Featured Survivor Story:
By Mara Klecker
When Zivorad Antonic was a child, he often heard his grandmother comment on the many moles on his skin. They were good luck, she told him then, repeating an adage common in Serbia.
So in February 2016, when Zivorad noticed a new mole on the inner thigh of his right leg, he thought of his grandmother’s words and wasn’t initially worried. He was 41 years old and had moles all over his body, signs of the years he spent outside in the sun. As a kid, he loved playing outdoors and often helped his grandparents on their farm, usually working shirtless in the summer heat. As a young adult, he would spend whole days sunbathing and swimming, and for extra money, he took jobs that kept him outside in the sun.
When Zivorad noticed another mole appear in the same spot on his leg, however, he took more notice. It looked like the first mole had split in two — something that prompted him to make an appointment with a dermatologist in Novi Sad, Serbia.
The doctor took a look and wasn’t worried, even telling Zivorad that he could simply wash the moles off. No follow-up exam was scheduled.
By December 2016, however, Zivorad made another appointment after noticing that the second mole had grown darker and wider. Its surface was raised and rough. By the time he could see the doctor in February 2017, the spot was red and the size of a pea.
Still, a plastic surgeon figured the mole was benign and would just require removal. Then, in May 2017, Zivorad got a call asking him to come back to the clinic as soon as he could. That’s when he was told that he had melanoma, which he didn’t know much about. But he recognized the words “malignant tumor.”
“My world fell apart,” Zivorad wrote in an account of his diagnosis. “I thought ‘Is this the end?’”
The first surgery was scheduled quickly and required a skin graft. By July, cancer was found in his lymph nodes, and over the course of the next year, Zivorad underwent five more surgeries.
Since May 2018, Zivorad’s health has stabilized and he’s focused on spreading awareness of melanoma. He is passionate about educating others about the importance of sun protection and annual dermatological exams and is working with Udruženje pacijenata obolelih od melanoma, the Serbian Association of Melanoma Patients to push for better treatments and support for melanoma patients in Serbia. Check out the website at https://upoom.rs/
He has shared his story on television and has connected with other international organizations, including AIM, to help bring education and resources to those facing melanoma in Serbia and surrounding countries. Zivorad and Udruženje pacijenata obolelih od are members of AIM’s international advocates group called the Melanoma International Patient Advocacy Coalition–or MIPAC, for short. This coalition comprises patient advocacy organizations and patient advocates from Australia, Brazil, Canada, Eastern Europe, France, Israel, Italy, Latin America, Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom.
The advocates are committed to educating patients and their caregivers/families about melanoma, ensuring access to clinical trials and approved drugs, facilitating the approval process in their respective countries, and raising awareness about prevention and early detection of the disease. Each organization is legally recognized, independently run, and active on social media.
AIM provides both funding and content for websites, social media campaigns, and traditional media campaigns. Many of AIM’s educational materials are translated for use in these countries/regions, including AIM’s website.
“Unfortunately, it happens so often here that people find out their diagnosis so late,” Zivorad said. “The biggest problem is that people in Serbia don’t know about melanoma. The focus of our effort is to give the knowledge to people that it is serious and can happen to anybody.”