Education, prevention and support for the most serious form of skin cancer.

Erin Alyce Shannon

March 19th, 2017

As a 19 year old in the summer of 2012 before my sophomore year of college, my biggest concern was if I had saved up enough money working as a camp counselor during the summer to survive the first semester. My four years of working as a camp counselor up to that point meant I had some serious quality time basking in the summer sun. Guiltily I hate to admit that I also indulged in tanning beds for school dances and events. Because I am 100% Irish with a fair complexion this was a recipe for disaster, but I never would have anticipated that I would be told that I had melanoma as a teenager.

I have always had a variety of skin conditions, so I made sure that I had annual trips to my Dermatologist. During my visit that summer, my Dermatologist noticed a freckle that had ever so slightly started to change. I was told not to worry, it probably wasn’t anything and was sent on my way. A little less than a week later I was called and told that I had to come to the office immediately. My parents left work early and we all sat staring at old magazines in the waiting room dreading the news that seemed inevitable. My doctor very calmly told me that I had malignant melanoma and that she was sending me to Mass General to see a surgical Oncologist. To this day, those were the worst few minutes of my life.

A few weeks later after many tests and consultations I arrived at Mass General to have a large chunk of my arm removed and 7 lymph nodes tested to determine if the cancer had spread. The two longest weeks of my life went by until I finally got the call that my margins were clear and my lymph nodes came back clean.

I decided to stay in school throughout this two month process, I wanted to prove to myself that no matter what the outcome of my surgery was, my cancer could not stand in the way of living my life. However, the worst part about being in school wasn’t the surgeries and waiting, it was the sheer lack of awareness from my classmates and teachers about the seriousness of Melanoma. Everyone around me seemed to share the same belief that Melanoma was a skin cancer and skin cancer cannot kill you. I was told on multiple occasions by friends and teachers that “I just had skin cancer”. This drove my mission to raise awareness for Melanoma.

While I was in college, with the help of the Melanoma Foundation of New England I was able to host events for my sorority and at a local beauty salon where I was able to share my story and educate others about the serious threat that Melanoma presents. Since college I have tried to help out whenever I can, and raise awareness through friends and family.

If I could look back and see my 16 year old self I would be horrified by the way I treated my skin, but I was fortunate to come out of my diagnoses with just a nasty scar and a few less lymph nodes. I believe that I survived that experience because now I can raise awareness about sun safety, and hopefully help save lives.

DAF Direct

February 15th, 2017

Joseph Joyce

January 18th, 2017

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I was diagnosed in December, 2005, with Lymphoscintigraphy. I had 4 surgeries, vaccine trial and a donation of 100 gallons of blood (seems that way anyway!).

I am so fortunate that I grew up and live in Houston and had MD Anderson a few miles away. Best cancer hospital on Earth.

Happy to be alive.

Hannah Ross

January 18th, 2017

In 2004, on my upper left shoulder on my back, I had stage 1 superficial melanoma removed. The anxiety of it coming back is always lurking. But with God’s help and Faith, I will face tomorrow.

Candice Powell

January 18th, 2017

So this is the first time I’ve ever wrote about my melanoma. I was diagnosed 3 & 1/2 years ago. I was diagnosed with the nodular type and middle of the middle thickness (God knows what that means). It took me a whole year to persuade my doctor that my mole wasn’t right, I had to pay to have it removed and that’s when they found it was melanoma. I was VERY lucky it didn’t spread, I just had a lot of tissue cut out of my shoulder and that got rid of it all. Waiting for the results was the most terrifying experience of my life, I didn’t know if I was going to live or die at that point. I had 2 young babies and was a single mum, my life just stopped still. I started having the worst panic attacks ever, begging my mum to take me to hospital for them to sedate me. It was that bad, I just don’t know how I got through it. When I finally went for my results they told me I was cured, I felt like the luckiest person alive. So it’s been 3 & 1/2 years since and it’s not come back. My check ups have gone from 3 months to 6 months and it’s slowly going to the back of my mind. I know it’s 5 years until full remission but I’m going the right way and I’m very vigilant with checking myself too. It’s a really awful thing to go through and I won’t lie it has changed me as a person but I just think how lucky I’ve been.

Brandy Coxson

January 18th, 2017

My name is Brandy I was diagnosed with stage 3b at the age of 19, scared I was to death. Without treatment, my survival rate was 6 to 10 months and with treatment 5 to 10 years. My only hope was to do a clinical trial, which I did in 2001 interveron alpha 2b, and that is what saved my life. I did a year straight of it, now here I am 15 years later. Put your faith in the Lord and he will save you.

Hilary Dillon

January 18th, 2017

I had just turned 25 when I was diagnosed with melanoma, although I probably had it a few years prior. I was always one to indulge in the sun, but never more than ordinary. When I was in high school I used tanning beds sporadically, for proms and dances. I was always in Cape Cod in the summers, constantly in the sun at the beaches. I usually wore sunscreen but typically after I was in the sun for an hour or so. Being in the sun was something I took for granted.

I first discovered the mole when I was 21. It was on the inside of my right knee, and it was pretty small, but abnormal in color. I saw a local dermatologist who wasn’t worried about it, told me to keep my eye on it. If it changed shape or color, to go back and get it re-checked. Well, two years later I started to notice it turned from a red to a brown color, and it was spider webbing out, just a little bit. I mentioned it to my primary care doctor, who recommended me to another dermatologist. This time, the dermatologist confirmed that I should get it removed, calling it “a little funky looking”. Next I saw a plastic surgeon who would do the procedure in order to reduce the scarring, since the mole was in an inconvenient spot, where I bend my knee. The surgery was scheduled for mid-September and it was pretty quick and painless, I was back at work the next day. The doctors told me they would run the standard biopsy and contact me in 7-10 days if the results were positive. I had no anticipation that they were going to contact me.

I was in Florida on a business trip when I got the call. My mother was the one to deliver the news actually because they called her first. She told me that the biopsy for my mole tested positive for melanoma. They asked me to fly home early so I could meet with an oncologist at Dana Farber in Boston. I was told that they would have to go back in and remove more of the melanoma, as it was very deep. I was scared at this point, but I really didn’t have much information so I of course tried to stay positive until I learned more.

Both my parents came with me that day. We met with the surgeon who would be doing my second surgery, and the oncologist and her team to explain next steps. They were very hopeful with my diagnosis, reiterating that they believed they found it at an early stage and it was very treatable. To hear those words in such an intense environment, was honestly a blessing. It’s scary not to think of the worst possible scenario, but I had to stay positive in knowing that I was lucky to find it at this stage. They were unsure whether or not it spread to my lymph nodes, but informed me they would test the nodes in my groin in order to know more.

The surgery was two weeks later in Boston at Brigham & Women’s Hospital. It was scheduled for the afternoon but I had to arrive early in the morning for them to test my lymph nodes with blue dye. It was a very long day, but I was excited to put it in the past. The weeks following were a struggle, recovery is the worst part. I couldn’t bend my knee for 6 weeks. I was on crutches in an immobilizer, followed by braces and physical therapy. The results came back about a week later, my plastic surgeon called me first saying the lymph node biopsy came back negative. The melanoma hadn’t spread to my lymph nodes. This was amazing news, everyone was very relieved.

Now, I look forward to a healthy future, with lots of sun protection. I hope to spread my story as much as I can in order to promote melanoma awareness, the risks involved, and the precautions people can take to avoid it.

Krysta Mochi

January 10th, 2017

I was diagnosed with melanoma when I was 14 years old. My parents received a phone call with my diagnosis on September 30, 2008, just a few days after my first visit to the dermatologist. There was nothing prompting my visit. I hadn’t noticed any peculiar moles I thought I should get checked out, nor was I advised to visit a dermatologist by my primary care physician. The reason for my visit was that the dentist had noticed a dark freckle on my brother’s lip during his checkup, and they recommended that my mother take him to the dermatologist and get it checked out to be safe. His freckle turned out to be fine, but my mother figured she might as well take me to get checked too, just in case.
My first visit was in September 2008, just after I had started eighth grade. I had one biopsy to remove a dark mole on my upper left arm. The dermatologist thought it was nothing to worry about, but wanted to be sure. A few days later, we got a call saying the results came back: it was melanoma. At the time, I didn’t understand very well what melanoma was. I had never even heard of it until I was told I had it. I never went tanning, was always extremely cautious of the sun, and made sure to reapply sunscreen. Although I have red hair and fair skin, I never even thought about skin cancer because of how diligent I was with sunscreen. After my diagnosis, I was more concerned with the surgeries, doctor’s appointments, and especially the scars that were to come, so I never fully understood just how serious melanoma was.
My parents took me to Mass General Hospital a few weeks later, where the doctors there performed another full skin check to make sure they didn’t see any other concerning moles. They then explained what the surgery on my arm would be like, and we scheduled an appointment to remove the melanoma. Just about two weeks later, on October 17, I returned to Mass General to have my melanoma removed. This would be the first surgery I had ever had, my first time being treated in a hospital, and my first time getting stitches. Even though I had just been diagnosed with the deadliest form of skin cancer, everything was happening so fast that I couldn’t seem to wrap my head around it.
I went home after the surgery and despite having a very sore arm, everything went pretty smoothly and we were expecting a quick recovery. The doctor put in dissolvable stitches and said the scar should heal quickly. A few days after the surgery, I noticed that the wound didn’t seem to be healing properly. My parents and I went to my pediatrician, who said everything looked normal and not to worry about it. However, a few days later, something looked really wrong and my arm wasn’t healing properly at all. My parents took me back to the pediatrician, who said we should go to the ER right away. At the ER, they informed me that my arm was infected and they needed to remove the stitches to treat the infection. I had to stay overnight in the hospital for the first time in my life and remember waking up the next morning surrounded by doctors discussing my arm. I returned to Mass General a few days later for my surgeon to put new stitches in. After this, he said we needed to have visiting nurses come to my house every day to monitor the stitches and clean my arm. I missed about two weeks of eighth grade because I needed to stay home for the visiting nurses. I fell way behind in my classes and got a tutor to catch myself up.
Due to the infection and the new stitches, my scar ended up being a lot bigger than it was expected to be. I wore large bandages over it every time I went to the beach or was out in the sun for a long period of time because it was so susceptible to sun damage. I returned to the dermatologist every three months to get my skin checked, and still do to this day. Around December of 2011, when I was in my junior year of high school, I noticed a dark brown spot in my scar. I went to my dermatologist in January of 2012 to get the area biopsied. The results showed atypical melanocytes. After much discussion with multiple dermatologists and surgeons, it was decided it would be best to fully remove the scar. This would eliminate the risk of leaving behind any atypical melanocytes in the scar, since it was the site of a previous melanoma and at great risk.
I went in for surgery to remove my scar on February 28, 2012, at Children’s Hospital, during my junior year of high school. I missed about 4 or 5 days of school for this surgery. Since the scar they removed was so large, my new scar would be about 6 inches long. I had to wear my arm in a sling for 6 weeks after surgery, which meant I also couldn’t write for about 6 weeks.
My surgery to remove my melanoma was 8 years ago and my scar revision surgery was 4 years ago. Since my first dermatologist visit, I have had 22 biopsies and a minor surgery to remove a mole on my chest that was noncancerous, but atypical. I have been melanoma free for 8 years now. Now, I’m 22 years old and a senior in college. I visit the dermatologist every 3 months and wear sunscreen daily. I volunteer with the Melanoma Foundation of New England on the Speaker’s Bureau and with the Your Skin Is In program, encouraging high school and college students to protect the skin they’re in. I hope that my story can show people that melanoma can happen to anyone, at any age. That’s just all the more reason to take care of your skin and protect it from the sun. After my surgeries and complications with melanoma at a young age, I never talked about it much; I just wanted to be done with it and move on. I’m glad now that I have the chance to speak out about my experience, and I hope I can educate others on how to take care of their skin and prevent melanoma.

Mikala Zylinski

January 10th, 2017

My cancer scare changed my life. I’m grateful for every new, healthy day I have.
It all started in June 2013, my best friend noticed I kept itching a mole on my back. She took a look at it and immediately told me I NEED to get that checked out ASAP. She kept saying “it could be melanoma.” I knew weeks before that it was growing rapidly and that I probably should get it looked at but I put it off. Until that day, something in her voice scared me.

On my lunch break from work I called the dermatologist. They said they happened to have one last appointment open for the very next day, and not another one available until September. I took the appointment for the next day. I went in to meet Dr. Smith and he told me the mole didn’t look right and we should probably take it off to get it sent to the lab. A few days later I was at home with my fiancé and I got a call from Dr. Smith. He said I have some unfortunate news, “you have Melanoma”. I couldn’t even believe it, I hardly knew anything about skin cancer but I knew that melanoma was “the worst of the 3 types.” And I am 2 months pregnant! As he kept explaining the next steps for this I tried to hold back my tears. I barely even heard anything he said. All I could think about was how one minute I’m fine and the next I have cancer. CANCER! That horrible word you never want to hear that someone has that horrible word you associate death with.

I then of course googled everything about melanoma. I read all the horrible stories and all of the life expectancies depending on what stage you have and how deep the actual tumor is into your skin. I called the Doctor back to get more answers now that I knew what I was actually dealing with. He said I have stage 2C. That means the melanoma is 4+ mm thick and is ulcerated. A few weeks later I met with an oncologist and a surgical oncologist. They explained the grueling procedure to me, even told me I should think about aborting my pregnancy. Melanoma was 1 of 3 cancers that can actually cross the placenta to the baby. It’s a 3% chance of happening. I decided to take my chances. I scheduled my appointment for surgery. I had to wait till I was in my 2nd trimester since I had to get general anesthesia. July 16th was surgery day. I was super nervous. They made an 8 inch long excision on my back; I had a few lymph nodes taken out in my neck and right underarm. I was supposed to be able to go home after surgery, but since I couldn’t stop throwing up I had to stay the night. I was in so much pain; I couldn’t even go pee on my own. I couldn’t get in or out of bed without someone helping me.

All I could hope for was the phone call telling me it went well. I had to wait 8 long months of pregnancy before I could get scans to find out for sure that the cancer was gone. I was told I had a “possible” positive lymph node. That would put me at a stage 3 melanoma. I ended up going to Dana Farber in Boston to get a second opinion on the lymph node. That was ruled out negative. Thank God. January 31st my precious little Myla was born. A few weeks later I got my pet scan and brain MRI, and about an hour after that I was finally able to say that I am cancer free! For the next 5 years I will have to get pet scans and ultrasounds on my lymph nodes every few months. I have a 50% chance that the Melanoma will return. Until then I will enjoy life with my family and friends, and pray that it doesn’t come back. All those years I went tanning and would lay out in the sun are coming back to haunt me. Wear sunscreen people! It can save your life! Maybe I can save somebody’s life by sharing my story and having them think twice about that tan they think they need.

Lauren Douglas

January 10th, 2017

I had a freckle on my arm for years, as long as I could remember it was there. Throughout my 20’s I enjoy the beach, sports and outdoor activity. However, I was not the most diligent about remembering sunscreen. I’d attend a weekend rugby tournament and apply it a few times but always ending with a slight burn. I always thought that I was too young to worry about the damage it was doing to my skin and deeper within my body. In other words I believe myself to be invincible.

Over time that freckle changed shape and began to rise off my arm, catching my attention. Friends and family would urge me to have it checked/get it removed. I heard them and understand what they were saying to be valid, but again that surge of invincibility would hit. I ignored it for about three years watching it change, until it began to frighten me.

This past January (2016) I went into the dermatologist to have it looked at. He immediately had it taken off to biopsied, reassuring me it didn’t look like cancer, but it didn’t hurt to check. So check we did. He told me that we would have results in a week, via a phone call or a postcard in the mail saying it was benign. The week flew by, I went about my everyday business, exactly a week later I waited during the day for a call. I finished my work day and went to pick up my girlfriend from work thinking its past business hours, doctors never call after 6. At 7:40pm my phone rang and I picked it up to my dermatologist saying the freckle is melanoma. He referred me to a surgeon to have it excised and sential node biopsy. The call was surreal, I didn’t take in half the information I was suppose to. I called my mom fearing giving her the bad news, my grandfather (Her Father) died 10 years ago from melanoma. So the mere word struck fear in both our hearts.

That phone call lead to a Smillow Cancer Center at Yale New Haven Hospital, where I met my wonderful surgeon Dr. Han for the first time. He sat patiently with us as he describe the severity of the cancer, it was believed to 1.2 mm thick in my right fore arm. He gave all the statistics and we set a date for surgery. February 8th.

I felt like I was in an alternate universe, how could I possibly have cancer. I was in the best shape of my life training for the upcoming rugby season (We are going to Nationals), I was volunteering at my firehouse and had just obtained my dream job. This could not be real. I cried of course and was consoled by friends and family, surged forward with a positive attitude from all. Waiting the two weeks between setting the surgery date and the actual day was brutal. I just wanted to get it over with and fight it.

On Feb. 8th I had the surgery under the wonderful care of Dr.Han and The Smillow Cancer Center. The melanoma turned out it be 2.5mm deep and the incision about half my fore arm. They removed three lymph nodes for testing and sent me home. I waited two weeks to hear back the results, I had trouble sleeping and focusing, I wanted all the answers. Today, I saw Dr. Han again, It did not spread to my lymph nodes and was successfully excised from my arm completely. It was the best news I have ever received, I know there still is a long road of watching and making sure it does not return but I am thinking positively. Thanks to my family and friends I can say I am now a survivor.

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