Malignant Melanoma. A diagnosis you never want to hear. All too often, when I tell people that I had cancer, they ask me what type. I reply with melanoma and usually get a response of, “Oh skin cancer. That’s not a real cancer, all you have to do is cut it out and it will be fine.” As I try to explain to them that malignant melanoma is the most deadly form of skin cancer, some people still feel that melanoma isn’t that serious and it will never happen to them. I think back to the night when my father received a phone call and my mother began to cry, as they told me that I had to get surgery to remove my malignancy. At age eleven, the thought of surgery terrified me. Not because of the prognosis of melanoma, but the fact that there were needles involved. If I haven’t mentioned it yet, “I HATE NEEDLES!”
My story began when my mother noticed a mole on my back that seemed to be changing. We went to a pediatric dermatologist who checked me from head to toe. When the doctor examined the mole on my back, she said, “I am 99.9% sure that it was nothing to worry about and we should just monitor it.” My mother disagreed and insisted that the doctor remove the mole. A punch hole biopsy was performed WITH NEEDLES! Once the area was numbed it wasn’t too bad because I couldn’t feel a thing. During this procedure, they extracted tissue to observe under a microscope. They were looking for typical (normal cells), atypical (changing cells) or a malignancy.
When we left that day, we honestly thought the story would end there, until that phone call. Two days later, I was in surgery on Good Friday. This time, my surgery was completely different. A surgeon performed my procedure, and I had to endure multiple NEEDLES! The surgeon made a much larger and deeper incision to make sure all malignant tissue was removed. My parents said I had a large number of stitches inside and out and they would eventually dissolve. About a week later the tissue came back cancer free! I currently go to the dermatologist every 3 to 6 months, but that is okay compared to how it could have been. If my melanoma was not detected in the earliest stage, I would be in a more serious state including; lymph node extractions, drainage tubes and chemotherapy. Instead, I am cancer free. My mom pretty much saved my life. My scar is a daily reminder of how lucky I am. From that day on, I was determined to make a positive out of a negative by teaching others.
I am now sixteen years old, and have dedicated myself to educating others about sun safety, skin cancer and early detection. I developed a website, http:// sunsafekids.tripod.com, to spread the word about sun safety. The website became my tool to help me educate my peers in schools in Rhode Island. I also started speaking at Senior Centers and local Health Fairs. To help me further my goal of educating others, I became involved with IMPACT Melanoma and joined their survivors speakers bureau. IMPACT Melanoma is a non-profit organization that provides education, prevention and support for the most deadly form of skin cancer. IMPACT Melanoma has given me the platform to educate my peers on how to reduce the risk of developing melanoma through sun safety and also the importance of early detection. Through speaking engagements at the University of Rhode Island, Teens on Tanning Forums and through IMPACT Melanoma’s Your Skin Is In program, I have been able to share my story which I hope emphasizes the importance of sun safety and early detection. Most recently I was asked to participate in IMPACT Melanoma’s “Exposed” video. I hope you’ll join me in taking the No-Tanning pledge.