Living with a melanoma diagnosis

May 16, 2016

Melanoma is not just skin cancer. It’s real. It’s cancer. And left untreated, will kill you. 

I was diagnosed with skin cancer July 16, 2012. When I spotted an odd looking mole just below my right ribcage, my heart sunk. I knew about the dangers of melanoma, but I still was not ready to hear the words, “I’m sorry, but it’s cancer. It’s melanoma.” 

It wasn’t until a friend was diagnosed with melanoma that I even considered wearing sunscreen. I grew up in the era when baby oil and iodine were used as tanning lotions. Then, in 1999, I started frequenting tanning salons. I tanned at the salon two to three times per week. I guess one could say I was an addict. I continued to go after that golden tan. I would spend every moment I could either laying out in the sun or in a tanning bed. In my mind, I felt and looked better with a tan. Little did I know at the time I was setting the stage for a melanoma diagnosis.

My treatment for melanoma included a wide excision biopsy and later surgery to make sure we had clear margins. Because my melanoma was caught early, my prognosis was good. I was given a 90 percent five-year survival rate. But later, after finding out members of my mother’s side of the family had also been diagnosed with melanoma, my survival rate decreased. I also know the odds and the fact that melanoma can advance from stage I to stage IV in a heartbeat.  All it takes is one renegade cell. One cell can remain dormant for a short time or even years, just waiting to strike again. Because of this, I can never be classified as cancer-free. The best I can ever hope for is NED (no evidence of disease). I also know that any new mole that appears on my skin will be biopsied.

Since the initial shock of my diagnosis, I have become an advocate for melanoma awareness. Over the past three years, I, along with my husband, have participated in nine melanoma awareness walks and have attended three patient education symposiums at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. I belong to a wonderful support group, where I have had the opportunity to meet several amazing warriors. These are the people who have helped me keep my sanity intact; I would be lost with them. I use social media to share valuable information and updates on melanoma research. I also write about what it is like to live with a melanoma diagnosis. The ups, the downs and everything in-between.

Why do I do this? That answer is easy. Even though I am only one person with only one voice, my story is worth telling. If I can reach just one person and help prevent a deadly skin cancer, my effort is worthwhile.

  • Early detection is the key to survival. Ask your primary care provider to perform a skin check at your next physical exam.
  • Learn and be aware of any changes to a mole or freckle, and if you notice a change, don’t hesitate to contact your physician right away.
  • If you discover a lump anywhere on your body, get it checked out. Don’t wait and hope it goes away, because if it is skin cancer, melanoma waits for no one.

So, if you haven’t done so yet, please make that appointment for a full-body check. It just might save your life. 

Sandra Klein works at Mayo Clinic Health System in Red Wing

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