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Skin Diaries

Skin Diaries

Vitiligo Patient Loses 100% of Her Skin’s Pigment

It was the perfect day to get married. The sun was bright, the weather was warm, and the beautiful valley stretched out around the field where the ceremony was taking place. Love was in the air and each moment of the ceremony was heartfelt and touching. Unfortunately, I missed most it. I was huddled under an oversized umbrella in the back row, trying not to burn in the sun as the couple said their “I do’s” – because skin without pigment can quickly turn pink.

I was seven years old when I was diagnosed with vitiligo. The little white spots on my spine seemed innocent enough, but the doctor had a different story. My mother was familiar with the disease – her mother, my grandmother, lived with vitiligo for most of her life. Still, she was devastated to hear the news, and worried about what this might mean for me.

Vitiligo is an autoimmune disease that causes loss of pigment, resulting in white spots on the skin and occasionally, loss of pigment in the hair too. About 1% of the world’s population (50 million people) has vitiligo and the condition affects all races and both sexes equally. Since the cause of vitiligo is unknown, there is no cure and treatments are often unpredictable and can vary in results.

It turns out, my vitiligo was aggressive. Although it started on my spine and knees, the spots quickly spread to the point that treatments were ineffective. We just couldn’t keep up with it, and I chose early on not to pursue treatment any further.

Growing up, it wasn’t unusual for me to have three colors of skin – tan, white and pink for my normal skin, my vitiligo and my burned vitiligo. In fact, this tri-color look earned me the nickname of Neapolitan in college. Staying sun-safe wasn’t necessarily hard – I just tended to forget.

Today, twenty years after my diagnosis, I’ve lost 100% of my skin’s pigment to vitiligo. With no color left in my skin, my complexion rivals that of Snow White’s – under my tanner, which I wear daily. As a result, protection from the sun is a requirement at this point in my life. Being exposed in the sun is just uncomfortable – in other words, I can’t forget.

Rachael Laurin Photography

Avoiding the sun is just another aspect of life I’ve learned to live with. I’m the girl who can’t go to the beach without an umbrella, and often a rash guard too. I’m the friend who makes the waiter switch our patio table to one with shade. I schedule my days around the sun’s rays and try to go outdoors in the early mornings or evenings after the sun begins to fade. I always ask about the shade situation for any outdoor activities – and excuse myself when appropriate.

Of course, I still get burned from time to time, despite my best efforts. That’s why I’m thankful for companies like Coolibar that not only provide education on sun safety but create real solutions to enjoying the sun without risking sunburn.

 

You can learn more about vitiligo and my journey at livingdappled.com, a lifestyle blog for girls and women with vitiligo.

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Skin Diaries

Nicole O’Neill: “I Was Fortunately Diagnosed with Cancer 3 Times”

It’s still hard to believe, but by the age of 30, I was fortunately diagnosed with cancer 3 times, faced over a dozen other precancerous scares and experienced some heart-wrenching losses due to cancer.

Yes, you read that correctly, I said I have been fortunate. You are not crazy.

However, I have not always felt this way. Each time there was a period of total fear, confusion and almost paralysis. I cannot quite explain what it is like to get that news and be afraid for your life. It truly stops you in your tracks. Everything becomes blurry, nothing seems to matter and all you can think is, “Am I going to die… Did I really live?”

But each time I was blessed with a whole new perspective on life. I learned so much more about who I was and what I wanted my life to stand for…

My first melanoma opened my eyes to how little self-confidence I had and how superficial my life was.

I am totally guilty of spending countless hours in the sun, tanning booths and wearing the oil. Truthfully, I didn’t really know any better when I was younger. Even though I had a handful of spots removed in high school, it didn’t really sink in until I was diagnosed with my first melanoma at 24. Looking back, all I remember was that I felt so much better about myself when I was tan. I was very fortunate that we caught the melanoma early enough, so surgery was all that was necessary. But so much changed with this diagnosis. Suddenly, I became aware of the superficiality of my life. How much of my self-confidence came from “being tan & looking good”. I consider this my first wakeup call in life. If it weren’t for this diagnosis, I may have never started to take better care of myself from the inside out. I learned to make self-care a priority, and more than anything it started the journey of true self-love for me. It made me want to be a better person and with that I learned that beauty and confidence are about so much more than what’s on the inside.

My second melanoma woke me up to just how precious life is.

After my first melanoma, my health and sun safety became a top priority. You can imagine my frustration, my fear when I was diagnosed with a second melanoma 3 years later. I remember thinking “but how!? I have been doing everything right. This is so unfair!” Initially, it was numbing. But then, once I processed the news, I realized pouting about it wasn’t going to change it.

After my 2nd diagnosis, I made a promise to myself… I’ve been given another chance here. This life, it’s not something I am going to waste. With that, I started to live with the end in mind. You could say I started to live a bucket list life.

I couldn’t be in the sun anymore, but I could be more adventurous. It sparked my passion for new activities way out of my comfort zone.

It helped me shift my priorities… I stopped putting work first and spent more time with my friends and family.

I refused to just go through the motions and put off all the things I really wanted to do. Instead, I started to be so much more proactive with my life. I started a business that would allow me to feel more fulfilled, made traveling a non-negotiable, became more charitable, committed to ongoing growth and I could go on. You could say I completely leveled up my life after my 2nd melanoma and looking back the diagnosis was a catalyst that changed the trajectory of my whole life in such a positive way.

Over the next few years, I would face a couple more pre-cancerous scares and then be diagnosed with thyroid cancer when I was 30. We still to this day are not sure if that was related to the melanoma. But I am forever grateful to my dermatologist for his care and help through this time. This was probably the fight that hit me the hardest. Truthfully, I was pissed. I was sad. I was terrified. And then when I almost lost my voice… I was broken.

Getting through this time was tough, but what finally pulled me through was finding a spiritual outlet and thinking of all the people who had not been so fortunate in their own fight. I could go on and on telling you about all the lessons and life shifts cancer has exposed me to. But the most powerful thing I learned is that bad things happen. There might be times when life tries to knock you down and you cannot control that. However, what you can control is how you choose to react to it. You can choose to crumble, or you can choose to feel the emotions, feel the fear and the pain… but then let it wake you up in life and use it as a catalyst for living your life more intentionally.

We all only get one life and it’s ours for the taking. I pray you never have to face such terrifying wakeup calls, but if you do, please know that there is some positive that can come out of it. It might be hard to see initially when you are trying to navigate through the fear, but you are powerful, you have a purpose here. Have hope, fight like hell and focus on doing whatever you can to move forward, even if it’s just one tiny step at a time.

XO Nicole

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Skin Diaries

Trapped and Lost, a Lupus Patient Makes a Radical Call

I’ll never forget the day my family moved from Long Island, New York to Fort Lauderdale, Florida when I was a child. Sunshine, sandy beaches, and just about every outdoor sport and activity at your fingertips all year long – it seemed like paradise. But as I grew into a teenager and young adult, being in the sun started to not sit well with my body. A weird rash would rear its head within a few hours, fatigue, sores, and other strange flu-like symptoms. My family and I always brushed it off as “too much sun,” and anyone who has graced the beaches of Fort Lauderdale knows the intensity of the sun’s rays in that area.

But when I was unexpectedly diagnosed with Lupus at the age of 23, the photosensitivity made complete sense.

Up to 70% of lupus patients deal with some sort of photosensitivity, meaning their symptoms get worse or are brought on by UV rays and/or heat. Today, just five to ten minutes in moderate sunlight can knock me down for days. I also learned any UV ray can set off a lupus flare, even certain types of indoor lighting.

As the years progressed, and my disease activity worsened, I tried so hard to stay out of the sun – almost an impossibility when living in South Florida. Suddenly, I became a prisoner in my own home, not able to enjoy outdoor activities or even a walk with my husband until after 7 or 8 p.m. And photosensitivity wasn’t the only Lupus symptom I was dealing with. In addition to symptoms from sunlight, I was also dealing with fevers, mini-strokes, blood involvement, and a brain aneurysm. The Lupus became so severe at one point, I became wheelchair bound and couldn’t leave my house for months. Sunshine, people, outdoors and life, in general, bustled around me and I felt trapped.

It was around this time that my husband convinced me to take a road trip north to New York  (where we were both born). Fall season had just started and the weather was cooling off; we thought it may be an ideal time to go as the heat and sun wouldn’t be intense.

Little did I know, it would be a life-changing trip.

We spent three weeks in our home state, visiting family and friends, and doing a good amount of exploring. And then we came to a revelation. I hadn’t had nearly as many fevers, wasn’t as fatigued, and wasn’t taking as much medicine as usual. The main difference we noticed was the weather. We hit a cold front while on our trip and most days were overcast and in the 40s. Though some Lupus patients actually feel better in the heat, it seemed the cold weather worked wonders for my body.

And then we did the unthinkable – packed up our entire life and moved back to New York six weeks later, not too far from Niagara Falls. The winters are brutal…and to be honest, I love every minute of them. The love affair between me and the cold weather is still going strong almost six years later. Of course, I do love the sunshine of summer and hiking near local waterfalls. But I have something in my “toolkit” now that I didn’t have 17 years ago when I was diagnosed – Coolibar clothing.

I remember the first time I heard about Coolibar and thought, can you really wear something that will protect you from the sun?  It sounded genius and perfect for people like me. Their long-sleeve t-shirts, rash guard, and wide-brimmed hats are my favorites and all perfect attire for somewhat sunny days here in Western New York.

I still have my ups and downs with lupus. Typically, I get IV treatments almost weekly at a nearby hospital, but the disease hasn’t broken my adventurous spirit and love for life. On my good days, I enjoy yoga, cooking, and creating the perfect recipe and food photo for my job as a food and health journalist. My husband, our rescue dog and I still love road trips and exploring – except now we venture to the coldest places possible. Two recent adventures have been Alaska and Nova Scotia (both gorgeous)… and you better believe my arsenal of Coolibar comes with me every time!

If you or someone you know has lupus, I’d love for you to come join us at LupusChick.com, a nonprofit autoimmune community I started 10 years ago. There we talk about every subject you can think of when it comes to chronic illness!

See you there.

XO Marisa

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Skin Diaries

Betty Hall: “Sunburn after sunburn, I never learned my lesson.”

As far back in my childhood and adult life as I can remember, I have had countless sunburns. I have had some so severe that it hurt to wear clothes or lay down. One time, when I was a teenager living in Midland, Texas, I put on shorts and a backless halter top and thought I would surprise my parents while they were at work by trimming the edge of the lawn. We didn’t own an edger to trim the yard, so I did the entire front lawn with a pair of sheers while on my knees all day and my back and head uncovered. My back later that day was covered in huge water blisters from being so sunburned! From vacations to family outings, there have been numerous times that I burned in the sun and ruined the entire occasion. None of those times did I put on sunscreen or cover my head with a hat. Heck no, that would look stupid, I sadly thought. Later as an adult, I would visit the tanning beds in the summertime so that when we went on vacations, I would have my body use to the rays and I thought that would keep me from burning as bad. It would work sometimes, but little did I know that all the past UV exposure would soon come back to haunt me.

1997 was the year it all started, my beautician found a tiny red spot on the top center crown of my head. It was merely a small, red spot! No itching, no bleeding, no scabbing. My MD referred me to a Dermatologist whom I saw for a biopsy. Two long weeks later, he called me at work to tell me he found cancer cells. Just that word alone was upsetting. I went back to that same Dermatologist to have a larger biopsy on the same area done with even more stitches. He sent it off to the lab and sure enough, another two weeks passed again and he called to let me know the cancer cells were still present. I was scheduled to see him a third time when right before my office visit, word had travelled to my husband’s boss, who happened to be head of surgery in El Dorado, Arkansas. They quickly prepped me for surgery as soon as I arrived. They did a scalp sweep and did a skin graft off my right thigh to cover the bone. Over a hundred stitches and a metal cap later, the surgery was finally over.

The procure may have been done, but nothing could’ve prepared me for what I would see in the mirror. To be fair, how could you ever tell someone they had a 2-centimeter-deep hole on the top of their head and explain to them that the hair would never grow back. It’s a tough pill to swallow to know that this was the result of my careless past. But, my surgeons said they were hopeful they got it all and at the end of the day, I was lucky this tiny, red spot was caught.

Over 20 years have passed since then and I’ve dealt with numerous other surgeries along with hundreds of appointments. I cannot blame anyone but myself for what I have done by being unprotected all those times in the sun. Sunburn after sunburn, I never learned my lesson. How foolish! I wish I could go back and undo the wrong but I can’t because the damage has already been done. But if you’re reading my story, it’s not too late for you. Educate yourself on the dangers of UV exposure. Take time to put on sunscreen or a hat. Don’t lay out in the sun to get a tan or in a tanning bed just to look good to your peers. Check your body whenever you get a chance.

Learn more about Betty’s story.

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Parenting Skin Diaries

This 6-Year-Old With Albinism Won’t Let the Sun Slow Him Down

When our son Carter was 11 months old, we found out that he had Oculocutaneous Albinism Type 2. (Or OCA2) What that means is that he has less pigment in his eyes, hair, and skin. So basically, it’s the reason for his insanely cute blonde hair and eyelashes. But it’s also why we made protecting his skin a main priority. After the diagnosis, we soon learned that Carter’s chances of getting skin cancer were greater because of his Albinism. That word. Cancer. As parents, hearing that was terrifying, but it also made us want to do whatever we could to keep him (especially his skin) safe.

When we found out about this, we were a month away from going on our first family vacation to the Virgin Islands. We met with a dermatologist who stressed the importance of sun protection. He talked to us about sunscreen and told us not to forget areas like the scalp and the tops of Carter’s ears. I immediately began searching for the perfect hat for him to wear. We needed to know that our baby was going to be completely protected. Not only on the beach, but anytime that our family ventured outside. We didn’t want to take any chances of him getting the slightest sunburn. My mother in law was the one who discovered Coolibar, where we found so much more than a hat. We found swimwear and clothing, but most importantly we found a peace of mind.

5 years later, we are still using and loving our Coolibar gear. Not only do we have the Albinism to worry about, but our son was also later diagnosed with Autism. Due to both the Albinism and the Autism, Carter struggles a lot with light sensitivity. Being in the bright sun for too long can really shut him down and cause him to get headaches. Therefore, Coolibar’s Kids All Sport Hat is a favorite of ours. Not only does the bill of the hat help shield his eyes from the sun, but the flap protects his ears and neck from potential burning.

While we still use sunscreen, it’s hard to always remember to reapply as often as is needed. Coolibar has taken the pressure off, by providing additional UV protection. It’s nice to know that there is a product out there that meets all the needs that our boy has. When he initially got the diagnosis, we were afraid he wouldn’t get to experience the outdoors as much as we would like him to. Now, two of Carter’s very favorite things are water and adventures. Thanks, Coolibar, for allowing us to still have these experiences, worry-free.

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Skin Diaries

A Game She’s Not Ready to Lose

My name is Lisa Pace. I’m a college basketball coach and a licensed massage therapist. I found out I had skin cancer at 23 years old. I had just gotten my first division 1 college coaching job.

I was talking to my mom one night about my job and all the responsibilities, and in conversation she told me now was a good time to see the doctors so they have a baseline of my health moving forward.

So, I made an appointment to a dermatologist. They did a skin check and found a couple places, small light brown spots, that they wanted to biopsy. They did the biopsies and told me they would call and let me know the results. I figured since I had fair skin, red hair, and freckles, this was probably common. I didn’t know. I think at my young age I was trying to rationalize and justify why I had skin cancer. Later on, I found out anyone can get skin cancer.

It was time for recruiting. I couldn’t wait! July was finally here and I got the opportunity to travel from state to state, gym to gym watching young women play basketball. I was headed to Las Vegas. This was a huge tournament. I sat beside the legendary Pat Summitt and watched some games, and went from gym to gym all day. I couldn’t believe this was my job.

Later that night when I returned to the hotel room, I checked my messages. The dermatologist had called and said they had the results. When I spoke to them they said my biopsies came back suspicious, that they were skin cancer, possibly melanoma, and that I needed to come in and let them take more out.

I remember thinking, the last time I was at the dermatologist, it was a little bit of numbing medicine, a small cut, and a band-aid. There is no way I am leaving Las Vegas to go back and let them do that again. I am recruiting. I am watching future division 1 players. It can wait. So I waited. I finished up recruiting in July and made an appointment when I got back home.

This time it was different. I went to a specialist for a second opinion. They went back in the same spots, but took a huge amount out of my leg. It was my right upper thigh and my lower calf. I had stitches, bandages, bleeding, bruising, swelling, and I had crutches. Well, that was definitely different. I knew I would have these crutches for a day or so but as a former athlete, those things had to go. I didn’t have time to be “injured.” But the good thing was, they said they got it all. This meant no more skin cancer, so I thought.

It took a while, but I healed up fine. I continued to coach, and I continued to tan. Tanning beds were popular. I had tanned a lot in college. There were all kinds of promotions with free lotions, buy 5 visits get 5 free, one month unlimited, etc. I enjoyed going. As I got older, I didn’t go as much. However, the damage had been done and those times I was still tanning was just adding to my future surgeries. I had no idea that the tanning bed was causing so much damage to my skin. I never saw any tv commercials warning about tanning bed use and skin cancer, there was no social media platforms warning me of the danger and consequences.  I don’t remember much being said about it at all in the beginning.

One morning I found this white spot on my left cheek. I watched it for a couple weeks and noticed it was getting bigger. So I went back to the dermatologist. This changed my life. They took a huge chunk out of my face. I was devastated. I couldn’t look at myself. I spoke with my doctors and after much discussion, I found out that all those times going to the tanning bed had caused me to have skin cancer. This was the first time anyone had discussed this with me. Remember, this was almost 20 years ago. I had done this to myself. I questioned every time I had ever wanted to go tan. Why did I do this? I didn’t lack self-confidence, I just wanted to have a bronze look and to “fit in.” I knew better than to “follow the crowd.” I was supposed to be a leader, to set examples for others. Now look at me. I was so angry at myself. And this was just the beginning, more and more surgeries would come.

Fortunately for me, I was coaching college athletes and we know we have a choice every day. When we wake up we choose to have a positive or negative mindset. We choose to win the day or wallow in self-pity. We outwork our competition. And skin cancer was my competition.

Fast forward almost 20 years, I have had 86 skin cancer surgeries. My skin cancers have been basal cell, squamous cell, and melanoma. I won’t tell you that I was positive every minute of every day. The mental aspect after surgery can be draining. I did have moments when I didn’t want to get out of bed, when I would look at all my scars and get discouraged.  I dreaded looking in the mirror because I thought I would find a new skin cancer.  But those moments didn’t last long.

I know I’m going to win this battle. I know I do all the right things as far as protecting my skin and getting skin checks so I am confident in knowing skin cancer has met its match. It’s going to be a battle with me.   And I want people to be proud of their own skin. I own my scars now. They have given me wisdom, they motivate me, and they remind me that even though I was knocked down 86 times, I got back up 87 times.

I can only hope my story will inspire someone else to make the necessary changes in their life to protect their skin, to get regular skin checks and to win the day.

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Skin Diaries

The Race of a Lifetime

At 26 years old, Grace Pophal is a daughter, sister, niece, partner and friend. A lifelong competitive swimmer, she entered Ohio State University in the fall of 2010 as a Division 1 swimmer with a lifetime of possibilities ahead of her.

During her time at school, she struggled more than ever and no one could figure out why. In October of 2015, they received the answer. After experiencing prolonged and severe back pain with migraines, a doctor’s appointment was made and x-rays were performed. Within a week, Grace was diagnosed with Stage 4 Metastatic Melanoma. Five tumors were found in her brain, while her back pain was caused by a tumor on her lung so massive that it was putting significant pressure on her spinal cord. Tumors were also found in seven of her other organs. Subsequent treatment with radiation caused swelling, and Grace underwent emergency brain surgery to remove the two largest tumors causing pressure on her brain. By November 2015, Grace’s future looked hazy.

Moving forward, Grace is still here and continues to fight every single day. She was treated with an aggressive form of targeting pills and has been hospitalized several times with side effects, but her tumors have all been significantly reduced in size. A successful second brain surgery was performed in June 2016 and she would shortly after begin her first course of Immunotherapy treatment.

Grace’s Interview with WKYC

Her journey has been filled with blood, tears, heartache, celebration, a pup named “Otis”, hospital socks, ice cream binges and too many body scans to count; and there is still a long way to go.

Today, Grace has no active tumors in her brain, is a yoga teacher and receives immunotherapy treatment every other week. She’s faced every challenge this diagnosis has given her with unbelievable courage, strength, humor and determination, and continues to fight for her future.

Grace has also been working on fundraising for Melanoma research and was a big part of the Miles for Melanoma 5K Walk and Run to be hosted in Cleveland at Edgewood Park!

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Skin Diaries This is Brave

This is Brave: Norah O’Donnell

I never thought I would hear the words that I had been diagnosed with melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. And I admit, the first thing I did was cry. And then, I felt really sorry for myself. It took some time but then I realized that as a wife and a mother, I had to be strong.

But it is difficult to be strong when one feels incredibly vulnerable. My diagnosis was the first time I confronted my own mortality. It was also the first time I think my children did as well.

“So, wait, you have cancer?” asked my 8-year-old daughter Riley.

“Yes, but we are going to cut it out!” I replied optimistically.

“Is there any chance you can die from the surgery?” asked my 9-year-old son Henry

“I’m absolutely not going to die,” I assured him. “I mean, eventually I will. But not from this surgery.” When I left my daughter’s bedroom I felt horrible for sharing with them that I was having a relatively minor surgery. There was no need for me to worry them.

But I was scared and, perhaps selfishly, really appreciated their deep concern. Over the next few months after the surgery, my daughters, Riley and Grace, took turns at putting a healing ointment on the scar on my back, which I couldn’t reach.

“Oh mom, it looks soooo much better today,” my darling Riley would say, providing such positive feedback.

My dermatologist, Dr. Elizabeth Hale, made the diagnosis early. I had the surgery January 2017, which included a 3-inch incision and about 25 stitches. The scar has healed, but is still quite visible. It is a reminder that early detection saves lives.

Part of my preventative care now means that I return to Dr. Hale every three to four months for full-body checks to make sure there’s nothing out of the ordinary. Each visit requires the strength to confront the scary possibility that she will find another malignant mole.

The reality is that I can prevent a truly devastating diagnosis now with frequent check-ups. The harder truth I’ve come to learn is that I could have prevented the cancer altogether.

“More people develop skin cancer because of tanning than develop lung cancer because of smoking,” Dr. Hale told me. Just think about that.

Well, I am doing more than just thinking about it. I’m telling my children that while skin cancer is the most common form of cancer, it is also the most preventable.

I grew up in San Antonio, Texas, where jumping in the pool wasn’t just leisurable, it was one of the only ways to cool off! With the temperature pushing 100 degrees in the summer, we spent hours in the pool, many times without sunscreen. In high school, I would visit a tanning salon during the winter. I confessed this history to Dr. Hale who told me, “People that indoor tan before the age of 35 years have a 75% increased chance of melanoma.”

I know I made some bad choices. Those attempts to get a tan likely led to my cancer. But by sharing this with my children and others, I hope that my story can help all of us learn some valuable lessons and have the strength to embrace prevention.

Skin Cancer Facts can be found at http://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/skin-cancer-facts

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Skin Diaries This is Brave

This is Brave: Bethany Greenway

The word I’ve chosen to represent my melanoma journey is Aware.

My name is Bethany Greenway, I’m a stay at home mom to two amazing little girls. I was diagnosed with stage 3a melanoma August 2016. I wasn’t surprised about the diagnosis because my mom had melanoma at my age, it was just my body’s genetic timer going off.

I had a spot on my forehead that looked like a light brown liver spot, it made its appearance while I was pregnant with my second daughter. I went for my annual skin check when my little one was 9 months old, and got the all clear. I thought nothing of the spot and chalked it up to hormones until it grew a mole and the mole started to ache.

I went to see my dermatologist who sent me to a plastic surgeon for a biopsy. Three weeks later I got the call from my surgeon, I had two types of melanoma: desmoplastic melanoma, which is very rare, and regular melanoma surrounding it.

At this point, I’ve had two surgeries to remove the cancer and the nearest lymph node removed, which tested positive for melanoma and that put me at stage 3a. With melanoma being such an aggressive cancer, I had to begin treatment to prevent recurrence. I started immunotherapy October 4, 2016 and won’t be done with it until October 2019. The type of immunotherapy I’m on is called Yervoy, and it has a whole host of nasty side effects. Reading the list of them is worse than the drug ads you see on tv. I’ve been lucky in that department, so far, just fatigue and itchy rashes for me. After my first four infusions, I did radiation therapy for six weeks on my head and neck because this was the possible path the melanoma traveled in my body.

Most of what cancer patients go through is mental. Yes, we endure so much physically, but once the hard stuff is over we are left with merely a shell of what once was.  It also teaches us a powerful lesson in self-awareness and how to truly listen to our bodies. Discovering the new “normal” during treatment and feeling your body change in ways that you never thought possible is an eye-opening journey. It tunes you into who you are at your core.

Following the surgery on my face, I felt overwhelmed by the change. This wasn’t an optional cosmetic or aesthetic surgery, like a nose job or breast augmentation, this was done to save my life. It was also 100 times more obvious. How do I handle this? I kept asking myself over and over. So I chose to show my face to the world and show them how scary skin cancer can be and started my Melanoma Photo Diary on Facebook. If I can reach just one person and inspire them to go see the dermatologist and get that biopsy done, then that’s what I need to do. So I did. I took pictures and wrote daily. I still do. Mostly, I keep the diary so I can enjoy spending time with friends and family and not have to give them a medical update every time I see someone new.

Why am I telling you my story? So you can learn from me and to raise awareness about the black beast we call melanoma. Listen to your body and pay attention to the changes it makes.

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Skin Diaries This is Brave

This is Brave: Judy Cloud

Most of my life, I would not have associated the word ‘passionate’ with skin cancer, but here I am, passionate about skin cancer. Sounds odd, I agree. How did that happen, you ask?  The answer is this:  I have had skin cancer for over twenty years, and it won’t go away. I have had numerous surgeries to remove cancerous areas. Each day I am looking in the mirror, checking for new areas. And each time I find a suspicious place on my skin, it causes anxiety.

The truth is, skin cancer can largely be avoided by practicing good sun habits – protect your skin from over-exposure to the sun, use sunscreen, wear hats and sun protective clothing, avoid being in the sun during its strongest hours, and above all, do not use tanning beds. Yes, there can be a genetic factor to skin cancer, but largely, it can be prevented. And this is why I am passionate about raising skin cancer awareness. When I was growing up, there wasn’t much, if any, information about the dangers of overexposure to the sun. Kids played outside all day long. Sunscreen, if we had it, was SPF 2 or 4. Sunburns were common for fair-skinned people like me. Then along came tanning beds, which were introduced to us as being much safer than the sun (and which we now know is not at all true). Now we have more access to information. Now we see the results of generations of people who had over-exposure to the sun and went to tanning beds. Now we know better, and now we can do better. I don’t want others to have to go through what I’m going through, and helping to raise awareness about skin cancer is high on my priority list.

I must admit, being an advocate for skin cancer awareness at times puts me out of my comfort zone. I’m not used to having my life, complete with photos of my surgical wounds and healing process, ‘out there’ for all to see. But I need to be brave and continue to tell my story. And you as well, dear hearts. Be brave. If you are battling skin cancer, keep fighting. Keep telling your story. Keep raising awareness. And if you are someone who isn’t practicing the best sun habits, be brave. It’s okay to not have the ‘perfect’ summer tan. It’s okay to not go along with the crowd in thinking that you have to have a tan to fit in. One story at a time, one person at a time, we can raise awareness, passionately and bravely.

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