Survivor Spotlight: Amy Flavin, Stage IIA
Amy Flavin is a gifted photographer, a devoted wife and mom, a talented fundraiser, and a person who loves to laugh. She is also a Stage IIA melanoma survivor, diagnosed in 2017 at the age of 47, who makes it a priority to teach others about sun safety and protecting their skin.
How did you feel when you were first diagnosed?
Nervous. Worried. Scared. There were so many emotions going through my mind. I was actually at work and had been told the news over the phone by my dermatologist because he couldn’t make it to the office to tell me in person and he didn’t want me to wait any longer. I was already planning on leaving work early because I was battling a head cold, so after I finally processed what he had said to me, I went home and ended up sleeping for hours. When I woke up it was close to dinner time and I knew that my fiance and our kids would be home soon and that I was going to have to tell them all what was going on.
Did you know anything about melanoma at the time of your diagnosis?
I knew very little about skin cancer in general and even less about melanoma. I knew that because of my light skin, I had a higher chance of skin cancer, but like so many people, figured it would never happen to me.
How did you tell your family about your diagnosis?
I’m a pretty straightforward person and I don’t believe in sugarcoating serious issues. My husband (fiance at the time) had lost his first wife to cancer and before I could get the words out, he already knew. I called my kids, Nicolette, then 21, and Morgan, then 17, and asked them to come to my house so I could talk to them. I matter-of-factly told them what the dermatologist had told me and that we weren’t going to worry for now because we would need to see if it had spread to my lymph nodes—or further—first. Then we would take one step at a time. After telling my kids, we told my fiance’s daughters what was going on. As they had lost their mother to cancer, they understood the seriousness of the situation.
Where are you treated/ followed for melanoma?
I was sent to Massachusetts General Hospital to meet with a surgical oncologist. My dermatologist had worked in their skin cancer center and highly recommended being treated there. I still see my dermatologist at his office every six months, unless I see something new on my skin, and see the oncologist at MGH every six months as well.
After being diagnosed with Stage IIA, were you surprised there was no further treatment available for Stage II?
I was actually very surprised that surgery was going to be my only treatment. I thought all cancers were treated with some kind of chemo or radiation. I think it is very important to have options.
What or who is your support system?
I joined a few pages and groups online, but the majority of my support system is my family and friends. They were there for me to lean on and laugh with when needed. I’ve certainly learned more by following melanoma and cancer-related pages and groups, but I’m kind of a loner and lean primarily on my husband.
What do you find was your biggest challenge during cancer treatment and into survivorship?
I would have to say it’s been getting people to understand that melanoma is real cancer. I once had a co-worker come up to me and ask about the scar on my arm. when I told him that I had cancer and had surgery to remove it he told me that I should be happy it wasn’t real cancer – one that required treatments like chemo – and that I was lucky I could keep my hair.
Where are you now in your melanoma journey?
I am now almost 1.5 years post surgery. I have new spots pop up now and then, and I get them checked out, and if needed, removed immediately. I have recently been changed from the three-month follow-up to the six-month follow-up schedule. I am a very outspoken advocate for sun protection and try to provide information to anyone that will listen.
What kinds of things did you do to distract yourself during difficult times?
Humor. Cancer is so serious all the time that you have to find a way to laugh or you’ll go nuts. When I went in for my lymph node biopsy and ended up having a radioactive dye injected into me I kept singing the Firm’s “Radioactive” to anyone who would listen.
How important is it to you to promote the beauty of natural skin?
As the mother of two daughters and the step-mother to three more, it’s very important. I try to provide information any chance I can about the dangers of UV rays regardless of weather conditions and skin types.
Are you involved in raising awareness?
While it isn’t specific to melanoma, I have been very involved with the Pan-Mass Challenge – a bike riding event which raises funds and awareness for cancer research. I have been a volunteer for over 6 years and have helped raise over $100,000 over the past ten years.
What do you do in your spare time?
I work full-time, and in my downtime, I love spending time with my husband and family going to the beach or out on our boat, attending sporting events, traveling, and spending time with friends.
What advice would you share with someone facing melanoma?
Don’t let it get you down. It’s so important to fight and be strong when you can but that it’s okay to feel down on bad days. Be vigilant in your research and in what you think is best for you. It’s your body and only you know what you can handle – both physically and emotionally. And know that you always have a support group. It might be family and friends, it might be your doctors and nurses, or it might even be total strangers that you meet in support groups, but you won’t go through it alone.