International Survivor Spotlight: José Correia, Portugal

By Mara Klecker

José Correia’s melanoma diagnosis was nearly a quarter-century ago, but he is committed to spreading awareness about the disease, especially in his home country of Portugal.

The 86-year-old aims to help produce an hour-long television program featuring dermatologists and oncologists sharing information about melanoma prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. He also plans to share his own survival story for viewers.

“What’s needed here is information,” Correia said, adding that he wants people to know about both melanoma prevention and treatment. He estimates the television program could reach a couple million people.

“When people here think about cancer, they think about the interior of the body and forget about their skin,” he said.

Correia is an international advocate with AIM at Melanoma and offers AIM’s resources and education whenever he can. Still, he worries that the beachgoers sunbathing on Portugal’s coasts aren’t aware of the dangers of the sun on their skin. Typically, people head to the water in the early afternoon, right when the sun is at its peak, Correia said.

His own parents thought moving from the Czech Republic, where he was born, to a beach location in Portugal was a healthy choice for children. Many Portuguese people share that belief about the benefits of the sun and the sea. He lives close to the beach himself and enjoys swimming and boat racing. And his children also love spending time by the water, in the sun.

In 2014, one of Correia’s sons was diagnosed with melanoma at age 50. Now both father and son are religious about seeing their dermatologist regularly, and Correia’s son recently had another mole removed.

Correia’s own melanoma journey began in 1996 when he noticed a small black mole on his right arm. He was diagnosed with Stage III melanoma and told he likely had about 5 to 7 years to live.

“I just said ‘OK, what do I have to do?’” Correia remembered.

He underwent surgery to remove the mole as well as his lymph nodes and then began his schedule of frequent dermatologist visits.

Since 1996, he’s had more than 20 moles removed, though none of them have been cancerous.

With his characteristic positivity, Correia jokes that the dermatologist has been taking him apart “one piece at a time” with all of the mole removals.

Despite the many doctor’s visits, Correia kept working until age 79. He was determined to keep traveling and enjoying his work and family.

“Maybe it’s a little crazy, but I didn’t think about being sick, especially after 24 years,” he said. Still, he did think about the need for more information and resources for melanoma prevention and melanoma patients in Portugal.

“Melanoma needs to be understood everywhere that the sun and the beach exist,” he said. “It’s a worldwide disease.”

But Correia said with organizations like AIM at Melanoma and the advancement in melanoma research in recent years, he says “I have many reasons to be optimistic,” he said. “And we’ll keep working.”

 

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