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

Abby Szabo

July 24th, 2017

I was 25 when I finally went to check out the ever so changing mole that was located on my right leg just above the bend of my knee. I had noticed it was changing a year before but thought it was just a growth. My suspicion got larger when I noticed it would get caught on my jeans and start to bleed. I went to a walk-in clinic to determine if it was something I should worry about. They immediately contacted my dermatologist and scheduled an appointment. My dermatologist decided on a shave biopsy, which in itself was nerve-racking. I got a call a week later saying they needed me to come in to discuss my results. I knew before they told me, as most doctors won’t ask you to come in if it is good news. He explained my diagnosis to me and said that he had set up an appointment with an oncologist, as well as a plastic surgeon. They ran multiple tests to see if it had metastasized. The “normal” depth of melanoma is 1 to 2 cm. Mine was 5.2. They had skeptical looks while explaining this, I was sure I was done, and that I couldn’t be mad because I didn’t get it looked at. They found that my lymph channels showed it could be in my groin. They decided to schedule surgery, where they removed the 2 inch radius on my leg and two lymph nodes in my groin. I couldn’t walk for 6 weeks, had to do therapy and re-learn how to function/walk with the amount of muscle they took. It’s just past my year of surgery, and I feel great and it looks like nothing is coming back as of now. I still have no feeling on the inner side of my leg, and towards the lymph node site. But I’m told it may not ever come back. I’m extremely cautious of protecting my skin now and sunscreen is a must. I have a high risk of it coming back, but I feel that this was a wake up call. I never did the tanning weekly thing, it was a spur of the moment/special occasion thing. I did spend massive amounts of time outside when I was younger and never thought twice about using sunscreen, it just wasn’t necessary to me. Now I know how important it is, and what you can lose. Now all I can do is continue to try to prevent and hope for the best, but I think we are in the clear and I look forward to my newfound appreciation for life!!

Staci Hendricks

July 10th, 2017

I found a mole on the back of my left leg a year prior to doing anything about it. I even made the comment “that’s probably cancer.” I work at a nursing facility and I saw the Nurse Practitioner and I asked her what she thought of my mole. Her response was I needed to have it removed as soon as possible. I made the appointment and she removed it on May 18th. I went in thinking it was Basal Cell and she told me it looked like Melanoma. When she stitched me up, I asked if she thought she got it all. She said there were a few deeper spots she was concerned about. I worried until the pathology report came in. On May 25th, she called me personally and gave me the diagnosis of Superficial Spreading Melanoma. She got me in to see a dermatologist within a week and he got me in to see an oncologist within another week. I’m a matter of 6 weeks, I had the mole removed, the diagnosis, and the surgery. I was told there was no residual malignancy and he got it all!! I have a large wound in my leg and a sore hip from the skin graft. I wore a wound vac for 5 days. All of that was not fun, but it could be so so much worse. I was very lucky.

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 IMPACT Melanoma 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 IMPACT Melanoma 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.

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