Growing up I was constantly complimented on my red hair, blue eyes and freckles. I didn’t particularly find these qualities all that becoming and found kinship in our Canadian heroine, Anne of Green Gables. Eventually, I learned that these qualities allowed me to stand out in a crowd and I began to embrace my differences. Unfortunately, these characteristics are also risk factors for melanoma.
Over time, I developed a mole at the base of my neck and noticed progressive changes, however, I knew that when you are in your 30’s and with pregnancies you often develop new moles so I didn’t think too much about it. My intuition was telling me that there was something just not right with this mole, but being a busy working mom of two I kept putting off getting it checked. During routine visit to my family doctor to have my sons 18 month immunizations, I happened to ask the doctor to have a quick look at my neck, and thankfully he did. A few days later I was sent to the dermatologist and had a biopsy, only to discover that my “30 something” mole was actually melanoma.
I was diagnosed with a Stage 1B melanoma, which thankfully is still early stages, however my mitotic rate was higher, which meant that I should have my lymph nodes checked. After meeting with a number of different physicians and having a few more tests done, I had surgery to remove the skin around the site and my lymph nodes. On June 21st, 2013 I received the great news that my lymph nodes were clear.
Although I thought that my melanoma experience would be over once I got the all clear, I was mistaken. For me personally, melanoma will be a part of my life forever. My journey with cancer has fundamentally changed me, and in fact I think it has been for the better.
My experience with Melanoma impacted my career. I am an RN and for the first time was able to see the health care system from another angle. I had the opportunity to walk in a patient’s shoes and this has encouraged and motivated me to continue to provide exemplary care to others.
Melanoma has been known as a young person’s cancer, and I feel blessed, not for having cancer in my 30’s, but to have been given the opportunity to revaluate my life at a young age. Very quickly I was able to realize the value of family, being present in the moment and enjoying the simple pleasures in life, which for me right now is watching my children grow and spending time with family and friends.
As a nurse I know that education is the key to prevention and what better way to educate people then through your own experience. It is because of my experience many of my friends and family have started to utilize their sunscreen on a more regular basis and have started to pay more attention to their skin and moles.
In August of this year my mother discovered that she also had a melanoma on her arm, fortunately hers was a Melanoma in situ; a very early stage Melanoma. I reflect on this situation from a positive perspective and know that is was my experience that encouraged my mother to have her skin checked and that her Melanoma was discovered early.
I know that my battle with Melanoma will be life-long, with monthly skin and lymph node checks, physician follow ups and dealing with the fear of the “what if”. Although the prospect of finding another melanoma scares me, I have decided that I cannot live in fear and consider myself lucky that I have the knowledge of prevention and the support of family and friends to help me cope and persevere.