As a melanoma survivor, I feel a strong responsibility to share this post every year. It’s important information that can save your life.
Melanoma is on the rise. This is a scary cancer (aren’t they all?), as it can be tough to treat. Don’t mess around if you think you see changes in a mole or on your skin. The Melanoma Research Foundation is an in-depth site to find the information you’re seeking for all things melanoma.
To the post!
May is Melanoma Awareness Month
It’s fitting that May is Melanoma Awareness Month because it’s the beginning of warmer summer temps and lighter clothing. Summertime means taking precautions against sunburns and routinely wearing sunscreen (for those of you who don’t already).
I am a melanoma survivor. I’m fair-skinned, blonde, and blue-eyed: the perfect candidate. Top that off, I live in a Southern state where the sun shines the majority of the year and I spent my youth happily and ignorantly getting sunburned. Little did I know that my carefree days in the sun, and my inability to tan, set me up for the perfect skin cancer storm.
Before I was diagnosed, I was already seeing a dermatologist yearly, as was my son and husband. She was and still is a trusted doctor whom I credit with saving my life.
I had noticed a small mole that seemed like it had changed ever so slightly, but not enough for me to move up my yearly exam. Boy was young and busy with summer camps and fun, so I just kept an eye on it until I saw my doc a few months later.
When I did see her, we discussed that I thought the mole had changed somewhat, but upon visual inspection it looked fine to both of us. It didn’t fall in the regular category for irregularity or color markers that usually distinguish melanoma. We weren’t worried. Although, she advised that she wanted to biopsy it “just to be safe.”
I’m forever in her debt that she insisted on that biopsy, because when it came back, I tested positive for Stage 1 Melanoma.
She called me with the news while I was in the middle of cleaning a toilet and asked me to sit down. I still had my yellow gloves on and the toilet brush in my hand; I’ll never forget that moment. My life changed dramatically in those few minutes as she explained to me what I had and what was next.
Back in ’99, there were no drugs, or chemo, to treat melanoma, not in the traditional ways of thinking about chemo. Your option was surgery, then wait it out. I was furious when I learned that fact. I’m a proactive kinda gal and I wanted to blast the cancer from my body. Nope. No chemo and no radiation. Just wait and see. It was torture, especially since I had Husband and Boy to think about.
Yet, I was one of the amazingly lucky ones: my cancer hadn’t spread. The game plan was to cut that mofo out (and I wanted it out IMMEDIATELY) then monitor me for signs they had missed one stinkin’ cancer cell. That was in 1999, 16 years ago in August, and I’ve been cancer-free ever since, thanks be to God.
Not all melanomas are caused by the sun, but a large majority are, and that includes tanning beds which mimic the sun’s rays.
You should do a self-check once a month. If I hadn’t been diligent in doing self-checks, I might have missed pointing out the mole to my doc. If you see anything that has changed, even in the smallest way, get thee to a dermatologist.
Also, wear sunscreen. Come on. It’s the easiest thing you can do for prevention and many sunscreens can be light and undetectable. You have no excuse. Do it.