I Am a Melanoma Survivor: Get Your Skin Checked!

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melanomaI’ve sat down to write my melanoma story several times, but the stress of the pandemic, some other health issues, and just trying to figure out life during this time has been difficult. However, I feel that by telling my story maybe I can help others.

My story begins with being very fair-skinned and blonde-haired and also having way too many sunburns to count. I was born in 1974 and the dangers of suntanning weren’t really talked about. My friends and I used to lay out in the sun during high school and college years. I have many moles and markings over my body, but I never really was worried about it.

Fast forward to 2017. We moved to Minnesota from Wyoming. While in Wyoming, my husband was concerned about some moles on my back but we lived in a rural area (which is most of Wyoming), but we didn’t have good healthcare or dermatologists who were in the area very much. Plus, I really didn’t think I had anything to worry about, so I didn’t pursue it. After moving to Minnesota, I had a friend call me out of the blue, tell me that she was diagnosed with melanoma and she thought I should go get checked. I had eczema on my hands and thought it would be okay to have a check-up for that and have them check my skin at the same time. I actually called right away and got an appointment within a few days.

Once at the appointment, I was nervous and didn’t really know what to expect. I had to get into a gown with only my underwear left on. They went over every inch of my body, even in between my toes! I ended up having five biopsies. They were shave biopsies, which meant they cut the moles and some of the surrounding skin and tissue off with a razor. It wasn’t super painful, but it wasn’t pleasant either. Now I just had to wait until I heard from the doctor about the results.

I was sitting at the YMCA watching my daughter do gymnastics. I saw I was getting a call from Mayo Clinic. I thought I had better answer it. The dermatoloigist said that all of my biopsies were moderate atypical nevus, meaning they are what some refer to as “precancerous.” However, then she said that one on my back came back as melanoma and it was starting to invade. At this point, I was in a fog. I really couldn’t hear anything else. I drove home and don’t even remember driving home. I wasn’t even sure of everything the doctor had told me. I had to go back and read her notes.

I ended up having to schedule what is called an excision. They take a football shaped section a couple of inches around the cancerous growth and cut everything out down to the muscle and then they stitch it up. It took the dermatologist 2 1/2 hours to do this, and it was terrible. They had to keep numbing me and it was very painful. After it was over and my back was all bandaged up, I walked out to my husband in the waiting area and sobbed. The entire process was devastating. 

Since that time, I’ve had four more excisions, including one on my smaller toe and had to use a knee scooter for weeks to recover from that. I also had to have one on my nose removed that ended up being basal cell carcinoma. In total, I’ve had 10 biopsies to screen for cancer. I fear every time I go to the dermatologist that they will find another one. It is rare that I don’t have something removed. I also had to go to the dermatologist every 3 months, and now it is every 6 months. I do still worry about melanoma, but know that by getting regular check-ups I am doing everything I can to catch anything as early as possible. That is the key. Catching it early saved my life, and can save yours.

Some things I’ve learned along the way:

  1. Go yearly to have a skin check. It really can save your life. 
  2. Use sunscreen and stay out of the sun as much as possible.
  3. For those of us who have many moles on our bodies, it is a great idea to do a skin mapping. A photographer takes pictures of you on every part of your body and then your dermatologist has something to go by to see if anything is changing. Yep, it’s embarrassing to stand naked before a photographer, but it is certainly better than dying.
  4. Cover those kiddos in sunscreen! This is so important because it teaches them early to take care of their skin.
  5. If you have to ever have an excision, I have found that a plastic surgeon does a fabulous job and, honestly, that is the only place I go to now.

Resources on Melanoma:

Skin Cancer Foundation

Warning Signs of Melanoma

 

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