My Melanoma Story - May is Melanoma Awareness Month
by Amanda ,posted May 1 2014 12:37PM
We all live very busy lives. We make choices every day that determine our tomorrows. We often ignore things that don’t affect us and some of us only care about things that we or loved ones are passionate about or affected by.
May is Melanoma Awareness Month. If I can inform just 1 person of the dangers of the sun and how SCARY it is to face melanoma, I will be happy.
When it comes to cancer, we all know someone. When they are diagnosed, we google it, learn all about the kind, and hope for the best possible outcome.
Before I was diagnosed with malignant melanoma, I didn’t know what melanoma was. I had heard the word few times, but never really knew what it was. Skin Cancer wasn’t on my radar AT ALL. I was in my early 20’s, focused on my career, and living in my own little bubble. It never crossed my mind that I would be faced with a potentially deadly cancer. It also never dawned on me that a little mole on my breast would turn my life upside down. I try to share this story with anyone who will listen because the fact that I had no idea what melanoma was, means there are other people walking around without a clue too.
It seems like until many people know someone personally that has been diagnosed with melanoma, it’s still one of those things that they think won’t happen to them. Until I share the details … the painful, sad, scary details … the words don’t leave an impression.
If you don’t know someone who has been diagnosed with Melanoma, LET ME BE THAT PERSON. Let me be the person you have a direct connection to … the reason you educated yourself what to keep an eye out for. If you're going through it and need a friend, reach out. I'm happy to talk with you! XO
Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer. It is the least common form of skin cancer, but the deadliest. Never did I imagine that I would be the one dealing with it … especially in my 20’s. If I knew THEN what I know NOW, I would have done many things differently.
Before: I tanned here and there, but never regularly. I just didn’t have the time. I grew up in New England and while I don’t remember having horrible sunburns growing up, I’m sure I had a few. (One blistering sunburn early on in life doubles your chance of developing melanoma later in life) Sunscreen was something I used when it was around, but I didn’t seek it out. Sunglasses were purely a fashion statement, never a necessity. Hats, same thing. I didn’t think twice about the time I spent outside in the sun and often complained that I could never get a tan. Looking back, all of that was stupidity and ignorance. The reality of it was … I didn’t know better. I didn’t know anyone who had melanoma … it was never a topic of conversation ... so I knew nothing of it.
What is that? I’m not even quite sure what made me realize that a new mole on my breast was something to be alarmed about. I noticed a small dark dot on my breast when I was getting out of the shower one day. I was 24. I noticed it and carried on. A few months later, I noticed it again and this time it seemed to be a little bigger. Again, I carried on with my life and thought nothing of it. It was a 2 months later than I noticed it was changing. It was darker, bigger, and had edges that were a different shade of brown. The center was almost black. While I didn’t think “skin cancer,” I did wonder if that was normal. (Skin cancer didn’t even cross my mind once – that terrifies me for other people who like the 24-year-old me, know nothing about melanoma)
I showed a friend. Showed her again weeks later. Again a month after that. Finally she insisted I show my doctor. I had a gynecologist appointment coming up, so I waited until that appointment to bring this mole to a doctor’s attention. The moment she saw it, she told me I needed to call a dermatologist and tell them I needed to be seen immediately. I didn’t even have a dermatologist! I called, waited 3 months for an appointment (more waiting – meanwhile the cancer could be spreading) and was finally seen. That’s when a mole changed my life.
Diagnosis: My dermatologist performed a biopsy and confirmed the diagnosis of malignant melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer. (Those results took weeks to come back) When he told me I would be needing to schedule an appointment with an oncologist the next day, I THEN started to understand what was happening. The word melanoma meant nothing to me, but I did know what an oncologist was. I teared up, but knew I just had to face it a day at a time. He told me not to go home and google melanoma … which of course I did. He warned me it was going to say scary things, which it did. Everything I read talked about it being the most aggressive skin cancer and how fast it spreads. I have a hard time expressing how scary this was. I went from blissful ignorance to being face with all of this scary information very quickly.
The treatment: Days later I was undergoing multiple surgeries to remove scoops of my breast (leaving about a 4-5 inch scar) and surgery to remove lymph nodes from underneath my arm to determine whether the cancer had spread. (The survival rate for melanoma that has traveled to distant organs is only 15%) I’ll spare you the details, but one thing I will NEVER forget is how PAINFUL some of the injections were before the surgery. Thankfully, my melanoma was discovered at an early enough stage that there was no evidence that it had spread to other parts of my body.
Now: It was a terrifying experience. It didn’t end there, but I’ll end the story there. Ever since (the past 4 years) I’ve undergone many other tests (countless MRI’s) and biopsies for fear that the melanoma did in fact spread. I’ve had MANY more suspicious moles removed (all of them being pre-cancerous or non-melanoma) and continue to teeter on the fine line of being vigilant and paranoid.
Prevention: Wear sunscreen. (Check the expiration date, they DO expire quickly) Reapply often. Cover yourself. Wear a hat when you’re outside during midday hours. Wear sunglass – melanoma CAN develop on your eyes … and avoid indoor tanning! Embrace the skin you’re in. You don’t need to cook it for it to be beautiful!
What to look for: Everyone should know the warning signs of melanoma, which are as simple to remember as A, B, C, D and E—
“A” stands for asymmetrical. Does the mole or spot have an irregular shape with two parts that look very different?
“B” stands for border. Is the border irregular or jagged?
“C” is for color. Is the color uneven?
“D” is for diameter. Is the mole or spot larger than the size of a pea?
“E” is for evolving.