May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month. The 1st Monday in May is #MelanomaMonday
There are many different types of skin cancer and they each look different. Only 1% of all skin cancers are diagnosed as melanoma according to the American Cancer Society. Melanoma is scary because if not caught early, it can spread easily from your skin to other organs.
Jimmy Carter is lucky. He was treated here in Atlanta at Emory for melanoma that had spread to his brain and was eligible to be involved with a new immunotherapy drug. The drug is called pembrolizumab (Keytruda) and is still in a clinical trial phase. He is cancer-free at this time.
My friend Rene is not so lucky. She's been dealing with melanoma (multiple lesions) in the brain for about 18 months. The Mayo Clinic has been a great support to her and her family. Rene's melanoma was first found on her back and soon spread (about 2 years later). She's had multiple brain surgeries, chemo, and radiation to her brain since then.
Rene's form of melanoma is aggressive and keeps coming back in different areas of her brain. Last week she was put into an assisted living situation that also includes hospice. There's nothing else they can do. My heart hurts for her, her husband and family; she's also a mom to 3 daughters and 3 very young grandchildren.
I have a personal experience with melanoma too. My first blog post with Huffington, Running Back to Normal, was the first time I was public about it.
That experience was almost exactly a year ago. My husband noticed an odd-looking mole on my shoulder. This skin cancer spot was discovered about 6 months after my chemo treatment from breast cancer had completed. One of the risk factors to get melanoma is a weakened immune system as the result of chemo in my case. Here's a list of risk factors for melanoma from the Skin Cancer Foundation.
Thank God I had the mole checked out. It turned out to be early stage melanoma and hadn't reached the epidermis. The location was the back of my shoulder where the arm joins, an area that gets a lot of use. Surgery was required and an incision had to be made that was going to be 5" long and about 1" in diameter to create a clear margin. To have the proper "clear margin," 3cm of skin needs to be removed around the melanoma location.
My reaction was WTF! And Crap! I have to deal with this now too! (These are my PG-13 reactions.) The stitches were huge and it looked like something you'd see on Frankenstein's forehead. Wearing a sling to support my right arm was needed for a while to limit movement so it would heal properly.
Additional lab tests were done on the extra skin that was removed and all was clear. (It grossed me out to see the skin that was removed and was larger than I expected.) Every 3 months since then, I get "all over" skin checks with the skin cancer specialist. All clear still. If everything looks good in June, then my check-ups will be every 6 months for a while.
I am thankful this was caught early; the incision healed great and looks like a thin line now.
As an adult I've always worn sunscreen. But some changes were made like applying sunscreen before I put my clothes on, wear a wide-brim hat more consistently, and avoid being in the intense sun between 10am-4pm when UV rays are considered the highest. Another reason for me to enjoy the sunsets more. Here are more tips from the CDC on how to avoid skin cancer.
Any change in your skin is a common sign (symptom) of skin cancer. It could be a sore that won't heal, a change in an existing mole, or a new growth. That's why it's so important to be familiar with your skin. Every nook and cranny. Don't ignore any changes.
As for Rene, all we can do is hope and pray for her now; and simply be there for her. #MelanomaSucks
This post first appeared on Brigitte's personal blog. Brigitte is a Media Solutions Consultant, Health Advocate, Speaker, Blogger, and Author. You can learn more by visiting BrigitteCutshall.com.