Melanoma Survivor Sam

May 01, 2012 8 Comments by

During Skin Cancer Awareness Month, Coolibar invites skin cancer survivors to share their stories with us in their own words. The ins and outs of treatment can be intense and not necessarily a fun thing to read; however hope, determination and drive to educate others play a major role in these individuals’ lives. Skin cancer doesn’t discriminate, it can happen to anyone. Prevention and early detection can be life saving! We hope you share these stories with your friends, family and colleagues. Be SunAWARE this month the all year round.

From Samantha Hessel

Cancer- just a six letter word when looked at purely by letters means nothing. When looked at medically means a diagnosis, hope for a cure, and a battle. When looked at physically is an organism that invades your body and life. When looked at emotionally it breaks you down, tears you apart, and instills fear, sadness, anger, and betrayal in you and your loved ones. Cancer unwelcomingly entered my life two and a half years ago when I was 19 years old. The day before my diagnosis, my family and I enjoyed a nice day together touring quaint, local shops and having a delicious lunch. Little did we know at 8 am the next morning our lives would change forever. On July 24, 2009 I was diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer at 19 years old. On August 13, 2009 I had a minor surgery to remove the rest of the mole and 1cm of surrounding skin.

I never thought at 19 I would have heard “you have cancer”. If it wasn’t for my mom pushing me to have skin checks every year I have no idea what my life would be like right now. From this experience I have learned how truly important it is to protect yourself from the sun, especially tanning beds. I am guilty as charged for using tanning beds from 15-18 years old and truly regret it. If I would have listened to those around me I may not being writing about this experience. Now I protect myself from the sun every day by applying sunscreen regularly and wearing sun protective clothing when I know I will be outside for long periods. Hats have become my new best friend. Yes, is it hard when everyone else is at the beach and not only do I feel I can’t go because of the sun, but when I do go I am all covered in clothing, sticking out like a sore thumb or hearing comments about “how pale you are”. Does it hurt? OF COURSE! I take the looks and the comments because I know in my heart it is better than hearing “you have melanoma” again and enduring a fight for my life. I use that hurt to educate in my local community and I hope through awareness people will come to understand that getting a tan and being a bronze goddess is not worth losing your life.

My challenge to all Coolibar Blog readers is educate your kids, yourself, friends, family, community, workplace, etc. about the dangers of the sun. I beg you because it breaks my heart when people lose their life to this horrible disease. Educate and create awareness so no one has to hear the words “you have cancer” especially at a young age.

Me dressed in all Coolibar in this past summer

In my homecoming dress (when I used to tan)

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8 Responses to “Melanoma Survivor Sam”

  1. Erin Lanigan says:

    My name is Erin Lanigan and I was diagnosed with Melanoma last June of 2011 at 37yrs old. I had not been to a dermatologist for the previous 10yrs. and had coincidentally scheduled an appt. to get back into the routine..I grew up in Saudi Arabia..I’m of Irish descent with red hair, blue eyes, fair skin and more moles than I can count..I believe that’s already 5 strikes against me!! That Spring before my appointment I had noticed a that a mole on my left forearm that had been with me since childhood was raised,bleeding and flaking. It stopped after a couple of months and seemed to clear up, lucky for me I kept my scheduled exam anyway!! A punch Biopsy was taken and I was told the results could take up to 2 weeks to come in…. just a few days later, I was at an unrelated doctor’s visit in the same building, as I was being asked routine health questions, my doctor pulled up my history on the computer screen….she gave me this grave look and asked if I had heard from my dermatologist yet…I said no…it looked as though she was going to with hold information from me so I asked her what was wrong, she turned the screen to me and told me that I had Malignant Melanoma. I choke up now just thinking about it but at the time I really didn’t know how serious it was and how it would change my life forever. I had extensive surgery in July..they also made an incision in my armpit to remove Lymph Nodes for testing. Waiting for those results was an emotional rollercoaster! I did find out after what seemed like an eternity was that they were clear…my 1st feeling of relief up until this point. So almost a year later, I have had several biospsies, only 2 were good and 1 lead to another excision on my upper back in January. Finally, my last checkup in April came out clean…no punch biopsies, no slices…I checked out fine and walked away bandaid-free with a smile on glued to my face!! That dark cloud disappeared for a little while but traces of it still follow me around everywhere I go.

  2. Erin Lanigan says:

    , My name is Erin Lanigan and I was diagnosed with Melanoma last summer, June 2011 at 37yrs old. I had not been to a dermatologist for the past 10yrs. and had coincidentally scheduled an appt. to get back into the routine..I grew up in Saudi Arabia..I’m of Irish descent with red hair, blue eyes, fair skin and more moles than I can count..I believe that’s already 5 strikes against me!! That Spring before my appointment I had noticed that a mole on my left forearm, which had been with me since childhood was raised, bleeding and flaking. After a couple of months it stopped and appeared normal again…lucky for me I kept my scheduled exam anyway!! A punch Biopsy was taken and I was told the results could take up to 2 weeks…. just a few days after that exam, I was at another unrelated doctor’s visit in the same building, as I was being asked routine health questions, my doctor pulled up my history chart on the computer ….she then turned to face me with a grave look , asked if I had heard from my dermatologist yet…I said no…I was under the impression that she was going to withhold information from me and insist that I speak with my specialist..after that look she couldn’t help hide, I asked her what was wrong, she turned the screen to me and broke the bad news.. I had Malignant Melanoma. I choke up now just thinking about it but at the time I really had no idea how serious it was and how it would change my life forever. I had extensive surgery the following month..which included a Lymph Node Biopsy… an incision was made at my armpit site. Waiting for those results was an emotional rollercoaster! I was in a very dark place during that period, naturally expecting the worst and wondering how I would ever be able to endure chemo. After what seemed like an eternity, the results showed that my Lymph Nodes had not been affected and my margins had been cleared! So one year and 10 Punch Biopsies later, I was to undergo another excision, a pre-cancerous mole was found on my upper back. Finally, my latest checkup in April was clean…zero punch biopsies and zero slices…my 1st clean screen! I walked out of that office and marched down those all too familiar halls, bandaid-free with a smile glued to my face!! That dark cloud hovering over me disappeared for a little while but traces of it still follow me around everywhere I go. I get sad, I feel anxious, I get that lump in my throat and sometimes I feel doomed but I never forget how lucky I was. This story comes with an incredibly bizarre twist though…2 days after the big surgery, I decided to get some fresh air in my garden..I grabbed the hose, stretched it out to the edge of my property then proceeded to water…my next door neighbor, who I had not seen for several months, came by, stopping to catch up. I told her my story, she asked me to look at a mole on her upper back which was displaying the same symptoms…let’s just say, my expression was grave, like that of the doctor relaying to me my bad results…I made her promise me to schedule an urgent appointment with a Dermatologist immediately! She did….Stage 4 Nodular Melanoma! She went through an identical surgery and with huge relief not only found out that her Lymph Nodes were clear but that she was going to be a 1st time Grandmother!! So, please spread the word..share your stories, touch people’s lives and make a difference..it could save someone!!

  3. Erin Lanigan says:

    (final draft!)

    My name is Erin Lanigan and I was diagnosed with Melanoma last summer, June 2011 at 37yrs old. I grew up along the Red Sea in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia..I’m of Irish descent with red hair, blue eyes, fair skin and more moles than I can count..I believe that’s already 5 strikes against me!! I had not been to a dermatologist for the past 10yrs. and had coincidentally scheduled an appt. in the Spring of 2011 to get back into the routine.. when I had noticed some peculiar development on my left forearm, an existing mole that had been with me since childhood became raised, it started to bleed and flake but stopped and appeared normal again after a couple of months…lucky for me I kept my scheduled exam anyway!! A punch Biopsy was taken and I was told to expect results within 2 weeks…. just a few days after my exam, I was at another unrelated doctor’s visit in the same building, as I was being asked routine health questions, my doctor pulled up my history on her computer ….she then turned to me with a grave look on her face and asked if I had heard from my dermatologist yet…I said no…I was under the impression that she was going to withhold important information from me and insist that I speak with my specialist first..after that look she couldn’t help hide, I nervously asked her what was wrong, she turned the screen towards me and broke the bad news.. I had Malignant Melanoma. At 1st I was stunned and quiet, not necessarily alarmed as I really didn’t know much about it! I choke up now just thinking and writing about it because the experience has since educated me and changed my life forever. I was scheduled for extensive surgery the following month..which included an incision under my armpit to remove Lymph Nodes for biopsy. Waiting for those results was an emotional nightmare! I was in a very dark place during that period, naturally expecting the worst and wondering how I would ever be able to endure chemo let alone find out I may not be around much longer for my 12yr old son, Kieran. After what seemed like an eternity of waiting, the results showed that my Lymph Nodes had not been affected by the Cancer and my margins had been successfully cleared! So one year, 10 Punch Biopsies and a nerve damaged arm later, I was to begin the New Year of 2012 undergoing another excision surgery for a pre-cancerous mole found on my upper back. At this point I was in despair, life seemed more threatening to me than enjoyable! I made my peace, accepted these changes and tried to come to terms with this new way of life being carved out for me, what choice did I have? Finally, my latest checkup in April was clean…zero punch biopsies and zero slices…my 1st clean screen! I walked out of that office and marched down those all too familiar halls, bandaid-free with a smile glued to my face!! That dark cloud hovering over me disappeared for a little while but traces of it still follow me around everywhere I go and that is my reminder to stay vigilant. I get sad, I feel anxious, I get that lump in my throat and sometimes feel doomed on occasion but never forget how lucky and fortunate I was. The story doesn’t end here though… 2 days after the big surgery, I decided to get off that recovery couch and get some fresh air in my garden..I grabbed the hose, stretched it out to the edge of my property then proceeded to water…that’s when fate brought me and my next door neighbor together, we had not seen each other for several months….. I told her my story, she then asked me to look at a mole on her upper back displaying the same symptoms I had…let’s just say, my expression was grave, like that of the doctor relaying to me my bad results…I made her promise me to schedule an urgent appointment with a Dermatologist immediately! She did….Stage 4 Nodular Melanoma! She went through an identical surgery and with huge relief not only found out that her Lymph Nodes were clear but that she was going to be a Grandmother for the 1st time!! So, please spread the word..share your stories, touch people’s lives and make a difference..it could save someone!!

  4. Morford says:

    Sam–you rock. There’s still some idiot kids here who still think it won’t happen to them. However, I don’t see nearly as many girls getting tanned up for prom as I used to. Keep up the good work!

  5. Sara says:

    Hi, Samantha — your story should be an inspiration to all. Extremely happy that God (and your mom) led you down the curable path. Hugs and love, Sara G.

  6. Larry says:

    Hi Samantha: I am very blessed to know you personally. You do rock. Your are beautiful. You are a great fisherman. Keep up the good work educating others. God’s blessings on you always. Larry S.

  7. Sheri says:

    Samantha,
    My beautiful daughter, my rock. I believe in you and always have. I know that God is with us on this journey and always has been. I know by educating society, especially young people, about the dangers of the sun and tanning beds you are saving lives every day. Life is mysterious, but you live it to its fullest! A wise man once said-”Turn your frown upside down”. You make a difference!
    Love-Mom

  8. Tammy Kilstofte says:

    Sam,
    I have a friend who was just diagnosed with melanoma. I have sent this to her. She, like you, likes to be outdoors enjoying life. I shared with her your great hat (I love the hat). I have seen the misery that a later diagnosis of melanoma can bring. Please keep up what you do for yourself as well as what you are doing for the young people who read this.

    You have a great life in front of you and many people who love and adore you.
    Love – Tammy

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