Skin Diaries

A Melanoma Warrior’s Advice: Always Make Time to Take Care of Your Health

I found my melanoma through self-checks, but not the way you’d think. For a long time, I would notice a brown spot on my lower right leg every time I shaved my legs. Unless I was actually focusing on my leg, I never noticed it and it didn’t bother me, so it wasn’t a big deal.

I never would have dreamt that the spot was Melanoma. But I knew it wasn’t totally normal, so I had made appointments to get it removed. But, because everything else in my life was more important, I kept canceling them. Sound familiar to anyone?

I finally stopped canceling in 2007. It was January and I had been having night sweats and felt very fatigued. It inspired me to finally keep my appointment and the mole was finally removed. I moved on and never gave it another thought – until a few days later.

I was at work rushing to a meeting when I realized I’d forgotten a file I needed at my desk. I ran back to my office where my phone was ringing. It was an unknown number. I decided to answer it in the off chance they were canceling my meeting. As luck would have it, it was my Doctor telling me to come into her office. I realized this was probably bad news, but I still found myself telling her that I couldn’t just drop everything and leave work. Reluctantly, she told me I had melanoma and she wasn’t sure what stage (or how bad) it was. She was sending me to a surgeon, a dermatologist and an oncologist. At this point, I really hoped that the meeting was canceled.  

The surgeon I went to recommended a sentinel node biopsy to find out what stage my melanoma was. I had the biopsy on February 2nd, my 50th birthday. Ironically, a mole was found in one of my groin nodes, but it was completely benign. I was Stage One and I felt blessed. I made it through that scare and moved on to routine skin checks that I DIDN’T miss or reschedule.

Then, during a routine scan in 2011 my dermatologist found another suspicious spot. More melanoma. Same cell type. Stage One but I was told there were free floating cells – a nest of cells that were not condensed enough to be a big concern – and my immune system should take care of them. My dermatologist advised me to watch for any hard lumps behind my knee or in my groin and report them right away. I also had to get checked every three months.

One of the biggest things I took away was advice from my oncologist. They told me that our bodies let us know when something is wrong, much more than we realize. We just need to learn to pay attention. In my case, my night sweats were telling me something and I needed to pay attention.

My diagnosis has changed the way I view life. I do become somewhat afraid when I have a strange new symptom or spot, but I try not to let it consume me. I feel so very fortunate. With the use of sunscreen, shade, and sun-protective clothing I no longer hide from the sun. I am an extremely active person, so being able to get outside to run, walk, hike, paddleboard, golf or garden, is really important to me. I couldn’t imagine not being able to do those things or fearing for my health. Since my diagnosis, I always have SPF sunscreen and UPF clothing on. I even went to sunny Jamaica and added a great big sun hat to my wardrobe to stay safe.

My advice to you: Never put off taking care of yourself. Early detection saves lives, especially with melanoma. The earlier you find the cancer the better your result will be. So check your skin, go to the dermatologist, and get outside and be sun safe!

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