Saturday, January 7, 2012

Real People of Melanoma

This post is meant to be read by those who think skin cancer is no big deal. 

"It can be cut out and then it’s gone."
"A tan is more important than worrying about simple skin cancer."
"I have to die of something, so it might as well be skin cancer."

Have you muttered any of these words when reading an article about the dangers of tanning?  Have you walked into a tanning salon, defiant of the literature received on skin cancer?  Well, feel free to continue doing so, but please take a few minutes to read this post. If you still have the urge to go tanning or avoid having that mole looked at...fine. 

What I want to do is introduce you to some real people.  I started to blog almost a year ago as a way to cope with my brother's death.  Yes, he died of melanoma (that's the nastiest skin cancer in case you didn't know)...and I promise not to make this a sappy read and bore you with his details.  But in the process of blogging and sharing my thoughts, I've come across some real people that have had real experiences with skin cancer.  These are not “models” or medical anomalies showcased as freak shows…these are real people facing different kinds of skin cancer every day. 

Christina has skin cancer on her face.  It's not any type of massively deforming tumor or obvious cancer other than a few spots on her face, but its real cancer nevertheless.  Really, it appears like it's just a condition on which one can treat with a topical cream.  And that's kind of what's Christina went through a few months ago.  She was required to apply a topical chemotherapy to her face for two weeks every year.  Yes, chemotherapy.  It's not the blood infusion type that conjures up the awful images of "real" cancer...just a simple skin application…one that peels away the face, quite literally.



She said in her blog that the pain was unreal...and at night when she slept (something she was unable to do most nights) her face literally stuck to her pillow.  It hurt to smile...it was excruciating when she yawned...it pained her to talk.  She's a teacher…so she had to teach through the pain.  Her face is mostly healed now, but the next year and round of chemotherapy will come only too soon for Christina.

Karen is a mother who noticed "an ugly freckle" on her leg.  See it here on her right calf?


Frankly, it looked like a simple mole seen on many people. She had a dermatologist look at it and discovered it was Stage 2 melanoma.  (Stage 4 is the worse).  She had the mole "simply cut out" successfully...here's what her "simple cut out" looked like right after the mole removal.



You see...when they "cut out" any skin cancer, they cut out a large area because skin cancer spreads.  It spreads FAST!  A small 3mm mole may result in a several inches cut and scar along one's leg, chest, neck or face.

Another real person is Chelsea, age 24.


She's had surgery to remove the cancer from their skin and lymph nodes, but has had to continue the fight because melanoma has a nasty habit of spreading...even when it’s thought that it’s been completely removed.  In fact, there’s as much as a 30% chance of recurrence of melanoma for those who had it before.  You can that here see that her neck and under her arm have been scarred...but she's also had to go through quite a few other procedures.



In short, it's not been a fun ride for Chelsea.  She’s doing pretty well now, she's had many days of being very sick and has had to spend a lot of time and money going to a cancer center in New York for her treatment.

Oh yeah, that's a good point...tanning sessions might be expensive, but it's nothing compared to the expense of having cancer.  We’re not talking hundreds, but thousands of dollars.  For Stage 4 melanoma patients, there’s one drug that costs $30,000 PER DOSE!  And if you think insurance will cover everything, you better think again.  Not only does each person here have to battle cancer each day, they have to battle insurance companies even more so.

Here's another lady named Tina.  I have no cancer photos of Tina...just this nice one with her and her daughter. 


Tina was doing pretty well, but then her melanoma returned, got nasty, and spread to her bladder.  She said it was a very painful experience...and it caused other complications.  Tina passed away a few months ago...leaving her daughter and husband to continue fighting the insurance companies.

I have one more lady to introduce you to...Amanda.  I admittedly haven't talked to this girl like I have the others, but her story is pretty powerful.  Here's her photo before she got skin cancer.


Here's her photo after the tumors invaded her face and body.


There’s really not much more I can add that the photos don’t already say.  You can watch this video to see more of her story.  Amanda died at age 31.

Skin cancer doesn't affect only pretty young women.  In fact, more guys suffer from the disease than women.  However, many guys just don't share their photos and thoughts as much as women do.  You know how guys are...tough as nails.  But Eric decided to share his entire battle on You Tube.


He discovered his cancer as a mole on his ankle...like so many others.  He fought for a long time, but the cancer just kept on coming.  It invaded his lungs, spine, brain and his entire body.  Now I apologize for the graphic nature of this next photo...but I wanted to show you a photo of Eric's leg...not long before he died.


Yes, that’s his leg.  His flesh was literally rotting away as his grapefruit-sized tumors penetrated his skin.  But believe it or not, Eric was "lucky" in that he became paralyzed from the chest down and couldn't feel this painful condition.

Again, these are REAL people...not rare medical subjects, but real people encountered online while I wrote my blog.  Each has his or her own story, battles and losses and some successes.  I wanted you to meet these people because even the best skin cancer Public Service Announcements convey pretty people that look normal.  They share their story of survival, but you really don’t get a good feel for the true pain they went through. 

Your chance of getting skin cancer is pretty high...about 1 in 5.  Admittedly, melanoma is the rarest form of skin cancer, so you have less chance of getting that...about 1 in 50.  But after you’ve seen these real people that have battled melanoma, it’s easy to see how one should do everything in their power to prevent it.

There are two main things to remember with regards to preventing melanoma.  First…avoid the UV rays.  It’s obviously impossible to avoid the sun completely, so wear sunscreen EVERY day…no matter the weather.  And do NOT use a tanning bed.  It’s concentrated UV rays and there’s absolutely nothing healthy about it.

Secondly, visit your dermatologist annually and check your skin yourself monthly, if not more often.  Early detection is key!  Get to know your skin and notice any changes.  If you see something suspicious, don’t wait the year…see your dermatologist now!

Wear sunscreen and get checked.  It’s that simple to avoid becoming one of the real people of melanoma.


Post Script:  I appreciate those who shared their photos for this blog post.  I believe I received permission to use all these photos over the last few months.  If I am mistaken, please contact me at fightmelanoma@live.com and I will remove ASAP.  Thank you again. 

13 comments:

  1. Very powerful. Thank you for sharing this. As hard as it is to relive some of these stories, they are stories that need to be repeated over and over. <3

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  2. Thank you for sharing these stories with the world. I lost my husband two years ago to melanoma. He was 37.

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  3. very powerful. Glad you're doing well, Chelsea!

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  4. Excellent! Having been diagnosed myself this is ome thing I have wanted to say to many. Thank You!

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  5. Great post Al. As always, you do a great service to increase awareness. I hate when people still say, "you're so lucky it was just skin cancer. cut it out and you'll be fine." Good grief.

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  6. I noticed that my husband had a large mole on his back and it seemed to be changing. I asked him to ask his family doctor to check it. He told me the doctor said it was "nothing to worry about". Finally I made an appointment with the dermatologist and dragged him there, protesting that he didn't need to go since his doctor said it was nothing. She cancelled her next two patients to deal with it then and there! It was a melanoma. And he ended up coming back for a second surgery to get better, wider margins. Over the past 5 years he's had 4 additional moles taken off and they were all either cancer or pre-cancerous. He's doing fine now (thank God) but who knows where we'd be if I had just trusted his family doctor and blown the whole thing off.

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  7. Thank you for sharing these stories. I am a melanoma survivor (stage 3). I had a mole on my left forearm that turned out to be a melanoma. I had a very large skin graft at age 19. Since then, I've had four cosmetic surgeries on my arm and 5 additional skin cancers (all basal cell). Our stories need to get out. Maybe we can help someone avoid what we have been through.

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  8. I was diagnosed with stage 3 melanoma on my 42nd birthday in May of 2013. What a birthday gift. I had a very small birthmark that decided to change over a years time. I kick myself for not going sooner but I was scared. I didn't realize how serious melanoma is but I was on the road to find out. My birthmark was very small and changed to black and about 4" long with an ulcer in the middle of it. 3 surgeries later and currently on interferon 2b treatment for a year, I have learned a hard lesson. I have 2 teenage kids who still need their mother, so I am fighting with all my might to make sure they are safe from the sun and to make sure I am still here to meet my grandchildren. So to you skeptics out there, this is not something to take lightly. It is definitely something that will take your life.

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  9. I have had several melanoma in situ removed, and one malignant melanoma that ending in a skin graft. Not deep enough to get to lymph nodes. But definitely I cover up and wear sunscreen. Currently using chemo on actinic keratosis on my nose for three weeks. Not cute. I tell all my family and friends to use sunscreen and stay away from tanning beds. I did only a few tanning bed session but loved being tan and in the sun. Now I am paying for that. I pray for a cure for skin cancers soon, and that I too will not suffer with anymore melanoma. This is a great blog site - more should see it. Thanks

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  10. My 9 year old daughter was recently diagnosed with Melanoma

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  11. My 9 year old daughter was recently diagnosed with Melanoma

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