Gary Sweeney -- September 2013
I was looking forward to hopefully the final stop in a career marked with many changes in the healthcare imaging industry. When I went in for a routine check-up, little did I know that many of the diagnostic products I've sold and serviced over the past 30 years would come into play in such a dramatic way.
A small scalp mole that had been evident for approximately 5 years apparently had been changing and growing, as observed by my wife and daughter-in-law. In late May of this year, I was in the process of deciding to accept a new position with friends and former colleagues forming a new healthcare sales company and went to my GP for a routine check-up. He had monitored a mole for several years and, being convinced it as a mere "age-related" mole, just kept it under observation from time to time. While there, I asked him to remove the suspect mole. He once again stated that he didn't see the need, so I practically had to beg him to remove the mole and send it to a pathologist under the guise of humoring the women in my family. This was on a Tuesday, and on Friday I received a call from my GP's office asking me to call the doctor personally. After apologizing profusely, he told me he was "sorry to give me such bad news" and that I had melanoma, suspected by pathology at between Stage II and III. He suggested either he could arrange for a consultation with a surgeon or I could make the contact. Still in shock, I immediately contacted my daughter-in-law, who is a melanoma survivor herself.
I was put in the care of her own oncology physician/surgeon and received a wide excision of my scalp and sentinel node biopsy procedure. There was a 4x4 skin graft taken from my thigh to cover the hole in my scalp, and half a dozen lymph nodes taken from behind my ear and my neck and shoulder areas for pathology. Then I experienced over 2 weeks of prayer and processing of being a cancer patient awaiting the pathology results. I won't get into the detail of some of the challenges of healing from the surgery, as they pale in comparison to what could have happened had I waited just a bit longer. You see, I am fortunate in that there was no lymphatic spread of the melanoma evident in the pathology. I was put in the care of what I consider the finest oncology group in my area and had an amazing support group of caring, loving family and friends. To this day I believe the surgery served as confirmation of answered prayer.
I now am trying not to harbor animosity to my GP for ignoring my "age mole," but I am changing that part of my care cycle and vow to take charge of my own body and care by not ignoring the observations of my family and myself. The story here is that I am blessed that the melanoma was Stage IIC, but even that could have been avoided had I been more diligent in listening and seeing what my body was telling me. I plead with those that may read this to not simply rely on the opinion of one physician or healthcare professional and to take charge of their own health ... the only one who can be hurt by inaction is you. Others will move on and get over it. By the way, I did take the new job with my friends and now am involved in women's healthcare, specifically selling breast cancer diagnostic imaging products. Talk about irony, or ...?
Caitlin Ann Grosvenor -- September 2013
Hi there, my name is Caitlin Grosvenor, and I am a melanoma survivor. I was diagnosed with melanoma when I was 18 years old, just a few weeks shy of graduating from high school. I had been using a tanning bed since I was 16 years old. I had watched others around me fake tan, lay out in the sun, etc., and it did not seem like a big deal to me. My mother even had a tanning bed in her home office when I was younger. I was tanning in a bed every day for the longest amount of time at the highest level for 2 years. A few months before I graduated, I went to the gynecologist for an annual pap smear. Thank god I did.
During the pap, my doctor said she noticed a dark spot down in that area that had not been there a few months ago. She asked to do a shave biopsy, so I let her. (OUCH!!) About a week and a half later, I got the call ... I was on my way home from school when my doctor told me the news. I had cancer. At that moment, I pulled over into an HEB parking lot as I tried to understand the words she was saying. She said, "Caitlin, you have cancer. It is melanoma and we are going to need to do surgery." I started to sob. I did not know what to do, I was only 18. I was scared. So I scheduled an appointment with my dermatologist. I went in and she informed me I had Stage II melanoma.
I had two surgeries to remove all of the cancer because the first did not remove it all. I had to walk across my graduation stage with stitches from the surgery. I have been cancer free since June 2009. My biggest challenge was the lifestyle change. I have to wear sunscreen daily. I cannot stay in the sun near as long as other people, and if I am in the sun, I stay covered for the most part. I was never warned about the dangers of tanning beds. If I would have known what the consequences could be I would have stayed away.
If kids knew the danger and risks of tanning beds, some would think twice about getting in one. I know I would have. I am now very active with the banning of minors from using tanning beds. I think it needs to be a law in every state to protect them from going through the same thing I did.
Arnold Hold - August 2012
Back in April 2011 I had a fierce cough and finally went to see an internist I occasionally would see (last visit had been nearly 3 years), and he complained to me I should see him more often since I'm 59 years old. He checked out my breathing but did not ask me to remove my t-shirt under my dress shirt, prescribed an inhaler, and insisted I schedule a physical exam. So I went back to his office May 2011.
At the physical exam in May, with my shirt removed, I asked him about a dark black spot on my left shoulder. He specifically said he didn't think it was cancer, but he gave me the name of a dermatologist to have this looked at if I was concerned about it. I called that day for an appointment because I just sensed something wasn't right because it would bleed every time I would dry myself after a shower. The appointment was scheduled for mid-June.
I can't mind-read what the dermatologist was thinking, but he looked serious and said immediately the spot needed to be biopsied. So a couple of days later, I have phone messages on my cell, office, and home phones to call the dermatologist's office immediately. When I called they said I need to see a surgeon right away to have this removed as they determined from their initial pathology report it was a state 3 melanoma, although after the surgery it was called Stage II.
I had the surgery right around the 4th of July, with about a 7-inch scar from the top of my left shoulder going down my arm. The oncologist felt things went pretty well, I'm in otherwise good health with normal height and weight and take no medications, and he felt there was no need for chemotherapy or any other invasive treatments. The only problem though is that, as I write this in August 2012, my left arm tingles and still feels numb, probably because of some nerves that were severed, and the area where the surgery was done looks like I lost a fight.
Since then I've bought a couple of hats to wear outdoors and try to stay out of direct sunlight. In retrospect, I believe this melanoma may have developed due to often reading outside when I was in my 20s, and I was doing this during the summer months while not wearing a shirt or using sunscreen. Never thought reading magazine and newspapers outside would lead to melanoma, but if I had a chance to do this over I'd either read inside or wear a shirt and use sunblock.
Feel pretty good now, but this just kind of hangs around my mind about possible recurrences, and I go in for follow-ups while now much more respectful about the shortness of life.
Barbara Koerth - May 2012
My mother-in-law was putting some cream on my back because I have petechia, and she noticed a brown spot on my back and thought nothing of it. She then put more cream on my back a few days later and noticed the spot had turned purple and black and was weirdly shaped. It called for immediate attention, so I called my doctor. This was in February 2011, and I had my moles on my body looked at and he found three he wanted biopsied. We awaited the results, and they came back melanoma Stage II; I had no idea what that meant, and he had to explain to me. My life took on an extensive change from that moment on.
I was the girl who was always in the sun and tanned very easily. I enjoy being in the sun but learned very quickly the dangers of the sun and what it had done to me or what I did to myself. Tanning beds, getting that perfect tan to go with that perfect dress, not anymore. Now I cover myself in sunscreen no matter where I'm going. I limit my time in the direct sunlight and I watch my kids in it as well.
I have learned a lot from having this, and I still live with it and will be getting tested for Stage III next month. I'm a little scared but I know that I'm going to be okay. I have a huge support team, and I know I can get through this. I will continue to fight with all of my might.
I try to get my story out there for all to hear so that maybe one person will adhere to the safety concerns and issues with tanning beds and being in the sun for extensive amounts of time. I know I have learned!
Courtney Ashley - September 2011
My beautiful daughter, Courtney, is a sweet, fun-loving, intelligent, and very brave young lady. She makes me laugh and smile every day. She does very well in school, and is hoping to get a scholarship to Western Kentucky in Bowling Green. I can say she is not only my daughter, but is my very best friend.
Courtney was was diagnosed at 16 years old with malignant melanoma skin cancer, Stage IIC on May 12, 2011. Her tumor was 7 mm, ulcerated, invasive and had a high mitotic rate of 20.
Courtney had a mole on her left forearm since she was a little girl and at the beginning of 2011, it started growing, bleeding and itching. I had no idea what melanoma was or even that there was a deadly skin cancer, so I thought it was growing because she was picking at it. I kept telling her it would stop growing if she just stopped touching and picking. It didn't, and it only grew bigger and bled more.
In April 2011, I made an appointment to have the mole removed as she was going to prom the 2nd week of May, as it continued to bleed. On May 6, 2011 the dermatologist shaved the mole and sent it for a biopsy. He said he has never seen anything like it as it did not have any pigment. On May 12, 2011, the dermatologist called and said the results came back as malignant melanoma. We were stunned to say the least.
They immediately sent her for PET scans, CT scans an a MRI of her brain and liver, and an ultrasound of her liver as they thought it had spread, but thank goodness it did not. She was referred to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, and we arrived there on May 23, 2011. Courtney had to do all of the scans again to verify that she did have melanoma, and she did.
After all of the testing was complete, she had wide excision surgery to remove the tumor and margins, along with a lymph node dissection. We were blessed again as the cancer did not spread to her lymph nodes.
On June 15, 2011, she began her 4 weeks of high dose interferon treatment. On her 2nd week of treatment, she began having problems with her liver, so they did not do treatment for that week.
After spending 7 weeks at St. Jude, Courtney and I are home, and she continues a once a week peginterferon shot. She will take this for 48 weeks. She is having some side effects with this drug... nausea, fatigue and memory problems, but she is maintaining a positive attitude. She is very confident that she will beat this horrible disease. She will be complete her peginterferon treatment in June 2012, and we hope and pray she will remain cancer free. She continues to go to St. Jude for monthly check-ups and, again, every month we have been blessed with wonderful news that the cancer has not spread and she has not had any no secondary tumors.
I thank the Lord every day for watching over my daughter, and pray that the cancer will not spread. I will be by my daughter's side until the day I die. She will have to fight this the rest of her life, and we will do it together!
Breanne Owens - January 2011
Breanne Owens is a 5-year survivor of childhood melanoma. She was diagnosed at the age of six after her mother discovered what resembled a wart on Breanne's right leg that wouldn't heal. Soon after, Breanne came to MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital where she had surgery to remove the melanoma and received interferon chemotherapy. Now, Breanne only comes back to the Children's Cancer Hospital for checkups every four to six months with her pediatric oncologist.
Other than that, the healthy sixth-grader from Houston has gone back to life as usual, playing with make-up, keeping up with the latest trends and taking lots of photos with her friends. She openly shares her story with others to teach them the importance of sun safety.
Tim - June 2010
I had a lesion on my scalp that I thought was a sabaceous cyst in January 2010. It would bleed and was non-pigmented. My dermatologist believed it was basal cell. The biopsy came back as 2C melanoma and my world collapsed.
My surgery was the easiest part of my treatment - you can barely see a scar. There was no lymph node involvement. I sought advice from UC-San Francisco and Dr. O'day in LA. Everyone advised me to have the interferon treatment, which consisted of IV infusion 5 days a week for a month. It was a tough month with fatigue and nausea, but with my wife's support I made it. It took about 3 weeks for my stamina to return and not to have side effects.
The next step in treatment was more interferon, but a lighter dose. I did have some hand tremors from the month treatment (I'm a dentist), so it was decided not to rx the interferon.
I have now started another immunotherapy drug called Leukine which I inject sub-cutaneously for 14 days and off 14 days - each for one year. The effects are very mild and only amounted to mild headaches. I have 11 months remaining of this treatment.
Supposedly, all this treatment will cut down my chances of recurrence from 50% to 20%. But no one can really quantify it.
I don't dwell on the prospects of my cancer returning. I hope for the best -- that's all one can do.
Kate Mathews - May 2009
My name is Kate Mathews. I am 20 years old. I am a senior in college and am an elementary education major. I found a suspicious mole on my lower right thigh, slightly above my knee. The spot was small, but caught my attention because it was half shaded in and half un-shaded. I scheduled a routine check up with my dermatologist and pointed out the mole. My doctor agreed that it did look funny and decided to do a biopsy. I received a phone call about a week later from my doctor. The biopsy had shown that the mole was cancer. I made an appointment to meet with the cancer specialist. She informed me that my cancer was an early stage two melanoma. Thankfully, it was caught early, and my doctor and I decided that surgery was the best treatment option. I had the surgery a few days later. I ended up with a 4-inch incision and 27 stitches. Thankfully, the post-surgery biopsy came back clear of cancer!
Since the diagnosis, I have taken many precautions to protect my skin from the sun. I wear sunscreen every day and hats during outside activities. I see my doctor every three months. I have had multiple biopsies since the initial cancer diagnosis, but fortunately, all have come back clear. I have become an advocate for proper sun protection!