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 me, a naive young woman, who loved the glow of a tan, worshipped the tanning bed. I also got a sunburn at least two or three times each summer.
The thought of skin cancer didn’t use to scare me either. Even after 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. 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. This is where I go for my routine oncologist visit and skin check with my dermatologist. Each time I walk through the front doors, I flashback to November of 2015 when I first walked through those same doors. 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 flashback 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! 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 made me a little more comfortable when I entered the building where my two dermatologists practice. 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. My appointment with Dr. Jang was the first. He came in did his routine questions about how I was feeling, felt my lymph nodes. He then ordered a chest x-ray and an 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 or blood test, he would release me for 12-month appointments, 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. My mind had been given a green light to not worry anymore.
However, that feeling of comfort was shattered with 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 was not new, in fact, it had been on the back of my arm for some time. For some reason, Dr. Venna found the mole more alarming than the times before. He told me he wanted to do a biopsy. He gave me the option to stay and have the biopsy done immediately or I would have to schedule an appointment with my other dermatologist, Dr. Nims, within a few weeks.
After I picking my heart up off the floor, I told him to proceed with the biopsy. I did not want to leave and prolong the agony of waiting for a biopsy report. They did the biopsy that day.
The day after my chest x-ray, I received a phone call telling me everything was normal. Within a week, I received the good news from the biopsy! The lesion showed atypical cells, but neede no further excision!
I am sharing this with you today, for melanoma awareness, because 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. However, I don’t think people realize that when you had stage 1 melanoma, you have 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 are 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!
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