Survivor Stories

Jennifer Hoppe

Diagnosed 04/13/2017

I am currently 32 years old and melanoma has been in my life since I was 29,  beginning in April of 2017.

I had a mole above my belly button that I had been monitoring for about 4 years prior to getting this first diagnosis. I had mentioned it to my primary care doctor who encouraged me just to keep an eye on it. I started taking little selfies of this mole and I would do it every few months or so for many years. I never used the tanning bed too often throughout my twenties, however on occasion if I was going on vacation I would get a tanning package and go tanning just to get a little color before the trip. I didn’t think much of it and at the beginning of 2017 I was doing just this. I went to Mexico in February of 2017 and when I came back I noticed that mole above my belly button had gotten really big and had many different colors including white. I thought it was really odd for a mold to be turning a little bit white along with having different shades of black and brown. It was also raised and turning into a heart-shape.

Since my primary care doctor just told me to keep an eye on it I figured I would show him this mole later on when my annual exam was due which wasn’t until the end of the summer. I ended up going to the doctor earlier to get this checked out after one of my friends who’s a physician noticed it and was really concerned for it being melanoma. He was right. I’m not going to get into details but the diagnosis process was very confusing as I was originally told the wrong stage of my melanoma and couldn’t even get a clear answer on the treatment options at first. Anyway, I did receive the wide local decision about my belly one and fortunately all the cancer was removed.

With that said, I wanted a second opinion so I referred myself to the University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center. I wanted to make sure that the treatment that was done was appropriate. In addition, I obviously wanted to learn as much as I could about getting this diagnosis as I am a natural redhead, more strawberry blonde, but I have blue eyes and fair skin and I’ve had several ugly duckling moles throughout my chest and stomach region. Since July of 2017, I’ve been receiving follow-up care at the University of Michigan and I’ve had two other melanoma diagnoses both stage zero. One occurring on my left breast and the other occurring on my right breast. Both of these, like my first melanoma, were pre-existing moles that I’ve had my entire life that just looked very similar to one another, but very much ugly ducklings compared to all my other freckles and moles. The second one was diagnosed at the beginning of July of this year. I had noticed the mole on my left breast was so dark in color that it was showing through my light colored shirts which had never been a problem before. I had a wide local excision for this, But the healing progress was slow as this excision was on the top of my breast, no more than a half an inch away from my nipple. That healed well which I couldn’t be more thankful for.

A few months later I went in for my follow-up skin check and the mole on my right breast had always looked really suspicious to me and there were some areas on it that were very unusual compared to all of my other moles. I had the appointment a little bit earlier because there was a spot I assumed was a pimple but ended up being a basal cell carcinoma. Since I was there, I just had them biopsy the suspicious mole on my right breast too. A week later I found out I had a basal cell carcinoma on my upper left chest and my third diagnosis of another melanoma a stage zero on my right breast. Had a wide local excision for that melanoma and had a separate procedure for the basal cell carcinoma. So this is my story-I’ve had three melanomas, one on each breast and one above my belly button. And then I have had one basal cell carcinoma on my left upper chest. That’s 4 cancers and I’m only 32. It’s been a very rough last few years, but I wouldn’t change anything. I mean, aside from using the tanning beds on occasion I would definitely take that back, but the experience itself has made me into a very strong & vigilant person.