How I survived MELANOMA- Skin Cancer?

Summer fun is in full swing and the last thing on your mind when you schedule a day at the beach, or a poolside BBQ is the serious side of spending more time in the sun: An increased risk of Skin cancer.

According to the American academy of dermatology, one out of every five Americans will develop the disease at some point in their lives. Melanoma – The deadliest type of skin cancer is on the Rise.

Statistics:

Melanoma's tendency to spread across the body is what makes it so deadly, according to Steven Q. Wang, M.D., director of dermatologic surgery and dermatology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre in Basking Ridge, New Jersey. Melanoma begins in the melanocytes—the cells that produce melanin, a protective, skin-darkening pigment—but if not diagnosed early, it can easily spread to internal organs.


The good news is that “roughly 70% of melanomas are detected by patients themselves, family members, and friends,” according to Wang. “The majority of patients who come into our office believe they are facing death, but the vast majority of melanomas we see are localised in the skin, making them treatable.”

Males and females in the North of India had the highest AAR per 100,000 of melanoma of the skin, with 1.62 and 1.21, respectively. Males in the East had the highest rate of nonmelanoma of the skin or other skin cancers, with 6.2, and females in the Northeast had the lowest, with 3.49. Nonmelanoma incidence was highest in the northeast for both male (75.6) and female (43.6) sexes. The Western Pacific region had the highest AAR of melanoma of the skin for males, at 36.9, and the European region had the highest AAR for females, at 31.7. The Western Pacific area had the highest prevalence of nonmelanoma of the skin or other skin cancers in males, with 225.4 and 68.6 respectively. 


That was the case for these three melanoma survivors, who all overcame the most terrifying news they'd ever received. These tales, which range from a strange-looking freckle to a diagnosis at the tender age of 18, highlight the importance of sun protection since skin cancer can strike anyone at any age.



MELANOMA NEARLY KILLED ME:

“I Came Across a Pink Pimple That Wouldn't Go Away”

I was 18 years old and had just begun my first semester of college when I found a pink bump above my hairline that looked like a pimple. I thought it was strange that I had a zit in that spot, but I figured it would go away on its own.

I tried an over-the-counter topical acne drug, but it just made it worse—it was nearly the size of a pencil eraser by the time I saw a dermatologist, who performed a biopsy.


I have found swollen lymph nodes in my neck at the same time. I saw an ear, nose, and throat specialist, who removed one to see what was wrong. He mistook me for a lymphoma patient.

-Story of Nicole Riley, Mountain Lakes, New Jersey.

Since I was so young, the doctors called my mother with the results of both biopsies, which came back at the same time: Melanoma had spread to my lymph nodes since it was Stage 3 melanoma. It didn't really reach me when my mother called to tell me the news. ‘OK, can I go to class now?' I just said. And that's exactly what I've done.

When class was over, I realised how serious the diagnosis was. I couldn't get out of my seat and sobbed uncontrollably. None of it made sense because I wasn't a traditional sun worshipper who used tanning beds. Yet I was a fair-skinned athlete who got a lot of sunburns on my scalp while playing softball all those summers.


I went to Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York City for a radical neck dissection right around Thanksgiving. On the right side, my doctor removed all of my lymph nodes from my collarbone to my jaw. After that, I began chemotherapy.

I went through four rounds of chemo, and it seemed to work. I went in for regular scans about a year after my diagnosis, and a lymph node in my lungs lit up. During my sophomore year, I went back on the chemo medication and spent the whole summer after that going to Sloan Kettering for radiation.

I had about ten years of clean scans after my second bout of cancer. The doctors assured me that I'd made it; I'd been healed in their eyes. I got engaged, and all was fine—until a few months after my wedding, when I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, which the doctors said was most likely caused by the radiation I'd received to treat the melanoma. I was back in surgery, this time to have my thyroid removed.

I am now in remission at the age of 31, and I make it a point to see melanoma doctors and endocrinologists on a regular basis to ensure that I remain well. My friends enjoy accompanying me to the beach because I bring everything: a tent, sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, and a long-sleeved shirt.


My husband and I want to start a family, but my doctors won't let me. Your hormones go nuts when you become pregnant, and underlying cancers may be caused as a result. In addition, I'd have to go nine months without doing some sort of radiological examination.

But I'm aware that people who experience what I did don't always survive, let alone have children. I'm so grateful for a positive outcome—my tale could've gone in a completely different direction.”


Story of –David Stanley, Flint, Michigan

“My Wife Saw a Strange Freckle on me”

 I'd always assumed that I'd develop skin cancer. In the 1980s, I was a competitive bike racer, and no one wore sunscreen. In reality, I'd go out and try to get a base tan on purpose. Plus, I spent most of my young adult life in Texas, where it is still warm and sunny, even in the winter.

In a nutshell, when it comes to skin cancer, I'm the poster child for what not to do. Despite the fact that I knew my chances of getting squamous or basal cell carcinoma—the most common and treatable types of skin cancer—melanoma never crossed my mind.

My wife pointed out a small mole near my ear in 2005, when I was 47, and encouraged me to see a dermatologist. When I shaved, I noticed it but didn't think much of it. If it hadn't been for my wife's insistence, I would have put off scheduling an appointment.


I was diagnosed with stage 2 melanoma after a biopsy. I was thinking to myself, "This might be very bad." Cancer is frightening no matter where it occurs. And I had cancer on my forehead. Fortunately, the melanoma had not spread to my lymph nodes, making the operation reasonably simple. My mole reappeared in the same location near my ear a year and a half later—and it was twice as big.

The surgery was more difficult that time. Just to figure out where it stopped, I went through 12 hours of biopsies on my own. Some people believe that skin cancer isn't a big deal because it can simply be "cut out" by a doctor. The sound of those biopsies was like a giant meat cleaver scratching against a mirror, I can tell you. It was a disaster. The good news is that my doctor was able to completely eradicate the cancer, which was only in its early stages and had not spread.


Now I use sunscreen, see my dermatologist twice a year, and return if my wife or I notice something that needs to be looked into. It's important to have a doctor you can call if you see anything unusual.

Men have a hard time going to the hospital. My melanoma would have progressed to Stage 3 or 4 if I had waited a year, according to my dermatologist. I would have died if I had waited two years.”

Story of Jackie Smith, Orlando, Florida

"You'd think I'd be the last one to get melanoma," she says.

“I actually gasped when I heard the words ‘you have melanoma.' I had just graduated from college and was 22 years old. ‘Yeah, that's definitely not going to happen,' my doctor said when I told him I wanted to go to graduate school.

My melanoma was in stage 3, which meant it was in my lymph nodes, and my doctor told me it was on the verge of progressing to stage 4, which means it had spread to my internal organs.

For about two years before my diagnosis, I’d had a lump near my bikini line that seemed to be slowly growing. A few months after noticing it, I went to my gynaecologist, who told me it was nothing to worry about. I'll never forget what she said: 'If you don't bother it, it won't bother you.' It's insane to think how far she was off the mark.


To be honest, I didn't exactly resemble a traditional Caucasian woman with a mole. I didn’t check any of the high-risk boxes. Yet even though I’m black and had never been sunburned or stepped into a tanning bed, I still got melanoma.


When I tell people I have melanoma, they always respond with, "Well, you just had a mole removed." I'm enraged that I had to get all the lymph nodes in my pelvic and groyne area cut, as well as inject myself with a chemo medication on a weekly basis. Then I had radiation, which resulted in a large wound at my surgical site, like a large burn. In my left leg, I also have lymphedema, which is a condition in which lymph fluid is unable to drain properly, resulting in swelling and pain. I'll be struggling with this for the rest of my life.

So, if you're going to be outdoors between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., apply sunscreen and reapply it. Also, if you see anything suspicious, see a dermatologist and have it checked out.


Learn from my mistakes and be your own health advocate by questioning your doctors. If you suspect something isn't right, keep looking before you find an answer that pleases you. Take good care of yourself.”

 


References:


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  5. The American Cancer Society is the first. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/skin-cancer/prevention-and-early-detection/what-is-skin-cancer/what-is-skin-cancer [Last accessed on April 10, 2019]. 

  6. N Engl J Med 1992;327:1649-62. 2. Preston DS, Stern RS. Nonmelanoma skin cancers. N Engl J Med 1992;327:1649-62. 

  7. F. Bray, J. Ferlay, I. Soerjomataram, R. L. Siegel, L. A. Torre, and A. Jemal. Global cancer statistics 2018: GLOBOCAN figures of cancer incidence and mortality in 185 countries for 36 cancers. CA 68:394-424 in Cancer J Clin.

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