I was the typical sun-worshipper. I grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where the only thing for teenagers to do was going to the beach and the pool. I spent every waking moment, that I wasn’t in school, laying out, jet skiing, or on a boat. Skin cancer, especially the deadliest form melanoma, never crossed my mind. Being that I am Dominican and Sicilian and tanned immediately I never thought that I could get skin cancer. I knew what melanoma was, my mom’s best friend passed away from melanoma on the scalp, but even knowing that I swore I was invincible. I stayed in the sun until I felt my skin literally burn, that’s when I knew I was “done”. And the worst part, I NEVER wore sunscreen. I can’t recall a time when I put sunscreen on, only tanning oil. On top of laying out all the time, I would visit a tanning bed, very sparingly, but I still did. I have psoriasis, so I was told that if I couldn’t lay out and get some sun on my arms and legs, that I should visit a tanning bed for 5-10 minutes twice a week. I went about 4x’s total. I was told to do this by a dermatologist, yup the very person that is supposed to tell you not to go in the sun. It became my excuse, when my friends and family would warn me that I really needed to stop laying out I would say “by my doctor told me I needed to”.
Fast froward a couple of years, I am 26 turning 27 in two weeks, a wife, and a mom to a 18 month old beautiful little girl. We we’re planning our move to Massachusetts. Everything was great. I had an appointment with my dermatologist, even though I thought I could never get skin cancer every year when I went in for my psoriasis I got a full body skin check (thank god), and there was this mole on my forearm that looked “off”. I can’t really explain what made me want this mole off, but my gut was telling me something was different about it. It was a mole that had always been there, but didn’t look right anymore. Small in size, slightly discolored, but stuck out to me.
When I went in to see my doctor, my daughter was sitting in the stroller next to me in the examine room, I pointed this mole out on my arm. He said there is absolutely nothing wrong with it, and that he was not going to take it off. At first I hesitated to say anything else, he was a renowned dermatologist in Fort Lauderdale “The Best”, but I knew something was wrong, so I spoke up. He again refused to remove it, but once he realized that I wasn’t budging he agreed to take it off. When he was writing up the paperwork I remember this perfectly, he said “I don’t plan on calling you because I know there is nothing wrong with it”.
Twenty-four hours later, while I am making dinner for my family, I get the phone call. YOU HAVE MELANOMA!!!! I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t move, I couldn’t speak, all I could do was stare at my daughter with fear of not being here to live a full life with her. My thought, oh my god am I going to die? Remember, the only reference I had to melanoma was my mom’s friend dying from it. I wanted to yell and curse at my doctor, tell him you told me everything was going to be okay, but I didn’t and couldn’t because I already knew it my gut that it was something, I knew all along. My results read that I had stage 1 melanoma. On March 17th 2010, I went in for my WLE. All the margins were clear. Every time I say my Stage to someone or think of what stage I am, the only thing that I can think is; if I didn’t push, if I didn’t insist on getting this mole removed what stage would I be right now, would I even be here?
I moved to Massachusetts 4 months later and immediately set up my appointment with MGH Pigment and Lesion Department and Brigham and Women’s Melanoma clinic. I was so thankful that I had the opportunity to live in a city where I could be seen by top notch doctors dealing with melanoma. While visiting one of the doctors they noticed that my margins were a bit smaller than they would like. After that was discovered I went in for another WLE, margins came back clear again. I couldn’t believe that I had to go thru the whole thing again.
I am now a month out from turning 30 and I finally feel like I am in a better place. I go to see my dermatologist every 3 months, I am surrounded by friends and family that support my life style (i.e always wearing long sleeve shirts and hat, tons of sunscreen, sitting in the shade, not really going out in the sun turing peek hours, lots of veggies and yoga), and I have found the Melanoma Foundation of New England. I am so grateful that my dermatologist told me about MFNE, this foundation has allowed me to read and hear about other stories, they have allowed me to share my story, they have made me feel and realize that I am not alone in this battle, and most importantly they are spreading the word.
I am hoping that my story will make people realize that melanoma can happen to anyone, it doesn’t matter race, gender, or age. You need to be your own self advocate, you are the only one that knows your body 100%, trust yourself!!! Protect yourself, wear sunscreen, do your own skin check get yourself to a dermatologist. Most importantly, you don’t need a tan to be beautiful, you are amazing just the way you are!!!