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This is Brave: Baring my Scars to Save Lives

Original Blog: “Love the Skin You Were Given” June 26, 2019

Hi, it’s Amy Nichole here once again. The last time I shared my story with you was in June 2019. That was right after I had found out that my melanoma had returned not once, but twice! Since 2019, I’ve been seeing my oncologist every 3-6 months in addition to seeing my dermatologist every 3 months. Safe to say, I’ve had my share of appointments and tests since I last shared with you.  

Back in October 2019, my oncologist ran all kinds of tests including a full body PET Scan. With the melanoma coming back like it had, we needed to get a better picture of what we were facing. I also have family history of Breast, Melanoma, Cervical and Lung cancers so we tested for genetic cancer markers. I tested positive for two cancer markers which increases my risk for Breast, Ovarian, and Pancreatic Cancers. Following these tests, we knew what we might be up against, so I started getting proactive screenings for other cancers. More tests!

To add to the numerous battle wounds and scars, I already caried on my right arm and back, between Nov-Dec 2019 my dermatologist found more than 10 atypical spots, all of them ranging from questionable to severe and needing to be removed and tested. One of those spots had been considered ‘moderate’ in June 2018 and was left alone. It ended up growing back as Melanoma.

Since 2019, my outlook on life has changed significantly. I’ve become an advocate for skin cancer and do my best to educate others about protecting themselves from the sun. I’ve even started fundraising! In May 2019, I was able to raise $900 for skin cancer research, education and prevention. Between May and June 2020, I raised $1,000 with shirts I had designed to help increase awareness. Coolibar even helped provide the long-sleeved shirts for it!

I’ve also changed my habits. Since my initial diagnosis, I’ve gone from being carefree in tank tops and no hat, to wearing only UPF 50+ clothing. Coolibar has just about taken over my closet. I always wear sunscreen and have a hat and my Coolibar gloves on when I’m outside, no matter the weather. With the diagnosis and scares I have had, I know how important it is to keep yourself protected. I have even changed my diet, per my oncologist’s request, as a preventative measure. I’m pleased to say that all my test results were clear throughout 2020.

The downside of the past year was that my best friend Michelle, lost her battle with Pancreatic Cancer. She was initially diagnosed in May 2019 and passed away in on October 25th, 2020. She was with me in January of 2020 when I got the news that I was cancer-free for the first time since my first diagnosis. She never missed my appointments because she knew how much her support helped me through. She touched me deeply and I am forever changed. I’m so grateful to have been by her side in the last few days of her life. Seeing her go was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,  but I’m glad I was by her side just like she had been for me. Rest in Peace Michelle! I love you forever and always my soul sister!

I’ve learned through all of this that beautiful things can come out of the darkest places. About a year before she passed in November 2019 Michelle received the news she was momentarily cancer free. We celebrated by doing a warrior portrait session. After she passed, her family looked to those photos for comfort as they celebrated her strength and resilience. They will forever be cherished by her family. She was a true warrior and will live on in the hearts of many people. Michelle inspired me to donate a warrior portrait session every year in her memory. It’s something I can keep giving to others to help them through when they need it. For that, I’m grateful.

Considering everything that I’ve been through, and continue to go through, I get asked for advice often. It tell people that it’s all about having a good plan with your team of doctors. Having everyone on the same page is so important. Being aware of your body is also extremely important. Ultimately, you are more likely to catch a sudden change, not your care givers. So, if you see something, say something! NEVER miss your skin checks and don’t be afraid to go in and ask your doctor to double-check something if it isn’t looking right. It is better to be safe than sorry as Melanoma or any form of cancer can come on suddenly and change quickly.

Most importantly, scars aren’t scary or anything we should hide. They’re a part of us. They help tell the story of how we’ve survived our battles. They’re what remind us of the pain we went through. Every new scar makes us stronger than the scar before it. They’re tough and courageous. They’re our war stories and our badges of strength. Be proud of your scars as some may not even be visible to the naked eye but are deep down inside of you. Don’t be ashamed and don’t be shy. Show your courage and strength along with your scars. Inspire someone. You may change someone’s life in more ways than one with your story as each battle is something so personal to learn from. 

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Skin Diaries

Amy Nichole: “Love the Skin You Were Given”

My name is Amy Nichole. I’m a fine art portrait photographer specializing in children’s & teen photography. For my career, I’m always outdoors and occasionally in the studio. Since birth, I’ve always had very pale skin with freckles and a reddish tone to my hair. At the age of 8, I received an awful sunburn that actually resulted in a birthmark looking design on my right arm and parts of my back. Following the incident, my mother brought me in to see a doctor, but they just pushed it aside and chalked it up as a bad reaction to the sun.

Let’s fast forward to my teens, it was the IT thing to have tan skin. Being of British and Irish descent, my fair skin wasn’t going to tan easily. From laying out in the sun for hours covered with oil to using the tanning spray alternatives, I tried everything you could think of! With all my attempts of trying to fit in, my “birthmark” only got darker and that’s when the moles and spots started to appear.

At this point, I scheduled an appointment to have a dermatologist take a closer look at all these odd-spots, which lead to biopsies left and right. Every single extraction the doctor performed and examined came back as pre-cancerous. Although disheartened by the results, I’m thankful that this first scare educated me on the importance of constantly checking your skin and prepared me for the future I had ahead.

I’d begun getting skin checks every 3-6 months and made my skin health a top priority following my time with the dermatologist. During a personal ABCDE (Asymmetry. Border. Color. Diameter. Evolving.) in June 2016, a spot on my upper chest had drastically changed in size. I expressed my concern to my dermatologist and she agreed that biopsying would be appropriate. THANK GOODNESS I was so proactive! 4 days later, she personally called me to say that it was melanoma and was at Stage 1B and very close to transitioning to Stage 2. We scheduled my first excision quickly and successfully removed the melanoma before it worsened.

Since that day, my life revolved around taking care of myself while outdoors. I started always wearing long sleeves, hats, pants, you name it! That’s when I was introduced to Coolibar from the surgeon who performed my surgery. With my line of work and living in Nevada, I’m always outside and it gets difficult to cover up with the extreme heat, but I’ve been able to make it work.

After two years of being cancer free, I had my next scare. I began seeing a new dermatologist that was very highly recommended in the area, working with celebrities and high-profile individuals. After switching though, I just never felt like we were on the same page. For months I was still doing the 3-month check-ins to be safe but at one point he’d insisted for us to make it a checkup once a year – I declined this suggestion quickly. In February 2019, I was still with the same dermatologist and we came up to our eventually agreed upon 6-month appointment and I came in with concerns of a new spot that had randomly appeared. There was a little back-and-forth on next actions but I requested he take no chances and biopsy.  Just a few days later, he called me to let me know that “random” spot was, in fact, Stage 1A melanoma. While having my first Mohs surgery, they had to go in 3 times, so the whole operation was over 6 hours. During the visit, I requested the surgeon biopsy one other spot that had grown over a scar I had from a pre-cancerous removal. Guess what! Those results also came back as a 3rd melanoma diagnosis.

I’ve finally been upgraded to an oncologist for further testing. I’m not going to let this bring me down or define me whatsoever. I have an amazing support system and know it’s not going to be an easy road ahead. But, the scars and the love I have from everyone is what’s going to help me get through this. I even put on a special portrait session for 12 kids, that was inspired by the “This is Brave” Campaign, and we raised $900 for the Skin Cancer Foundation. You can see a lot of the images from the photoshoot within my blog! I wanted to help the younger generation be more aware about protecting their skin.

After reading my journey up to this point, I want you to take a little advice. We do need to put our faith in the doctors but also you NEED to be your biggest advocate. You are the one that sees your own skin 24/7. Protect yourself, love the life you live, scars are beautiful, and they will never define you. But most importantly, love the skin you were given.

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