, even in the winter. If I did vacation at the beach, I had to stay under an umbrella. I also had to be checked by my oncologist every 3 months.
Since then, I stayed under the umbrellas at the beach. But I vacationed in Las Vegas, Florida, Ocean City, Mexico, and other sunny places. I like to think that I kept in mind that I had cancer and tried to be careful, but I also didn't live in a bubble. I have to admit, if I was just walking my dogs for a few minutes or was running outside for maybe a half hour, I wouldn't wear sunscreen.
During the summer of 2011, I was at the beach for a few days while my family was vacationing there. I noticed a dark, asymmetrical mole on the back of my right leg. I had a bad feeling about it, but I have also had bad feelings about moles in the past few years that turned out to be nothing. I already had a check-up scheduled so I would ask my oncologist about it.
Dr. Edington thought it looked "weird enough" to remove. He sent it for testing and 2 weeks later, on July 26, 2011, I got the call that it was melanoma again. I started hysterically crying to his nurse, Rhea. I remember saying, "This is my second time with melanoma. I'm only 28. I'm too young to be going through this!"
My surgery is coming up in a few days. They will perform the same procedure that they did in 2007. This melanoma is Stage IA. My last melanoma was also Stage I. I know they caught it early and the chances that it has spread are unlikely at this time, but I know that this will be a lifelong battle. Wearing sunscreen will be a part of my daily life. It took being diagnosed with melanoma for me to stop tanning. I still enjoy outdoor activities and sometimes I can't avoid the sun, but when I am in the sun, I'll do my best to protect myself. Unfortunately, I still have a few friends who use tanning salons. It annoys me because they have no idea how scary it is to get the call that you have cancer.
I didn't write this story to get sympathy or have people feel bad for me. I hate to complain about having cancer, because I know that in comparison to what others are going through, I'm very lucky. I feel healthy, never had to go through chemotherapy or radiation (knock on wood), have a great support system, and can basically live my day-to-day life as a healthy person. I want to live to grow old with my husband and family. I want to be here to say to my great-great-grandchildren, "When I was your age ..." I don't want my parents to lose a child. I want to be going to the mall and out to lunch with my sister when I'm 80 years old. I'm hoping that I haven't damaged my skin to the point that it cuts my life short.
No matter how much money you have or how much you are loved, anyone can get melanoma. Cancer can't always be cured. You can't just write out a check to fix this problem or ask your parents to bail you out of this situation. With my story, I am hoping to spread melanoma awareness and want others to learn from my careless mistakes.
~Jessica (Vega) Rogowicz
August 22, 2011
Tammy McGraw - August 2011
Oh how I loved the sun! Tanning in it, sitting in it, and going to the tanning bed when there was no sun. It relaxed me, made me feel good and gave me a glow. Until July 2011...
It started out with a lesion on my chin that would not heal. Four months went by and I had went to my PCP twice for medication in hopes to clear it up. I finally asked my PCP for referral to a dermatologist. I made the appointment and went in July. She said, "Not a biggie" it's keratosis and we'll treat it. Let me take a peek at your back." Then she said, "That does not look so good and this needs removed today." i had a mole on my lower left back that i never noticed. Not ever really have gone to a dermatologist I told her to do what she felt necessary not really giving it a second thought. I mean, who would've thought I'd get skin cancer, or so I thought.
About four days later I received a call at home from her telling me it was Invasive Melanoma, stage 1a, Clark's Level III. I heard almost nothing beyond the word cancer. My mind raced. She apologized for calling me at home but had already scheduled surgery for the next week. I asked her to fax me the pathologist report as that would allow me to research to fully understand what this is I have. I cried most of the night.
I had the surgery, Wide Local Excision and was surprised by the amount of tissue they removed. Morbidly enough I took a picture of the specimen and stitches before they packed me up. They cut down to the muscle. They were extremely informative and very nice and answered every question as they knew I was terrified. He ended up finding two more suspicious moles and recommended I follow up with my dermatologist. The pathology came back clear from cancer in the excision spot. I went in on 8/9 to have the other two moles biopsied and am awaiting results from those.
To make matters worse for me is that my best friend had been diagnosed with cervical cancer in October Stage IV. She hadn't been doing good and was terminal. While I was having surgery to save my life she had passed at the same time. I bring her up because hers could've been avoided if she would've had a pap.
I was so uneducated about having my skin checked. Nobody tells you or discusses it. I'm fair-skinned with blue eyes. I am hopeful all is well and am so grateful that my dermatologist took that extra few minutes out her busy day to check something I did not go in for. I will always be grateful for that and spread the word about melanoma. I have started some advocacy work and am excited to teach others and tell my story. Thank you for allowing me to tell mine here.
Christy Hale - January 2011
I am 39 years old (and holding!) and reside in Kentucky. I now see a skin cancer specialist at the Nashville Skin and Cancer Clinic in Nashville, TN for quarterly follow-up visits.
In late August of 2010, I noticed a tiny mole on my abdomen was oozing blood around the edges. The mole itself was tiny, only .5 cm, and was just slightly raised with a normal brownish color. Because one of my very good friends is a dermatologist, I called and told him about this mole. He advised me to come into his office to be examined that week just to be on the safe side since I have had three precancerous lesions removed within the past decade.
Upon visually examining my mole, my dermatologist told me that it needed to be removed but that it did not appear to be anything serious. He performed a shave biopsy for removal and sent it to a dermatopathologist for diagnosis. Within 3 days, my dermatologist delivered the news that I had a Clark's Level II malignant melanoma. He said that I would need surgery within just a few weeks to have the mole and the surrounding tissue removed. He also told me that I was blessed to have found the melanoma this early and that based on the location of the cancer, it very likely would have spread within 6 months and become fatal. In addition, he told me that based on the melanomas he has seen in the past, my particular lesion did not have the classic appearance of melanoma and that it could have been easily missed had the spot never been biopsied.
In September of 2010, I had surgery to remove four inches of skin around the mole and the surrounding tissue down to the muscle below on my abdomen. I had no lymph node involvement and did not have to endure chemo or radiation. I now see a female skin cancer specialist quarterly for full body examinations. My first post-surgical exam was in November of 2010, and so far, I am cancer-free.
Cancer knows no boundaries. It can strike anyone at any time. There are some ways to be vigilant in finding melanoma. I would stress that any skin lesion that itches, bleeds, or changes colors should be examined. Even the most innocent-looking lesions can turn deadly in a short period of time. I'm so very fortunate mine was caught early. Praise God!
Melinda Bentley - 2009
Exactly 11 years ago today I had plastic surgery to remove a malignant melanoma on my back. I was only 25 at the time. In some ways it was a blessing to be so young because I was somewhat naïve to what "malignant melanoma" meant and how bad it could have been if caught too late. I visited a dermatologist to have her remove some moles on my face - for completely cosmetic reasons. She insisted on a full skin check. It was the first time I had ever had a full skin check.
She found a suspicious mole between my shoulder blades. Coincidentally, it was the same mole that my husband told me was green following a severe sunburn on a cruise about three months earlier. I wasn't concerned. After all, I burned at least once per summer. Not to mention my multiple years of tanning bed use. I was a pro when it came to tanning...at least that's what I thought. That suspicious mole was a Clark's Level II malignant melanoma.
Fortunately, it was found early and one giant scoop out of my back was all it took to remove all cancer cells. I have since had about 19 surgeries on various spots on my arms, back, legs, and stomach to remove pre-cancerous moles. I have skin checks twice per year at this point. I have two-year-old twins who already know what sunscreen is and won't go to the pool without their "sunshine lotion."
I had the pleasure of knowing and working with Jim Schlipman. His battle with melanoma made this so much more real for me. I believe in this fight and want to help educate people like the 25-year-old sun lover who had no clue 11 years ago. I am blessed to be melanoma free!
December 16, 2009
36 Years Old
Colleen Sawaia - 2009
I started using the tanning beds to tan for my Junior Prom. From there, I would go tanning during only the summers. When I was in college, I would go on and off during the year. The last 3 years, I went consistently ranging from once every 10 days to 2 times per week. The important thing to see here is that I never really burned and I tanned very easily. I did not go to the beach often, but when I did, I never used sunscreen. The fact that I was young, with no family history of skin cancer, and that I rarely burned made me think I would never get skin cancer.
One day when I was putting on lotion, I thought I felt something on my left buttock. I looked to see what it was and it was a very small, slightly pink, almost flesh colored bump. I thought maybe I touched one of the tanning bulbs and got a little burn there. I didn't really give any more thought to it. Over the next year, the bump got slightly bigger and more pink in color. I went to a dermatologist and explained my concern. I told her I did go tanning and I noticed this new thing on my buttock. She took one look at it and said it is nothing to worry about. She told me it was smaller then a pencil eraser, it was all one color and even edged, and basically it was just a new mole. She made me feel stupid for being concerned. She told me that they don't like to remove things don't need to be removed, and just to keep an eye on it.
So, I watched it, and really thought if a dermatologist said I was ok, then I must be. I continued tanning and the spot did get bigger. It grew very slowly, it remained pink, but darkened to a deep pink now and it didn't hurt or bleed. It was perfectly round and all the same color. I thought oh no, melanoma means it would have to be dark brown, or black and uneven colored, with an irregular border.
I finally went to my PCP about 2 years after this started growing. She was a NP and thought it could be something, but not skin cancer. She recommended I make an appointment with the doctor to look at it. Well I made the appointment that day. The earliest I could get was about 4 weeks away. I ended-up having to cancel it. I rescheduled as soon as I could.
By the time I saw the doctor the area had grown even more. It now developed a light brown color to the outer portion of the mole. So the mole was still completely round, but the outer ring of the mole was now brown. The doctor told me I had ring worm and gave me an ointment to use. I tried to explain that this spot had changed color and I have had it for about 3 years and it continued to grow. He told me he didn't want to remove it because it was nothing serious. So, I used the cream and of course nothing happened. I never went back to him.
I am a nurse and was working at Beth Israel Deaconnes in Boston at this time. I had a patient one day who was 52 and just diagnosed with Stage 4 Melanoma with about 6 months to live. This man had a scab on his head that didn't heal, so he went to he doctor and just got this diagnosis. It had now spread to his lungs, brain and bones in a matter of a few weeks. As I watched this poor man receive this grave, awful, terrifying news, I thought to myself he is so young. This was such a shock. I need to get checked.
I made an appointment with a new PCP there at BI and she gave me a referral to see a dermatologist. I had the appointment, still expecting it wouldn't be anything serious, maybe basal cell carcinoma. The doctor took one look at it and said it doesn't look good and it needed to be removed. My heart started pounding and I started crying. I was so scared of the unknown.
They took the biopsy and called me about a week later with the results. Sure enough it was melanoma. I still couldn't believe it. I was 24 years old. I don't know why I thought that just because I was young I was immune to this. I just sat there silent for a minute and then asked ok, now what? The nurse said I would have to come in and get a bigger area removed. That was the only explanation I got.
I went in for the next surgery and was completely shocked to the extent of skin/tissue that needed to be removed. They decided to remove a little more than usual because I was so young and they wanted to be sure they got everything. They removed tissue down to the muscle and I think I had about 76 stitches total. It was a bit traumatic because I was going to be left with a huge scar and indent to my butt. It may sound vain, but it bothered me to know I just had a huge chunk of my body removed. Luckily, all that tissue they removed came back clear. I was diagnosed with Stage I, Clark's Level 2 Melanoma.
The recovery was uncomfortable and there are still days where the area aches.
I still don't have any feeling to that area. It has now been about a year and half since this happened and I still can't believe it.
I look at that scar every day and it is a constant reminder of my melanoma. It reminds me that I am not invincible and that this is real. I won't lie and say I don't miss tanning, but I have not gone since. I'm just mad at myself, that I let vanity get in the way. Yes, you might feel prettier, or better being tan, but is it really worth your life? I am proof that you really do never know what can happen, and I am not the typical high risk person.
I just want to get my message across to young people and let them know it can happen to you. Even if you don't have fair skin, even if you never burn, even if you are young, it can happen.
My prognosis is good and my chances of reoccurrence are low, but I still don't want to risk having more scars and pieces of my body removed. You can't predict where it might strike next and that is just it, this disease is unpredictable.
There are times where I worry myself sick and get depressed about it, but I have to remind myself that I have to just live my life and be more careful. I always use SPF 70 when I know I will be outside in the sun. I limit any time I do spend in the sun and I don't go in the sun for the purpose of tanning. If I go to the beach, I sit under an umbrella.
I am still so thankful that I had that patient that day and in my eyes he was my angel sent from God to give me that push to go get checked. His unfortunate and tragic situation helped save someone else's life, hopefully my story can do the same.
26 years young
J. Allyson Cummings - 2009
Angels are everywhere. They're at the grocery store - the old woman whose eyes still twinkle. They can come into your life and be gone just as quickly. They're parents of your child's friends, or at least my angel was. We're not in contact any more, but I still consider her my "angel." When my daughter was 7, she started playing soccer. You soccer parents out there know how fleeting these relationships are with other soccer parents - they last about as long as the soccer season does!
My angel was a nurse at a local hospital. We would sit on the side lines, talking about our work life, our girls, our difficulties as single parents. She came to one practice, particularly upset about her day. A young single mother had come in to get the results of a mole biopsy, and it had come back Stage IV melanoma. The doctors gave her weeks to live. I never met this woman, but between the two of them, they saved my life. My angel explained to me the importance of getting moles checked out. That story scared me enough to begin to get my moles examined.
I started getting them checked in 2005 by a local plastic surgeon that specializes in skin cancers. He has been specializing in this field for over 30 years, and my mother recommended him to me. My father had gone to him, and had 2 moles removed that turned out to be basil cell carcinoma. Every year, except for 2008 when I was married, I would go get checked, and he remove a couple of mole. So, when I had 2 more moles removed in April, 2009, I thought it would be no different than the previous years. Imagine my disbelief when his nurse called me on April 22nd and told me that the results were back, and the Dr. wanted to discuss them with me. I was at work, and started shaking and didn't stop until my husband and I arrived at the doctor's office. The doctor walked in, and with no preamble, said "Well, this is the stage I like to catch melanoma." What?! Surgery, wide local excision, was scheduled for the very next day, followed by 4 weeks of recovery at home. Luckily, my employer is extremely understanding!
Within a matter of months, I had learned more medical terminology than I cared to know; PET scans, wide excision, cancer. My PET came back clean, which is exciting, and basically, my doctor owns me for the next 5 years - you know the drill, every 3 months I go in and get a "visual scan" to determine which moles come off next. I had 2 removed a month ago that he said it was a good thing we got now, because they're the kind that develop into melanoma.
The numbness has still not worn off. Some days, this happened to someone else, and I'm watching a documentary about their experience. Others, I want to rant and rave - basically want to rip someone a new one. Happily, most days, I want to find my "angel" and thank her for saving my life.
J. Allyson Cummings
(I'm the bride in the photo)
Barbara Newman - 2009
In July 2002, I heard the word I never expected to hear: CANCER. I went to a dermatologist because a mole on my lower-left leg started to change color. I was devastated with the diagnosis: stage I melanoma. Immediately, I went on the Internet to learn about melanoma. The information I found was not promising and convinced me I was going to die.
I went to a wonderful oncologist, and, with his help, I enrolled in the Sunbelt Melanoma Trial. For the next several months, I went through anxiety, fear, and depression over the unknown even though I had a promising prognosis.
I discovered The Schlip Miles for Melanoma Walk in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, and I began to feel better. At the walk, I learned that there are many stage II, III, and IV survivors. Every year, I participate in The Schlip Miles for Melanoma Walk (now, Aim for a Cure Miles for Melanoma Walk) because it makes me feel good and gives me a chance to meet other warriors.
I am vigilant about my health, and by the grace of God I am in remission. The only hope for cure beyond early detection is through research. Early detection can only be possible through public awareness and education.
Jane Lohrentz - 2009
My mole (melanoma) appeared during my first pregnancy in 2004. I brought it to the attention of my OBGYN and was told that it was not unusual to grow new moles during pregnancy. Soon after, I was pregnant again and the mole kept getting bigger and uglier.
In 2006, just 6 weeks after my baby was born and my older daughter was two, I was diagnosed Stage 1B Melanoma - a Breslow depth .8mm and Clark's level IV.
I had visited my Primary Care Physician (PCP) thinking I had a basal cell carcinoma on my shoulder. While the doctor was removing the lesion, vanity made me ask him to remove the ugly mole on my left, upper arm.
To my surprise, he called a week later and told me I had cancer. The lesion on my shoulder was basal cell... and the ugly mole on my arm was Melanoma!
My head began spinning. Did someone punch me in the stomach? I think I'm going to throw up... shock... am I going to die? What happens next? Will I leave my husband and two babies to fend for themselves? These were just some of the thoughts and feelings I experienced during the following moments. Everything was a blur.
My PCP referred me to a skin cancer surgeon, who then referred me to a surgical oncologist doing a study on melanoma patients. The next step was to have a wide local excision (WLE) to surgically remove the melanoma. I was also encouraged to have a sentinel node biopsy (SNB) at the same time to determine if the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes.
Waiting to hear the results was agonizing. When rocking my daughter to sleep, the tears would flow from my eyes. I could not stop wondering if I would get to see her grow up. I realized I was not invincible.
Six days later, my husband and I received the results in the doctor's office. God's grace gave me a peace and I was ready to hear the outcome, whatever it was. It was excellent news. No traces of melanoma found in the two nodes they removed. I was still Stage 1 - the best possible news given the situation.
I go for skin checks every 3 months - which is so important. A year after my initial diagnosis, my doctor found another suspicious mole that turned out to be a melanoma in-situ. Nothing new has come up since then. I check my skin once a month to look for any changing moles and keep up with my doctor's appointments.
I've settled into a comfort zone and have accepted my situation as one of good news. The anxiety lessens and life goes on. I'm careful about my exposure to UV radiation and stay out of the sun as much as possible during the mid-day hours. I also wear sun protective clothing if I go outdoors for any length of time.
I've found comfort in talking with others in the same situation. Participating in melanoma walks and events have been helpful. I'm thankful for all the blessings given to me. I have a new appreciation for people and simple joys in this life... and am grateful to God for it all. I will be okay, no matter what happens. Melanoma is not going to control my life.
My hope is that a cure for melanoma will be found so that no one suffers unnecessarily.
Parker Dalton - 2009
Parker's lifelong dream was to play college baseball.
After being recruited by numerous schools, Parker chose to play at Texas A&M. In the summer of 2006, Parker realized that he had to have surgery on his shoulder. It had been a difficult decision on whether or not to even go back to A&M. His past season had not been his best and the coach had told him that he would probably sit on the bench his senior year. After much deliberation, Parker decided that he would go back to A&M and have shoulder surgery. In regards to sitting on the bench, he said, "If someone was going to play above him, Parker would help that player be the best he could be." Parker truly is the definition of a team player.
Parker had shoulder surgery and was excited to go back to school and start fall baseball. My mom made him go to a routine dermatologist appointment in which the doctor removed a mole from his back. Later that week, the doctor called my mom to tell her that Parker had melanoma. Parker had surgery at MD Anderson in which they removed more of the area on his back and his lymph nodes to see if the cancer had spread. His doctor and the whole team at MD Anderson were incredible. If the cancer had spread, Parker would have had to go through treatment and baseball would not be an option. Thankfully, the doctors removed all the cancer and Parker did not have to go through radiation or chemotherapy. Parker still had to sit out of fall ball due to the surgery. The doctors would not even let him throw a baseball.
Finally, in the spring, Parker, would play ball again. He had been through many trials so far that year. He had shoulder surgery and then he had melanoma and couldn't play the whole fall. Parker was content with the fact that he had not picked up a baseball in months and would spend his senior year on the bench. He did not start the first couple of games of the season but soon began to start again. Parker's batting average at one point was one to the top 3 in the Big 12. Newspapers and radio stations started calling Parker's season a miracle and The Comeback Story of the Year. A&M won the big 12 tournament and went to the Super Regionals.
Through all of this, Parker let God have all the glory and was able to share his faith with a wide audience due to what he had been through. Parker had the best season of his career that year and was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in June 2007. Parker's lifelong dream had been to play college baseball and 2007 was one for the record books. God blessed him with the ability, not to have baseball stop when he graduated, but to play longer in the pros. He has spent the past three years playing the game he loves most. He is currently playing in Midland, Michigan.
Elizabeth Dalton, (Sister)