I am the walking poster girl for a Melanoma patient. Looking back I did everything wrong growing up. I burnt, blistered and peeled several times. My Mom always packed a high SPF in my bag, but that is where it stayed. I never protected my self from the sun. At about age 13 I purchased my first tanning membership. Within a month I was a five-day a week, twenty-five minute client with a tan for the first time ever in my life. At 16 I landed my first job at a tanning salon by the beach in Southern California. I worked there until I was 19 years old. I was able to tan for free and I was trained to sell these products to anyone who walked in. This meant telling them that “tanning beds are the healthy alternative” and that “this is your safest tan”. I was so wrong. I continued to tan there for years. At 20, I began feeling very uneasy about a small mole on my forearm. I waited, but this feeling just got stronger. I took it to my Doctor. He told me not to worry because “it doesn’t look like Cancer”. I went on my way, but continued to hate this mole. I went two more times to my Doctor, who kept telling me “Cancer doesn’t look like that”. I still wanted it off. I’m still not sure if it was for vanity or my body telling me something was wrong. This mole didn’t change, itch, bleed… nothing… yet.
While vacationing in Florida, I noticed the mole was kind of itchy and flaky. I didn’t freak out because I figured it was in my head. By the time I got home, it was bleeding. I went to my Doctor, a new one, he told me he would take it off right away. He advised me that it didn’t look good, but didn’t look like Melanoma. Two days later I was back for the biopsy. Immediately after the biopsy, I was back in a tanning bed. It took four weeks to get my pathology results, but I got them.
On June 30th, 2006, my Mom called me at work to tell me to grab all my stuff and come outside. She came and picked me up, I was crying. I thought something bad happened, but never thought it was that little mole. She looked scared, sad, and heartbroken. We got to the Doctor’s office and he saw me right away. He gave me a hug when he walked in, so I knew this was pretty bad. The first words out of his mouth were “someone is watching over you, but I think we caught it in time.” I broke down, got sick, was shaking, and then calmed down. He got me an immediate appointment with a Dermatologist the next day, a Saturday. My best friend and I went out that night, to keep my mind off of everything going on. We didn’t make it out. I was an emotional wreck. I’ll never forget how I felt when I was crying and looked up and saw my Mom crying in my best friend’s arms. We went to the Dermatologist’s office; he said there was nothing he could do. I needed an Oncologist and Surgeon.
By August 16th, I was scheduled for surgery. They cut a wide excision to get any existing Melanoma (clean margins); removed for lymph nodes to test them for Melanoma cells that may have spread, and took skin from my upper thigh to put in place of the old skin they removed. I was in surgery for about 9-10 hours. Recovery took about four weeks to get back to somewhat normal, but the tests all came back with wonderful NEGATIVE results.
When all was said and done, I had a disfiguring scar on my forearm and my Mom had a 21-year-old Melanoma survivor. The battle was far from over. I learned everything I could about the disease. Then for months every time I got a cold, back pain, headaches, everything, I was afraid it meant the Melanoma was back.
Now, however, I feel strong with knowing all that I know. I know that if I or anyone I love has to deal with this beast, I’ll be prepared this time. I learn more everyday, donate time and money to Melanoma research and families, I spread awareness in any way I can, try to be a good Melanoma advocate, appreciate everyday a little more and continue to be thankful for catching it when I did. I strongly believe it’s time to bring a new color ribbon to the front lines of the war on Cancer…. the black ribbon. Kids today need to understand the importance of sun safety and early detection, so that is what I’m trying to do!