Survivor Stories

Tammy McGraw

Diagnosed 07/01/2011

Oh how I loved the sun! Tanning in it, sitting in it, and going to the tanning bed when there was no sun. It relaxed me, made me feel good and gave me a glow. Until July 2011…

It started out with a lesion on my chin that would not heal. Four months went by and I had went to my PCP twice for medication in hopes to clear it up. I finally asked my PCP for referral to a dermatologist. I made the appointment and went in July. She said, “Not a biggie” it’s keratosis and we’ll treat it. Let me take a peek at your back.” Then she said, “That does not look so good and this needs removed today.” i had a mole on my lower left back that i never noticed. Not ever really have gone to a dermatologist I told her to do what she felt necessary not really giving it a second thought. I mean, who would’ve thought I’d get skin cancer, or so I thought.

About four days later I received a call at home from her telling me it was Invasive Melanoma, stage 1a, Clark’s Level III. I heard almost nothing beyond the word cancer. My mind raced. She apologized for calling me at home but had already scheduled surgery for the next week. I asked her to fax me the pathologist report as that would allow me to research to fully understand what this is I have. I cried most of the night.
I had the surgery, Wide Local Excision and was surprised by the amount of tissue they removed. Morbidly enough I took a picture of the specimen and stitches before they packed me up. They cut down to the muscle. They were extremely informative and very nice and answered every question as they knew I was terrified. He ended up finding two more suspicious moles and recommended I follow up with my dermatologist. The pathology came back clear from cancer in the excision spot. I went in on 8/9 to have the other two moles biopsied and am awaiting results from those.

To make matters worse for me is that my best friend had been diagnosed with cervical cancer in October,  Stage IV. She hadn’t been doing good and was terminal. While I was having surgery to save my life she had passed at the same time. I bring her up because hers could’ve been avoided if she would’ve had a pap.

I was so uneducated about having my skin checked. Nobody tells you or discusses it. I’m fair-skinned with blue eyes. I am hopeful all is well and am so grateful that my dermatologist took that extra few minutes out her busy day to check something I did not go in for. I will always be grateful for that and spread the word about melanoma. I have started some advocacy work and am excited to teach others and tell my story. Thank you for allowing me to tell mine here.