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This is Brave

Skin Diaries This is Brave

This is Brave: Heather Van Nest

Hearing the words “You have melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer” shakes your entire world, no matter your age. Everything seems to stop as you absorb what it means, what’s at stake and how your life will change.

I am embarrassed to admit a skin cancer exam was not top of mind when I was diagnosed with melanoma at 29–years-old. I was working as an investigative TV reporter and interviewing a dermatologist about an unrelated topic for a local CBS TV station in Florida. He pulled me aside to stress that with my fair skin, multiple moles and family history, (my grandfather had been diagnosed with melanoma) I should schedule my first skin cancer exam. I honestly felt I was “too busy” to take the time to schedule an annual skin cancer exam. I reluctantly followed up and quickly learned that a biopsy of an unusual spot on my stomach was in fact, stage one melanoma.

This wake-up call dramatically changed my entire life as I learned the likelihood of recurrence is high. I didn’t want to waste my life worrying and waiting. I was motivated to stay healthy! I put my investigative reporting skills to work to find the best ways to boost my immune system and protect my skin—those are two things I can control.

Melanoma motivated me to overhaul my entire diet and focus on eating fresh unprocessed foods that strengthen my immune system. Garlic, turmeric, fish oil and every green vegetable imaginable are all a part of my new lifestyle.

My melanoma diagnosis also motivated me to find the safest and easiest way to protect myself from the harsh Florida sun. That’s how I discovered Coolibar’s UPF 50+ thin, comfortable sun protective clothing—my top choice for protection.

Today, 16 years after my melanoma diagnosis, I feel better than ever! I have a 4-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter, who my husband and I are proud to say know about the importance of sun protection.

Melanoma has motivated me to focus on what’s important in life. I have simplified what I can control, cutback on a demanding career and learned to appreciate everyday moments with my family.

I hope you will be motivated to make your annual skin cancer exam appointment. It just might save your life the way it saved mine.

Heather Van Nest is a former evening news anchor for the CBS affiliate in Tampa, Florida, natural health advocate and proud producer of the award-winning documentary, “Risky Rays: Don’t Get Burned.” The skin cancer awareness and prevention program aired on the local CBS TV station and was donated to the local school system.

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Skin Diaries This is Brave

This is Brave: Brian McKenna

Chal·lenge

“A call to fight, as in a battle, a duel, etc.“

It was the spring of 2014. I remember my doctor escorted me past the examining room, straight back to his office, where he closed the door behind me. I may not be a card-carrying member of Mensa International, but I knew something was up. He opened his laptop and started explaining the results from the biopsy he’d taken from my body three weeks prior. Unfortunately, I read three paragraphs ahead of my doctor, and scanned two words that took my breath away, “malignant melanoma”.

I didn’t hear anything he said after reading that.

Fast forward to February 2017. I was diagnosed with a very rare, infiltrating, aggressive basal cell cancer, whose “fingers” wrapped around the nerves in my face and were headed towards my brain. To make matters worse, it metastasized over my entire body. In addition to the aggressive basal cell cancer, melanoma was found on my back. Cancer had challenged me to a fight.

I accepted the challenge.  I wasn’t going to fight cancer, cancer was going to fight me! Instead of “why me,” I embraced “try me” and braced myself for the fight of a lifetime.

In life, you can be the bug or the windshield. I challenged myself to be the windshield. I also challenged myself to share my cancer journey openly, utilizing my public image as a former radio/tv personality, to help bring awareness to skin cancer prevention. I challenged myself to be a loud voice in St. Louis, Missouri, to raise money for skin cancer research with the hope that one day we find a cure.

After nine surgeries in the last 13 months (including a 9+ hour facial reconstruction), over 400 stitches, radiation, chemo, physical therapy and occupational therapy, I’m here to tell you that I am on the road to recovery.

I challenge all of you to be kind, stay humble, do more than is expected, give more than you take, dream big, make a difference in this world and GET REGULAR SKIN CHECK-UPS! Your Vibe Attracts Your Tribe!

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Skin Diaries This is Brave

This is Brave: Cindy Brodie

My journey began with a very small, brown spot on my nose that looked like an age/sun spot.  My “spot” did not itch or burn and was asymptomatic, other than the fact that it would not go away. As a former sun-worshiper, I was no stranger to these “spots”, but I put off seeing my dermatologist until AFTER a holiday trip to Mexico because I didn’t want a small scar on my nose for the trip.

My biopsy indicated the presence of melanoma, but early stage 1. Within a couple of Weeks, Dr. Jerome Potozkin performed the surgical procedure to ensure all margins were clear. Looking at my face right after the procedure made me feel scared and anxious, and wondering if I would ever look the same. The procedures the doctors were discussing for reconstruction sounded barbaric, and I found myself wondering how such a small spot could cause such major surgical procedures to repair.  But I knew the journey had just begun.

Seven days later, I went under general anesthesia for the 1st of several surgeries. Dr. Jonathan Sykes, my plastic surgeon, utilized cartilage from my ear and a skin graft flap from my forehead to rebuild my nostril.  My “trunk” provided a live feed to help regrow my nose and allow the cartilage to settle into the open space. This “trunk” remained on my face for 3 weeks, which was painful and humiliating. I went back to my doctor every 2-3 days to ensure there was no infection and to clean the wounds. I was terrified to leave the house during this time. After the removal of my “trunk” and 9 months of healing, I went back to see Dr. Sykes for another reconstruction.

 

The entire process, from the “sun spot” on my nose to the photo you see here, took one year. I am grateful to Dr. Potozkin for the early detection. It could have been so much worse. I am grateful to my plastic surgeon, Dr. Sykes for reconstructing my face. I am grateful to be sharing my story with you today. If my story motivates you to call your board-certified dermatologist today to make your annual skin exam appointment, then my heart is full.

Cindy has been cancer free for 2 years and continues to have her skin checked every three months, as early detection is key.

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Skin Diaries This is Brave

This is Brave: Beth Allgaier

It takes some time to settle into a melanoma diagnosis.

In early 2016, my father had extensive melanoma surgery, which prompted me to schedule a second full body skin exam within the year.  During my exam, the doctor froze a few “spots”, decided to biopsy a few others, and advised me to keep an eye on a small freckle he discovered on my abdomen.  Something about this “small freckle”, and my dad’s diagnosis, alerted me to do more than keep an eye on it.  I urged my doctor to do a biopsy of this “small freckle”.

One week later, I received the call and it was Stage 1A melanoma.  We caught it early.  With the news of my diagnosis, I was instantly overcome with emotion.  I felt totally out-of-control and paralyzed with fear of the known and the unknown.   Thoughts whirled in my head, “I know melanoma is dangerous, and yet, I don’t know how bad mine is? Will it keep coming back?  Will it become something I cannot stop?  Can I still be outside when it’s sunny?” Anxiety and fear suddenly controlled my life.

I learned everything I could about skin cancer and melanoma for comfort and my own peace of mind.  It was my way of controlling a path I had not chosen.  Educating myself with information and accepting the care and advice of skilled and experienced healthcare professionals, like Dr. Atkins at Georgetown University Lombardi Cancer Center, empowered me.  I felt armed and ready to embrace my diagnosis.

Melanoma is not a choice, but living with a positive attitude is.  I parlayed my diagnosis into a career with the Melanoma Research Foundation, where I am passionate about the work we do and as a patient, I know first-hand the difference this organization makes.  In addition, every morning I journal the 3 things I am grateful for and the 3 things that will make my day great. It’s amazing how much this simple routine launches my day in a good direction and reinforces my mind set on gratitude.

I will continue to research melanoma, but it will never consume me or compromise my positivity. I will always rely on the best specialists available to support my treatment and continue to be proactive with my frequent skin exams and sun protection practices.  Being positive makes me who I am, not melanoma.

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