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

Joe Feyder

September 11th, 2017

Being an avid sailor, runner and also playing tennis, I am exposed to the sun a lot. Twelve years ago, at the age of 52, I was diagnosed with Stage I, close to Stage II, melanoma. A small mole located on my neck expanded and darkened over the summer. Fortunately, my wife noticed the changes to the mole. She convinced me to see a melanoma specialist since it was my first skin exam. A few days after the biopsy, the doctor called to say that the mole was Stage I melanoma and was close to Stage II due to the thickness. I had never paid attention to melanoma, but quickly learned about skin cancer and my condition. A few recollections stand out from my diagnosis and successful treatment.

The chances of successful removal are very good with early detection! Plastic surgeons are highly skilled to remove the cancer and to minimize any impact. They have my upmost respect! I thought the worst when the surgeon described how he would remove a golf ball sized chunk of flesh from my neck. He assured me to not worry, that he would make a vertical incision (about eight inches long) on my neck and face so he could stretch the skin to cover and eventually fill in the removed flesh. Today, the scar is very narrow and you really must look hard to see it.

Second, the specialist explained that due to the location of the skin cancer there was a high risk of a reoccurrence advancing into my lymph nodes. He also explained that there is always a chance (likely small in my case) that the cancer has migrated elsewhere in my body. He then had my attention! Avoiding the sun, sunscreen, wide rim hats and UV protective clothing immediately became my standard procedure.

The doctor also explained that we accumulate the impact of the UV rays. Probably like many kids, I had too much sun exposure on unprotected skin early on – cutting lawns without a shirt, dark tan every summer, caddying, etc. Even as an adult, a baseball hat was my only protection and sunscreen was for others.

In the meantime, there have been no other occurrences. I religiously protect myself from sun exposure (sun screen, wide brim hats and UV clothing) and encourage others to do the same. As with all cancers, we never get away from it and the regular skin exams and chest x-rays remind me to remain diligent! Also, a doctor friend gave great advice to stay in good shape to reduce the risk of reoccurrence. That motivated me to exercise more often.

Looking back, the importance of education is clear – knowing the impact of unprotected sun exposure and understanding the risks of melanoma. I learned about skin cancer the hard way and had never thought about the risks. Unfortunately, many of us (and often those clearly at risk) generally don’t think about the impact of sun exposure. That is why I support IMPACT Melanoma and its programs to increase awareness to reduce the occurrence of skin cancer. They recently expanded their reach nationally and I will help them develop their programs in the Maryland/Washington, D.C. area. We have long summers with many months of sun exposure!!!

Natalie Santaniello

September 5th, 2017

At 25 I was in a pool with all my friends. At the time finishing Nursing School. So – when one of my good friends tapped on my back and said “WHAT is THAT!” Back then (20 years ago), no one really knew how bad melanoma was – everyone thought it was like basal or squamous. But I knew, so I immediately had the half size of a dime, irregular jet black mark removed by my dermatologist. He did not get it all at the time and tried convincing me to immediately seek a plastic surgeon to have what they term the “butterfly” where they carve out your back and get all of the lymph nodes. He told me that it could have spread to my spine and spinal fluid, possible bone/brain cancer. Imagine being told that at 25. I decided to seek a professional Surgical Oncologist at the University of Arizona, Dr. Warneke. It took about two weeks to get in. He went in and took a bigger chunk (it was about 2 mm from my spine) – so it was really tough healing in that area. But – it came back in situ, thankfully.

My heart goes out to all of those who are less fortunate than I. Education, Awareness, and Prevention.

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.

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