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As a child, I spent a lot of time outdoors not using sunscreen on a regular basis. At a young age after a day at the pool I had my first severe sunburn which developed blisters and pits across my shoulders. When I became a teenager and even into my young adult life, I used tanning beds on a regular basis, without considering the damage it could cause. Consequently enough, the local tanning salon was a “social” hangout for me and my friends.
I was diagnosed with my first skin cancer, specifically Basel cell carcinoma, in my early 20′s. I wish that diagnosis of skin cancer would have opened my eyes to the dangers of tanning and sun exposure, but sadly it didn’t stop me from using the tanning beds from time to time or not being diligent about applying sunscreen to myself. I developed many freckles and moles over the years due to the sun damage. At some point, I developed a small freckle on one of my toes. I can remember people commenting how the freckle on my toe was “cute”. Never did I think anything serious would result from these freckles/moles!
I have always been health conscious and the weeks leading up to my diagnosis of melanoma I just felt like something wasn’t right. Every time my shoes were off I would find myself looking at my toe. Finally, that overwhelming feeling that something wasn’t right led me to make an appointment with a dermatologist. It was odd that I had this overwhelming feeling because my “cute”mole/freckle wasn’t spelling out MELANOMA like you might find looking at pictures online. The only thing that was really concerning me was another tiny freckle that appeared next to an existing mole/freckle that I had for 20+ years.
On January 1, 2013 I went to the dermatologist who did a full body scan. He asked what area I was concerned about. At that moment I spoke up and said my toe. He looked at that area again but felt I could wait 3 months to be reevaluated. I was persistent and would not waiver without him doing a biopsy before leaving. He agreed but reassured me that it didn’t think it looked like anything of concern.
January 2, 2013 is a day I’ll never forget. The biopsy results were back, and I was told I had malignant melanoma stage 1. When I ended the call with the doctor, to say I was in a state of shock is inadequate. I will never forget how scared I was in that moment. The doctor told me he was glad I persisted on having it biopsied. I knew immediately I needed a second opinion so I went to a different dermatologist who confirmed the diagnosis of melanoma, but also found other areas on my body that looked concerning. The dermatologist just to be on the safe side did many more biopsies with one coming back as melanoma in situ. I was advised by the 2nd dermatologist that I would need to be referred to an oncologist surgeon because where my melanoma was located.
The surgeon explained that often when melanoma is on the toe they have to amputate the toe because their is not enough tissue to cut away and that skin grafting generally doesn’t take and often times end up with an infection. After reviewing my pathology reports and looking at my toe he felt confident that we had caught it in time and would be able to remove the cancer without amputation and preventing the cancer from spreading to my organs. He did advise me we wouldn’t know anything for sure until after the surgery.
January 25, 2013 I had the surgery on my toe and also an area on my back to remove the cancer. After waiting the longest 5 days I received the most wonderful call from the surgeon telling me that both areas showed clear margins on the pathology report.
Since my initial diagnosis in January I have had 10 additional biopsies coming back as atypical dysplastic nevi. Because of my diagnosis of melanoma, my father being a survivor of melanoma and all of the atypical dysplastic nevi they believe genetics are also playing a role in my diagnosis. Because of this my children are now getting full body scans every year. I can’t turn back time or change genetics but I can remain diligent about my skin care now and make sure my children are always protected and educated.
After my diagnosis, I felt it was very important to organize the first 5k Miles Against Melanoma in North Texas. Miles Against Melanoma, is a non-profit organization to raise melanoma awareness. The money raised at the race will be donated to melanoma research.
My life has been forever changed by this diagnosis and feel extremely grateful and blessed with my outcome which is why I find it so important to share my story and raise awareness stressing the importance of sun safety, staying out of tanning beds, getting regular skin exams and raising money for melanoma research.
Please feel free to contact me Jlemmo@me.com
04.2013 Beth Green
My name is Beth, I am now 30 years old, and this is the story of my 13 year battle with Melanoma…
As a child I literally grew up outside. My dad is a farmer and I loved to play softball. I participated in 4-H and also loved the outdoors. I am sure that my parents put sunscreen on me, but I was the child whom did not burn as much and do not recall ever having a sun burn that blistered. When I got into high school and started attending dances I wanted to be tan. I only got to use the tanning bed a handful of times as I was first diagnosed at age 17 with Melanoma. My dad had noticed a mole on my forehead that had not been there before and appeared to be growing. At this time it was only the size of a pencil eraser but at his request my mom took me to have it removed. It was only a couple days later when I came home and found my mom crying. She had gotten the call that I had Melanoma cancer and would need to be seen by a Dermatologist, Surgeon, and Oncologist. At age 17 I believed that I was invincible and teenagers whom were active did not die from cancer especially skin cancer. My parents on the other hand appeared to be devastated. I vividly remember my first appointment after that in which my diagnosis and all the risk were explained. It was at this time that everything set in. The oncologist had told my parents that if the cancer had spread or metastasized, the prognosis was that I would have six months to live. This is was the defining moment for me. In the appointments and surgeries to come we found out the cancer was in my lymph nodes and glands. This meant I had stage four Melanoma and that was when the treatments began. I spent the entire summer and my senior year of high school going back and for the to Children’s Mercy for interferon and radiation treatments. I knew that I had to fight the cancer if not only for myself, but for my parents, and my little sisters and brother. The best way I could think of at the time was to keep enjoying life. I played softball that summer and fall while also continuing to be a cheerleader for my high school. I had numerous surgeries and spent three days a week at the hospital receiving IV treatments. The treatments finished as did my senior year. I went off to college cancer free that fall. It didn’t last long as I was again diagnosed with cancer in the fall of 2001. This time the cancer had spread throughout the lymph nodes in my neck and into the muscle tissue. I had just made it to college and joined a sorority. Needless to say this time I was devastated and even questioning why this had to happen to me again! This was also the first time during this journey that I saw my dad cry and could hear the tears in my grandma’s voice while I spoke with her on the phone. I had a radical neck dissection and now have a scar that is about nine inches long with scarring as well further scarring due to the radiation treatments that took place. The hospital stays got longer and surgeries more intense with drainage tubes and physical therapy. I was still determined to continue to fight and believe it or not one of my biggest worries before the surgery was the scarring. I even had my mom go by me lots of turtle neck sweaters for Christmas that year, although I did not end up wearing them. My treatments finished in the winter of 2002 and I have since been cancer free. I am now going on 11 years of being cancer free! It has been rough and I have had countless biopsies and moles removed as well as the millions of follow up appointments. I cannot say that I am glad this happened to me but I do believe it has made me the person I am today. I am able to see the positive side to everything and not sweat the small stuff. I do not tell my story to make people feel sorry for me. I now wear my scars proudly so that people will ask me what happened. Educating people is my way of helping others prevent this from happening to them. I want young women to know that you do not have to be tan to be beautiful and life is too short to not protect yourself. I feel blessed to be able to share my story and my journey with Melanoma. I am now married with three beautiful children and am thankful for everyday that I get to spend with them.
03.2013 Cayce Burwell
Cayce Burwell was 25 and engaged to be married. While trying on her wedding dress, she noticed a mole on her back. Not thinking much of it, she made an appointment and had the mole removed and biopsied. Two weeks later the dermatologist’s office called and said it was melanoma. In an instant, she went from being an excited bride to a cancer patient.
Because there wasn’t enough healthy tissue around the tissue sample used for the biopsy, the dermatologist couldn’t guarantee all of the cancer cells had been removed and recommended a more extensive surgery. In an effort to predict how the cancer would spread, the doctors injected a radioactive dye at the original site of the mole and tracked it to the lymph nodes.
“They ended up removing a chunk the size of a hockey puck from my back as well as six lymph nodes,” said Burwell. It turns out she was lucky, all of the lymph nodes came back clear and she was able to get back to the exciting things happening in her life.
Three years later, Burwell’s grandmother noticed a wound on the bottom of her foot. The red streaks emanating up Granny’s leg led the doctors to believe it might be a bacterial or fungal infection. Over the next few months, various efforts failed and Granny’s leg got worse. An eventual biopsy determined that she too had melanoma. Granny traveled to Duke for surgery and when that was determined to be unsuccessful, and with her health continuing to deteriorate, she was admitted to the hospital and scheduled for a PET scan. The news was not good. Her entire body had been affected including her bones, lungs and brain. Sadly, within two weeks, the cancer took Granny’s life.
Devastated at the loss, Burwell made it her mission to educate people about melanoma. “Melanoma is often downplayed in the media,” she said. “I was lucky that mine was caught early but I’ve also seen how serious it is when it advances.” According to the American Cancer Society, 76,250 new cases of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, will be diagnosed in 2012 and some 9,180 Americans will die of the disease this year.
“I don’t want anyone else to hear, ‘Your biopsy came back and you have melanoma.’ I never want another granddaughter to hear ‘There’s nothing we can do,’” said Burwell emotionally.
This is an excerpt of Cayce’s story taken from sacancernews.org.
03.2013 Jim Mast
On July 1, 2009, Jim Mast went for an annual checkup with his family doctor. His physician noticed change in a mole on his back and biopsied the mole. The results revealed melanoma classified as a “Severly Atypical Melanocytic Lesion” mid right back. He was immediately referred to a dermatologist.
On July 21, 2009, Jim had surgery to remove the mole and surrounding tissue until clean borders were present. He was fortunate the melanoma was found at an early stage and did not require any further treatment. Jim returns to the dermatologist for full body check-ups every 6 months until 2013 and yearly there after.
03.2013 Anna Echols
Diagnosed at 25
Anna was 25 and in her 1st year of marriage when she found a small, dark mole on her back. She had never been to the dermatologist before, but decided to go get it checked it out. She was diagnosed with stage 3b melanoma. Among other things, this diagnosis meant melanoma had spread to her lymph nodes. Anna had surgery that removed the area around the melanoma and removed 13 lymph nodes under her arm. She then spent one month getting daily IV treatments of interferon. After the first month of treatment, she received interferon shots 3 times a week for the remainder of the year. Anna has been cancer free now for 9 years. She and her husband now have 2 wonderful children.
03.2013 Eileen Marie Nallen
“Yesterday I underwent my first procedure to the remove a lesion of skin on my heel that was melanoma , followed by a bone shave biopsy of the heel bone. I cannot express enough the importance of protecting your skin from the sun. For those who know me for a while now, they know how much I loved to tan and be out in the sun all day. Unfortunately, I am only learning the hard way now. I can only consider… myself one of the “lucky ones” who caught it early. Get checked every year or even every six months by your dermatologist. You never think its going to happen until you either hear of someone you know or you yourself have to go through it. Please be aware especially with the warmer weather upon us! ”
04.2012 Shirley Mason
My life is awesome!!! I have God, my husband, my children, my grandchildren and a great career… I have a very active lifestyle and play golf as often as possible. I’m fair skinned but I don’t recall any bad sunburns since I was 18 years old after a day at the beach. My skin tans easily so I rarely felt the need for sun screen when I golfed although I was careful to use it when I was around water, beaches, etc. I used tanning beds for a while in my 30’s when they assured us that they were safer than real sun.
On October 12th, 2011, like any other day, I woke slowly by asking my heavenly Father to go with me through my day. As I started towards my home office, I remembered that it had been seven days since my biopsy and today I was to receive the results.
I originally visited the dermatologist a month prior to have a couple of spots checked and I was concerned about all the ‘freckles’ that were popping up on my arms. While there, my doctor focused intently on a particular spot they had been calling a ‘sun freckle’ for years. It wasn’t raised, angry, red or any of the other common signs of skin cancer. She wanted to do a biopsy just in case. I scheduled the appointment for a full 5 weeks later. I had appointments set up already and I certainly couldn’t make sales call with a band aid on my face!
On the day of the results, I was sure the ‘sun freckle’ was nothing so I wasn’t overly concerned. By mid-morning I began to wonder why the Doctor hadn’t called yet so I called her office. “Shirley, your pathology results came back positive for Melanoma.” She continued to tell me how Melanoma was the most lethal form of skin cancer and how I would need to make an appointment with a surgeon. In shock, I was having a difficult time understanding her words, let alone respond.
I fought back tears and my head began to bounce thoughts like a pinball machine. What does this mean?? My lungs tightened from lack of air. What is this weight on my chest? Why was she so nonchalant with this information? Wasn’t she shocked too? Well, surely the scar on my face would be small because the ‘freckle’ was so small right?
I soon discovered that surgery couldn’t be scheduled for eight more days. I met with the surgeon only to find out that I would wait yet another week because the special pathologist wasn’t available. All I could think was, Don’t I need to get this awful disease out of my face now?
Wait, wait, wait….
After surgery the results showed that the cancer still existed which required another surgery. I began to wonder if my delay in scheduling the biopsy caused the cancer to spread. After the second surgery the hole left in the middle of my face was the size of a half dollar.
At first I didn’t share my experience with many people until I began to hear, “Shirley, because of your story I went to the Doctor and found….” Now, I tell anyone that will listen. Maybe God will use me to help others with early detection. I had so many people praying for me that I knew if anyone was going to get a modern day Jesus miracle it would surely be me! Sure enough, we found that the cancer had not spread and that the Doctors (My God) had rid all the cancer within me!
This experience left me with a scar from the middle of my eye to the middle of my lip, going down the middle of my face alongside my nose. It has been almost 6 months now and the scar is fading. However the memory of God’s answers to our prayers for peace and healing will NEVER fade. I believe God stretches us to make us stronger and this experience has drawn me nearer to Him. Now I continue to wake each morning asking my heavenly Father to stay with me all day.
Oh, and I go nowhere without sunscreen
08.21.2010 Missy Madigan Ehrenbeit
Glad that you are interested to hear my story! I was at my yearly checkup. They took a mole off of my thigh. I got the results a week before my husband was coming home from a 15 month tour. I was devastated to hear the results as anyone would be. Luckily we got it early enough that I did not need to have chemo. Since then, I had 38 moles removed in a year, 2 melanoma, 2 benign and 34 a-typical (precancerous). I am now at the point I go to the dermatologist every 3 months instead of every 2 weeks. Trust me, I wish I could turn back time to when I was younger and listen to my mom about wearing sunscreen and not baby oil. I also wish that I never stepped foot into a tanning bed. You know I have a friend who told me that you can not get skin cancer from the tanning bed. Talk about naive…. and she continues to look like an OOMPA LOOMPA. Best of luck with your 5K!! It means a lot to me that you are doing this!
Take care, Missy
Being diagnosed with any size, stage, form of cancer at the age of 23 can be one of the scariest days of your life. I always thought I was invincible and using tanning beds would not affect me. I started tanning everyday in tanning beds when I was 14 years old. This is definitely when the saying, “I wish I would have known then, what I know now” kicks in. Back in August of 2010, I started to notice this small mole on the back of my arm that itched all the time. I would look in the mirror at it and think nothing of it because that’s what it looked like, nothing. It had a very small red ring around it and it looked, for the most part, like any other mole. I went to the dermatologist for the first time in November 2010 and the doctor wanted to remove it as soon as she saw it. I still thought it would be nothing and didn’t think much of it until I received a phone call asking me to come into their office that same day to talk about the results. That’s when you start to rationalize things. You don’t believe that it could be anything important. As I sat in the office waiting for her, I just knew it was all going to be nothing. The doctor came in and bluntly told me, “Well, you have level 4 Melanoma and we are sending you to St. Louis University Hospital tomorrow to see the MOH surgeon.” I was in shock and couldn’t really process what I had just heard. What did this even mean? I wasn’t going to die, was I? The doctor really couldn’t tell me what the whole pathology report meant which was the hardest part. My Mom, just like me, could not believe what she was hearing. She took it very hard. We went to SLU Hospital on 11/10/2010 and met the MOH surgeon. He looked over my whole body and removed another mole which came back benign. He told me he really couldn’t tell where the cancer was until they removed the tumor and did a biopsy of some lymph nodes. He did tell me that the cancer was Stage 2 and level 4 meant how far the tumor had penetrated the skin. Level 4 meant that the tumor had gone through the epidermis, dermis, and some of the fatty tissue. That whole week I had to wait for the surgery was so hard and I had to tell all my professors why I was going to be gone from school for awhile. 11/18/2010 finally came and it was time for the surgery. This was the scariest day of my life. We got to the acute care unit and they had my bed set up for me. I had to get completely naked and wipe myself down from head to toe with wipes. Then I had to put on a robe, socks, and a hair net on. Since I had never been in a hospital or had surgery, this was all so horrifying to me. I laid down on the bed and the nurse came in and gave me an IV.
I waited for a long time and then was taken to Nuclear Science to have for the Lymphoscintigraphy done. The doctor told me it would hurt and this scared me of course. They had four shots of radiation already set up. He told me he was going to inject them all the way around the tumor and then they were going to take a picture. The picture would show them which lymph nodes the tumor was draining to first and if the cancer had spread, where it was going. This is where I felt like such a baby because I had my Mom hold my hand and I cried while he injected the radiation. This was a pretty painful procedure but I made it. Watching the lymph nodes pop on the screen was pretty cool, though. They wheeled me back to the ACU and we waited and waited. Finally many different doctors came in and said it was time for the surgery. I was so nervous and the worst thing was is that it was time for my Mom to leave me. They put some medicine into my IV and I started to feel very loopy. When we got into the operating room, there were so many people and they were all talking but no one was talking to me. They then put a mask on me and it felt like I went right to sleep and woke right up. I woke up on the way back to the recovery room and I was in intense pain. I begged for pain meds but I was trying to be as calm as possible. This was probably the worst part of all, especially since I felt so nauseous on top of the pain. They had removed a larger area than expected and took more lymph nodes than they told me they would. One of the residents tried to keep me company and take my mind off the pain. They then took me back to the ACU but I could not sleep because I was in so much pain. They brought my Mom back in and I was so happy to see her. All I really wanted to do at this point was go home. We got dressed and did the two and a half hour drive home and I was nauseated the whole way home.
I go back to SLU Hospital on 11/24/2010, the day before Thanksgiving, to see if they got the entire tumor and to find out whether the cancer has spread. Right now, I have to focus on recovering. I want to educate young people and share my story. This does not have to happen to others if they stay out of tanning beds and are smart about being in the sun. I was not and this is what happened to me. I am so glad I found Miles against Melanoma and that I am lucky enough to get my story out there. This cancer is one of the largest growing cancers and it is so important that people are being educated about it. I will always be an advocate against tanning beds. This will change my life forever and the lives of my family.
Hello This is my story. When I was young I was always out in the sun, either working on the farm going on summer float trips and spending countless hours outside with no sunscreen on. When I was 28 I had a small mole removed behind my left ear and the biopsy revealed it was malignant melanoma cancer. During the course of 5 years I had updated skin scans and dermatologist checkups every 6 months, it wasn’t until the spring of 2009 that I discovered a small lump where my mole was removed. After a couple of weeks went by I decided to visit my physician about the lump and he immediately had me scheduled to a head and neck surgeon. Another biopsy was performed and they told me that melanoma had come back in my lymph nodes. That spring I had over 50 lymph nodes removed from my left neck dissection, 3 were positive for metastic melanoma Stage III. It took a few weeks for me to heal and it was several months later that I was admitted to National Institute of Health in Bethesda, MD for clinical trials. All was good until May 2010 when a tumor was discovered localized around the left parodied gland Stage IV. I had it removed this past June and will be undergoing radiation in the next couple of weeks at St John’s Mercy. I plan to move forward and accept that melanoma will be apart of my life but I will not let it stop me from living. I will keep everyone posted and updated on my condition. Take care Michael Kremer Stage IV NED age 33
I worked my way thru college at a tanning bed. I was the typical tanner that thought I couldn’t get hurt from a little tanning. I never in a million years thought that I would be fighting cancer from it, let alone at 40.
I went to the dr because I had a red “pimple” on my collar bone that wouldn’t go away. I’d had if for a long time and didn’t think it could be anything serious. I’d always heard that skin cancer was a black mole that was raised and suspicious. How could my “blemish” possible be cancerous. It didn’t fit the profile. Boy was I ever wrong…
Now I’m having surgery every 3 weeks lately to have more and more lesions removed. The longer I stay out of the tanning beds, the more lesions pop up. I look painfully deformed. Instead of a golden tan now I see the ugly truth that is written in deep purple scars all over me. And the worst part is I did this to myself. I say going into every trip to the operating room that I won’t complain about the pain because its my fault. I have 17 incisions so far from 4 surgeries over the last 2 months with over 30 lesions that have been removed and terrified that my surgeon will say “Chemo” to me. It all could have been avoided if I’d just listen to the warnings.
This year for Christmas I’m putting travel size tubes of SPF 50 in all of my family’s stockings. Let them laugh at me. I’ll be glad to defend my reasons!
Growing up I always enjoyed spending time outdoors. When I turned sixteen I began to use tanning beds occasionally; usually in preparation for vacations and high school dances. I always knew tanning was dangerous, however, like most people I thought “It will never happen to me.” I was wrong. In the fall of 2009 I noticed a small spot on my chest. It wasn’t ugly, black, brown, or oddly shaped; it was a tiny pink dot. Being the self conscious girl that I am; I began to notice other spots on my body that had never been there before. Luckily, my mother is incredibly health conscious. I told her about my concerns and she gave me the number to her dermatologist. I made an appointment for May. After my full body check, my dermatologist insisted on taking two biopsies from my body. The first spot was on my face; she seemed most concerned about this. The second spot was the tiny red dot on my chest; she seemed less concerned but was still suspicious. A week had gone by since my appointment, and I received a call from a testing lab in Madison. The results from my face biopsy came back benign. I was very relieved and completely forgot about the other biopsy. Two weeks later my phone rang as I was getting into my car to go home, this time it was my dermatologist. She asked if I was available to talk to her for a few minutes, and that I should sit down. My heart sank. She informed me that the results from my chest biopsy came back positive for Malignant Melanoma.
She began to discuss the decisions I would have to make in the coming months, such as my choice of treatment, doctors, hospitals, pharmacies. After the conversation with my doctor I started my car and drove home. I don’t remember that drive home; I was on autopilot. When I got home there was no one there, so I sat on my bedroom floor and called my friend. I told her what had happened and we both cried. I heard my mom pull in the driveway and ended the call with my friend. My mom came into my room and saw me on the floor. She asked why I was crying…and I responded “I have cancer”. She sat on the floor next to me and said “Don’t worry; we will do whatever it takes to get rid of it.” The coming weeks were stressful and packed with doctor appointments. I had blood tests and x-rays taken. Luckily, the cancer had not metastasized, which meant surgery would most likely remove the cancer. I made an appointment with a plastic surgeon I was referred to. My mom and sister took me to the hospital on the day of my surgery. Before the actually surgery took place, the surgeon discussed the severity of my condition and how he planned to do the procedure. After, I put on my paper gown, laid on the bed, and waited. He and his nurse entered the room and began to prep me. He then took the largest needle I had ever seen and poked it into my chest; he did this until all 6 syringes were empty. ”You are going to start feeling really nervous and most likely begin to shake. I will be back in fifteen minutes when you are numb.” He said calmly. There I was in an empty room; numb, weak, naked, and nervous. My body began to shake and twitch uncontrollably. Tears rolled down my face, even though I was not crying. Those fifteen minutes were horrible. He came back in the room and took out a skinny knife. The surgeon cut my chest open, and his nurse hurried to clean up the running blood. I couldn’t feel the actually cutting, but I could hear my flesh ripping. After the cutting had stopped he began to sew my chest back together; this took about a half of an hour. Even though my chest was numb I experienced severe pain from the amount of stretching the surrounding skin was undergoing. After the procedure my mom and sister took me home. I felt fine until later that night when the numbness wore off. I was in excruciating pain for the next three days. A few weeks later my dermatologist called me and told me that my cancer was gone. This was indeed one of the happiest days of my life. If the cancer hadn’t been completely removed by that surgery, I would have had to undergo further treatments such as chemo, radiation, or more surgeries. I was so lucky. My chest healed with no complication; however, I am left with a bubbly scar in the middle of my chest. My surgeon presented me with many options to get rid of my scar, but for some reason I am not ready to part with it yet. It not only reminds me of how lucky I am to be alive, but also inspires me to tell people my story.
I want to help save lives by educating people about the importance of skin protection. I would also like to raise money to help fund research for Melanoma, and help cancer patients who are struggling financially. I believe that taking charge of a 5k run would be a good start to my dreams of helping people and educating my community about Melanoma.
Hi. My name is Jade and I am a melanoma survivor. That’s something I never thought I’d say, but I’m pretty damn happy that I get to. My story begins when I was a teenager. I LIVED in the sun! Hey, a tan makes you look better, right? Wrong. Then, when I was 17 I started going to tanning salons, sometimes twice in the same day. Looking back, I was such an idiot. Fast forward a few years. I was 23, a newlywed, and a soon-to-be-mommy. Life was perfect. I enjoyed my job, my husband and I had just bought a house, and we were prepping to be first time parents. But, there was this one thing…..this one little mole that completely changed my life. Like many other melanoma patients, I had a mole on my arm that I thought looked funny, but I never suspected melanoma. Besides, I had read that pregnancy could change the appearance of moles and your skin pigmentation. Still, this little, perfectly round red bump on my arm troubled me enough to make an appointment with a local derm. It was august 2, 2008 when i found out I had melanoma. My life was perfect. I was happily married, I was 8 months pregnant and with just a few words “you have melanoma ”.. my world…..just…..crumbled. Words can’t describe the fear, anxiety, saddness, anger….everything that you feel! And no matter how supportive your family and friends are, no one can truly understand what it feels like, unless they’ve been through it themselves. I had a wide excision biopsy done on my arm 2 weeks before I gave birth to my daughter. My cancer was originally diagnosed as Stage 1 and the results from wide excision biopsy came back clean. I was cancer free. Since then, i have had countless moles removed….one came back as a melanoma in situ…many came back abnormal…many normal. When I’m naked, you could probably play connect the dots from all the round scars on my body. I see a dermatologist at least every 3 months, sometimes more often. I have physical and emotional scars from melanoma. This is a disease you never really heal from. The fear is always in the back of my mind…if, or more like when, will it come back, but I try not to let it consume me. I am a melanoma survivor. That’s something I never thought I’d say, but I’m pretty damn happy that I get to.
In October I noticed a mole no larger than the size of a pencil eraser get a little darker on one side. I thought to myself, “I need to get this looked at” because I have had family history of melanoma and am fair skinned. I didn’t make it into the doctor until February.
They did a punch biopsy. The results indicated that the melanoma had already spread beyond the borders of the punch and I would have to go in to have more excised. They had to remove almost 3″ x 1.5″ in a diamond shape. They excised all the way down to the muscle. I had 8 dissolving stitches through the muscle and 27 stitches on the surface. Melanoma progresses over a 3 month period and even another month later I could have had much worse repercussions by procrastinating.
Throughout the follow-ups my dermatologist would take distant pictures and anything he saw he would just punch and biopsy. I have had nearly 10 areas biopsied. I definitely see the need to be cautious but I felt there surely was a better way. So I started researching.
I found many products for dermatological use and most of them were incredibly expensive. I contacted a manufacturer in Finland that made a scope with optics. I was able to secure national distribution rights for the scope. The scope itself houses camera optics. The scope presses on the skin and is LED backlit allowing us to remove all variables. The photos are reproducible every time. The photos are then transferred to the software and archived. 6mos to a year later at their next visit the pictures can be compared side by side and measured or zoomed in on.
Slowly but surely we are getting this out into circulation. A lot of the dermatologists are hesitant at the cost. Most of the doctors want to make a purchase and have the product generate income, usually reimbursement from insurance companies. On the other hand the other percentage of doctors are more concerned about the patient experience and think it is a great product. I am hopeful that this new generation of healthcare is going to be more diagnostic and preventative, which will really benefit us going forward.
Neal Nurnberg – CEO
MidCon Distribution, Inc.
My name is Rick Myers and I am a melanoma survivor. In May, 2001, I retired from the United States Marine Corps after nearly 23 years of faithful service. The majority of my career was spent in the Pacific and Far East regions. I wouldn’t blame it all on the operational tempo, but most of the time there wasn’t time to stop and put on sun screen or sun block. In late November 2001, I noticed a small black mole on the back of my left thigh and it grew quite rapidly. In December 2001, the mole now about the size of a nickel popped as I attempted to get out of my car. I quickly realized that this was not normal and made an appointment to see my doctor at Scott Air Force Base. After examining my thigh, he decided to perform a shaved biopsy. Within 48 hours, I got a call from the Dermatology department at Scott AFB, stating that I needed to be seen ASAP and it was a matter of “life or death.” After hanging up the phone, my mind raced to what the possibilities were to what was going on, skin cancer wasn’t one of them.
My wife accompanied me to my appointment where the dermatologist just came right out and said “You have Melanoma, Skin Cancer!!” He gave me a bunch of literature about skin cancer and gave me a name of a doctor/surgeon at St. Louis University Hospital. Scott AFB and St. Louis University are in a partnership when it comes to medicine. He told me to make an appointment with this doctor ASAP. Here I was 7 months after retiring from the military and I get slapped with having the big “C” word. Over the next several weeks, I seen the surgeon, had a CT scan, MRI, PET scan, and all type of blood work performed on me. The results were that the melanoma in my left thigh was the size of a one dollar coin and it had to come out. So, on 6 February 2001, I had surgery to remove the melanoma along with 4 lymph nodes. I was in the hospital for two days. I have about an 10-inch scar on the back of my left thigh as a constant reminder of what damage the sun can do to a unprotected body.
About 10 days later, at my follow-up appointment with my surgeon, I got hit with the second punch of the 1-2 combination. He removed all of the Melanoma from my thigh, but 3 of the 4 lymph nodes that were removed were cancerous. So, more testing and on 26 February 2011, I had a radial di-section to the front of my left thigh near my groin area where they removed 14 more lymph nodes. The results came back that they were all negative (non cancerous). But, because of removing that many lymph nodes and being attached to nerve endings, there are several spots on my left thigh that I have no feeling.
Also, my left leg swells, they call it lymphedema, I have to wear a compression stocking for the rest of my life. I use a body pillow at nights to elevate my left leg for I was then assigned an Oncologist (Dr. John Richart) and a nurse at St. Louis University Cancer Center. Dr. Richart is an AWESOME doctor; I don’t think I could have been in any better care than him and the nurses at St. Louis University Cancer Center and Hospital. I took part of a 5-year study to find a vaccine for Melanoma, but after 3 years the study was stop due to there was no hard evidence, good or bad, to a vaccine for Melanoma, but Dr. Richart continued to follow me and my melanoma with yearly visits. I also see a Dermatologist, Dr. Yadira Hurley, she too has been wonderful to me during this ordeal and she follows me with 6-months visits.
As my 10-year window is coming up in February 2012, that’s the window most doctor consider that you are out-of-the-woods when it comes to Melanoma, but I still have to protect myself from the sun. I have my wife and children checked every year now since we have a family history of Melanoma and they are fully aware of the damages the sun can do to an unprotected body/skin.
I am 28 years old and have recently been diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer for the second time in my life. Here is my story…
Since I was 6 years old, my family vacationed at Ocean City, MD. I would wear sunscreen, but had countless sun burns in my life. In high school, I would go to the tanning salon occasionally, mostly for prom and other dances. During college, I really liked the way I looked when I was tan, so I started tanning on a regular basis. I went twice a week for about two years. I went to a salon that offered a variety of beds. There were beds with 42, 54, and 60 bulbs. I wanted the best tan, so on top of my monthly package, I paid extra for the beds with 60 bulbs.
My dad had basal cell carcinoma on his nose. He had it removed, and he is fine. My parents warned me about the dangers of tanning beds. I cared more about what I looked like though. I decided that I would continue tanning and would stop “when I got to the risky age of getting cancer…like in my 50s.” I could continue going tanning and wouldn’t damage my skin for many years, or so I thought. I figured that even if I got skin cancer, it would be similar to my dad’s basal cell—I would get it removed and then I would be fine. I had no clue that skin cancer could spread and that it can be deadly.
Over the years, I developed freckles and many moles. During the summer of 2007, I decided that I would get a mole on my knee removed. It was raised and sometimes I would knick it when shaving. I happened to notice a darker mole on my back that seemed new and awfully dark in comparison with my other moles. I’m a teacher and since I have off during the summer, I decided it couldn’t hurt to go get it removed while I had the extra time. No big deal.
I had both moles removed by my primary care physician, Dr. Fackovec. I remember him telling me that he was going to send me to a plastic surgeon, Dr. Stofman, to take a deeper incision. I wasn’t worried, because even if it was skin cancer, skin cancer is a “pretend cancer” that people don’t die from. I remember receiving a call from Dr. Stofman a few weeks later and him telling me just to keep an eye on those areas and make sure the moles don’t grow back or the scarring doesn’t change. Once again, it was no big deal. I hate to admit it, but I still went tanning. Why stop? After all, I didn’t have cancer. I thought all of the testing was over…just had some moles removed, as I have in the past, and have always been fine. October 31, 2007 changed my life forever.
I vividly remember getting the call that the mole on my back was melanoma. It was Halloween Day 2007, three days shy of my 25th birthday. I was in my classroom at the end of the day and I noticed that I had a voicemail on my cell phone from my plastic surgeon’s nurse. I thought, “That’s strange. Wonder why the doctor needs to talk to me, all of the tests came back fine.” When I called Dr. Stofman I remember him telling me that I have melanoma. He went on to say that he was referring me to Dr. Edington who works through Magee Women’s Hospital. I remember responding to everything he said with, “Okay.” I couldn’t ask or say anything else because if I did, I would start crying. I got off the phone and started hysterically crying. I called my husband, who was my boyfriend at the time, and told him that I had melanoma. For some reason, I didn’t fear that I had cancer and still didn’t think that someone could die from skin cancer, but at the same time, it was horrifying getting that call. In my head, “Oncologists are cancer doctors. Why do I have to see one of those? Why can’t my plastic surgeon just remove the cancer?”
I was diagnosed on October 31, 2007. My surgery was scheduled for November 28, 2007. My cancer was still in the early stages and it was slow-growing. I understood that they had to treat patients with more severe cases first. The month of waiting was torturous. For the first few weeks after my diagnosis, for whatever reason, I didn’t do any research online. Looking back, my life was a fog. Two weeks after being diagnosed, my grandmother passed away. My family and I were dealing with me having cancer and now the loss of my grandmother. I still had no idea that melanoma can be deadly. My family, boyfriend, and friends knew it could be fatal, but they wanted to keep my spirits up. I remember my sister crying to me on the phone asking, “You’re not going to die are you?” I’m the big sister, so I had to be strong and pretend like I was fearless.
I had a lymph node removed and had a deeper and wider incision taken out of my back. I have a scar that is about 6 inches long and about ½ inch wide. The mole that was removed was no bigger than a pencil eraser. I had a tube in my back to drain fluids to avoid infection. I didn’t leave the house for three days. My husband asked if I wanted to go to a basketball game. That was the first time I left the house since surgery. I still had my drain tube in and was still a little sore. Before the basketball game, he took me to the elementary school where we had first met and he proposed to me.
Just to recap, I was diagnosed on October 31st, my grandmother passed away on November 14th, had surgery on November 28th, and got engaged December 1st. My life was a roller coaster, but luckily things were looking up. I was newly engaged and at my follow-up appointment I found out that the lymph node showed no signs of cancer. It was all gone!
I had instructions to stay out of the sun and wear sunscreen everyday, even in the winter. If I did vacation at the beach, I had to stay under an umbrella. I also had to be checked by my oncologist every three months.
Since then, I stayed under the umbrellas at the beach. But I vacationed in Las Vegas, Florida, Ocean City, Mexico, and other sunny places. I like to think that I kept in mind that I had cancer and tried to be careful, but I also didn’t live in a bubble. I have to admit, if I was just walking my dogs for a few minutes or was running outside for maybe a half hour, I wouldn’t wear sunscreen.
During the summer of 2011, I was at the beach for a few days while my family was vacationing there. I noticed a dark, asymmetrical mole on the back of my right leg. I had a bad feeling about it, but I have also had bad feelings about moles in the past few years that turned out to be nothing. I already had a check-up scheduled so I would ask my oncologist about it.
Dr. Edington thought it looked “weird enough” to remove. He sent it for testing and two weeks later, on July 26, 2011, I got the call that it was melanoma again. I started hysterically crying to his nurse, Rhea. I remember saying, “This is my second time with melanoma. I’m only 28. I’m too young to be going through this!”
A few days before my second diagnosis, I decided to take on the task of organizing the 1st Miles Against Melanoma 5k in Pennsylvania (www.MilesAgainstMelanoma5kPA.com). Amalyn Martin is the founder of Miles Against Melanoma, a non-profit organization to raise melanoma awareness. The money raised from the race is donated to melanoma research. She is from Missouri, which is where the first Miles Against Melanoma 5k was held. She is an inspiration to us all. With her help and assistance, many of us are doing our part to spread the word about melanoma awareness in cities across the United States. I’m amazed at the amount of support that I have received from family, friends, and complete strangers.
My surgery is coming up in a few days. They will perform the same procedure that they did in 2007. This melanoma is in stage 1A. My last melanoma was also in stage 1. I know they caught it early and the chances that it has spread are unlikely at this time, but I know that this will be a lifelong battle. Wearing sunscreen will be a part of my daily life. It took being diagnosed with melanoma for me to stop tanning. I still enjoy outdoor activities and sometimes I can’t avoid the sun, but when I am in the sun, I’ll do my best to protect myself. Unfortunately, I still have a few friends who use tanning salons. It annoys me because they have no idea how scary it is to get the call that you have cancer.
I didn’t write this story to get sympathy nor to have people feel bad for me. I hate to complain about having cancer because I know that in comparison to what others are going through, I’m very lucky. I feel healthy, never had to go through chemotherapy or radiation (knock on wood), have a great support system, and can basically live my day-to-day life as a healthy person. I want to live to grow old with my husband and family. I want to be here to say to my great-great-grandchildren, “When I was your age…” I don’t want my parents to lose a child. I want to be going to the mall and out to lunch with my sister when I’m 80 years old. I’m hoping that I haven’t damaged my skin to the point that it cuts my life short.
No matter how much money you have or how much you are loved, anyone can get melanoma. Cancer can’t always be cured. You can’t just write out a check to fix this problem or ask your parents to bail you out of this situation. With my story, I am hoping to spread melanoma awareness and want others to learn from my careless mistakes.
Feel free to contact me JessicaRogowicz@yahoo.com
~Jessica (Vega) Rogowicz
This is my story of melanoma. I am fair skinned and have 100+ moles on my body so I am at risk of melanoma.. Starting in my thirties I became more vigilant about protecting my skin and making regular appointments to see a dermatologist. I was not always so vigilant about my skin because I felt being tan meant you looked healthy and beautiful. My visits to tanning salons did not last too long, but I still used them in my earlier twenties.
When I was young, I was always on the swim team in the summer and we would stay outside all day long. My mother was good about making we wear sun screen, however, it would wash off because of the hours I spent in the pool. It was my mother who warned me of skin cancer all my life and it drove me crazy. She would send me articles in the mail about skin cancer and I would throw them away.
I thankfully stopped tanning in my earlier thirties and became more aware of the dangers of melanoma. I guess I finally started listening to my mother. I started going to a dermatologist every 6 months and they always took several moles off to have them tested. In 2006, I had growth that appeared on top of my eyebrow which I became concerned about, so I went to the dermatologist and they found it was basil cell. I had it removed on Valentine’s Day and it was swollen for about 3 weeks. They removed 8 layers and I was looking really cute. My husband called me “Rocky”.
Even after the basil cell scare, I really didn’t think I was going to get melanoma, but it reared its ugly face in October, 2011. While I was in California on vacation, I noticed a mole that I had on my calf that had grown a black tail. It was actually a mole that I had since I was little and was very faded, but the tail was ugly. I had gone to the dermatologist about a month prior to my trip to California and I thought it was strange that they did not notice it, but I don’t think it was visible. When I went to my 3 month check up I pointed it out to them and they removed it. About 5 days later I received THE CALL from my Doctor who informed me that I had melanoma and I needed to come in to have it removed the next day. I was terrified, but the good news was that it was Stage 0.
On October 19th, I had surgery and I was alone and scared, but I put on a brave face. My husband was out of town and asked if should come home and I told him I could handle it on my own. The surgery lasted about 1 ½ hours which I was awake the whole time. They cut 5 inches across 3 to 4 inches deep. When they pulled the cancer out, they told me it was the size of a man’s fist. I am thankful that I was so vigilant and I hate to think what would of happened if I ignored it. The worse part of the surgery was the inability to walk; it took me three months to actually walk normal. There were several reasons for this, infection, blood clots and nerve damage.
After the surgery, the dermatologist care was dreadful and I have since fired them. I also had to go to physical therapy for 6 weeks 3 times a week because I had chronic pain syndrome and I could not straighten my leg. The scar tissue was not massaged and it remained in one area and was extremely painful if anyone touched it with even a gentle touch. The physical therapist noticed there were still 3 stitches left in from the surgery which was also causing me pain. They were able to remove two of the three stitches; however, the third one is still in me because it is under my skin. It is a constant reminder of my experience.
I would like everyone that reads this story to make sure that they have a good dermatologist that is less concerned of the beauty aspect of their practice and more about saving lives. The dermatologist that removed my melanoma had been my doctor for about 7 years, but her practice changed quite a bit over the past 3 years. The money they were making with injections and beauty treatments seemed to be more important to them. I have since fired her and found an incredible new dermatologist that cares about her patients well being, not just the way they look. I am going for mole mapping procedure on March 22nd, which I had never heard about from my last dermatologist.
I am proud that I did this on my own and I will not cover up my huge scar because that is my “Medal of Awareness”. I am looking forward to the day that someone asks what happened to my leg, I am going to make up a story that a shark snacked on my leg because my scar resembles a shark bite. Of course, I will tell them the truth after I have some fun with them. I am not having any plastic surgery nor am I putting any creams on my scar to fade it because I want to do my part in bringing awareness to melanoma.