I always knew I was a poster child for melanoma risk. I grew up in Sunnyvale, California in the ’70s, a time when it was cool to lay out in the sun and when sunscreens only went up to SPF 8 (maybe 12 by the time I was in high school). My family was very outdoorsy. We had a boat, we went to the beach and went skiing and rafting, and we had a swimming pool in our backyard. That combined with the fact that I am fair-skinned and freckled means that I have had more blistering sunburns than I can remember. I always felt like it wasn’t a question of IF I would get melanoma, but WHEN.
I started going to the dermatologist every 6 months when I was in my mid-30s. I have had 5 or 6 basal cell carcinomas, a squamous cell carcinoma, and numerous other benign lesions caused by sun damage, so I figured I would have bi-annual visits for the rest of my life.
However, in 2017 and 2018, I managed to miss 2 bi-annual appointments in a row, one because I forgot, and the second because my dermatologist canceled the appointment and it took me time to get another one. By the time my melanoma was diagnosed, I hadn’t been to the dermatologist in 15 months. I wasn’t in a huge hurry to get my collarbone lesion checked, because I had it removed a few years earlier from that same spot and it was considered a benign “blue nevus.” I just figured it had grown back. (My new dermatologist is now questioning the accuracy of that diagnosis.)
I got the call a week or two later that it was a melanoma. She said, “I’m not going to lie; it’s not thin.” I was referred to Mass General, where they performed a wide excision (which left me with a 5-inch scar), as well as a sentinel node biopsy. The node was clear, thank goodness. Then I had a PET/CT scan and an MRI, which were also clear. I am considered Stage 2b, and my prognosis is pretty good, but not 100 percent. I feel like I dodged a bullet, but there is a small chance that there are still rogue melanoma cells lurking in my body and threatening to grow again. For now, I’m just relieved that it was caught as early as it was.
My advice to all high-risk people like me is to remain vigilant! Keep your appointments and never let down your guard.