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.