May is Melanoma Awareness Month, but I am aware of melanoma every day. Are you?
I think the worst thing about skin cancer is that everyone knows what causes it, but no one seems to care about the dangers of sun exposure. Take it from a naive young woman who loved the glow of a tan, worshipped the tanning bed and got burnt two or three times each summer. The thought of skin cancer didn’t really scare me at all. Even when my own father passed away in 2010 from complications from a very aggressive form of squamous cell skin cancer, I never thought about it happening to me, until I did get skin cancer in its worst form, Melanoma. I am aware of melanoma because it happened to me and I want you to learn from my mistakes. Melanoma awareness is so very important.
I am aware of melanoma each time I visit the Inova Melanoma and Skin Cancer Center, in Fairfax, Virginia where I go for my routine oncologist visit and skin check with my dermatologist. Each time I walk through the front doors, I flash back to the first time I walked through those same doors in November of 2015. No matter how hard I try, fear engulfs me. My chest tightens and that lump slowly begins to form in my throat. When I start to choke on the lump of fear in my throat, I flash back to the day I walked out of those doors after I had learned that we caught the melanoma in time. As I fight back a few tears, I am quickly reminded that Melanoma will haunt me for the rest of my life.
2017 was a good year for me. All my skin checks were clear and neither one of the dermatologists that I see on a regular basis found anything they wanted to biopsy. Having several clear skin checks reassured my confidence and I became a little more comfortable when entering the building where either of my two dermatologists practices. I have been feeling great, and for once nothing on my skin has been giving me cause for concern. Except for protecting my skin, I was able to put the fear of melanoma behind me or so I thought.
In March I had my routine 6-month visit to the Melanoma Center to see both my oncologist, Dr. Jang, and my dermatologist, Dr. Venna. On this day, my appointment with Dr. Jang was scheduled first. He came in and did his routine questions about how I was feeling, felt my lymph nodes, ordered a chest x-ray and LDH blood test. Along with all that Dr. Jang always reminisces about the day I came into his office with all those blood clots in my lungs. Dr. Jang boosted my confidence even more. He told me that barring anything wrong with my chest x-ray (Which came back clear!) or blood test, then he would release me for 12-month visits, instead of 6-month appointments. I really like Dr. Jang, but this was music to my ears! At that moment, I let out a comforting sigh of relief. It was like he was saying I was cured and my mind had been given a green light to not worry anymore. However, this comforting feeling was shattered during my exam with Dr. Venna. He was concerned about a mole on the back of my arm. He didn’t like the looks of it and had that look of concern across his face. The mole wasn’t new, in fact, it had been on the back of my arm for some time, but that day Dr. Venna found it more alarming than the times before. He told me he wanted to do a biopsy, giving me the option to stay and have the biopsy done immediately or to delay and have it done with my other dermatologist, Dr. Nims within a few weeks. After I picked my heart up off the floor, I told him to proceed with the biopsy. No way did I want to leave there with the option to make the worry and wonder last any longer than it already had to. They did the biopsy that day and within a week I received the good news that it was just Atypical cells and no further excision was needed!
I am sharing this with you today, for melanoma awareness. I want you to be aware of melanoma every day. I feel like some people look at me and think oh she had melanoma, but she’s ok now. Yes, I am ok now, but what I don’t think people realize is that when you have had stage 1 melanoma, you are given a 95% chance of being fine with only a 5% chance that your melanoma will progress. Only 5%, but that 5% chance is where the fear lies.
As a melanoma survivor, I have a different outlook on life than I did three years ago. Some of the little things have become big things and there a lot of big things that have become merely specs in the realm of life. As a cancer survivor, you don’t waste your life sitting around waiting for cancer to happen, surviving each day by luck. You are a fighter and fighters fight the fight as hard as you can, even when there seems like there is nothing to fight. Right now my fight is to make others aware of how dangerous melanoma really is, because if I can save just one person, then all of this will be worth it. This is why melanoma awareness is so important to me.
So yes, I am highly aware of Melanoma, but I want you to be too. As a friend of The Mountain Kitchen, please protect yourself against this deadly disease. Take care of yourself and those you love. Wear sunscreen, UV protective clothing, including a hat and sunglasses, do monthly skin checks at home and get regular skin checks with a dermatologist.
Thanks for listening!
Melanoma Awareness is important to me. Please use the share buttons below to share my story on social media. Share it with family and friends. You could help save a life!