I’m one of the lucky ones, they say. I never had to undergo chemo or radiation, and all my lymph nodes are still in place, but the truth of the matter is that melanoma changed me completely. I was diagnosed at 18 during my freshman year of college. The year prior was full of events that required me to be in evening gowns. There was prom, then the yearly pageant my school held, and don’t forget about those awful vocal music dresses that surely looked better on me when my skin was tan. Those moments in a tanning bed, defined my future. While my friends were vacationing during Spring Break, I was undergoing a wide excision surgery to remove six inches of skin on my back all the way down to the muscle. This surgery was my cure, but it wasn’t completely healing, because the emotional scar runs a bit deeper and has lasted far longer.
The misconception associated with the word melanoma is that it will simply be cut out and everything will be fine. I can’t tell you how many of my friends spoke those exact words to me when I shared my diagnosis with them. Quite frankly, until I had my doctor tell me that there may be a chance that I could only have five to seven years left to live depending on my test results, I didn’t understand the severity either. My friends couldn’t understand the situation I was in and it wasn’t because I had surrounded myself with people weren’t able to feel empathy; it was because they simply weren’t educated.
My family, they became my saviors, the people I laughed with to distract me from the constant terror I felt in my stomach, the people who held me when I cried, and the people who found strength for me when I couldn’t find it in myself. In fact, it was my mom, who saved me. She was the one who had noticed the mole on my upper back that had gradually became dark black and she was the one who called me with the information from the doctor of my diagnosis. Often times, I still wonder how she found the strength to call me, her only daughter, to tell me I had cancer. My melanoma diagnosis didn’t just emotionally scar me; it scarred every person in my family.
Life after melanoma is different to say the least. I’m far more cautious and I’m often fearful of reoccurrence. For the rest of my life, every six months, I will visit my dermatologist. I sit undressed in a brightly lit exam room while my doctor goes over every inch of my skin. These checks, more often than not, end with a biopsy of a something that looks suspicious leaving an open wound on my skin that takes weeks to heal. I then prepare myself to tell my loved ones that we are, yet again waiting on pathology reports. The chance of reoccurrence for me is 2% and while that may seem like a very small number, it is actually quite large in relation to melanoma.
I never dreamed that before I graduated college and said I do, I would be a cancer survivor, but it is my reality. I wasn’t lucky, I was blessed and I feel strongly that I meant to educate others on how to care for your skin. Unfortunately, I wasn’t educated on the effects of tanning, but don’t let that be your excuse. Don’t be like me. Your desire shouldn’t be getting tan. Your desire should be to stay alive. Educate yourself before you find yourself in a situation that educates you.