Today is Melanoma Day, as recognized by the Canadian Dermatology Association, but it has a much more personal meaning for me.
May 3rd is a date I will never forget. That afternoon in 2019 while on a call for work, my husband interrupted me to let me know my doctor had just called, and he would be calling back in 15 minutes. About 10 days earlier I had a suspicious mole biopsied, but the doctors didn’t seem concerned saying “if it was anything it is likely a basal cell carcinoma.” I wasn’t worried. I wasn’t a sun worshiper and wore sunscreen regularly.
While on vacation in Arizona in 2018 my daughter pointed out a strange mole and suggested I get it checked out. I had it looked at multiple times over the next year but the doctors weren’t concerned. It wasn’t until it started to bleed that I knew something might be wrong.
The doctor called back “Hi Sally, we have your results and I’m sorry but it’s MELANOMA……..INVASIVE…….SURGICAL ONCOLOGIST…”. Honestly after he said melanoma I didn’t hear much else except those few words that have stuck with me ever since. Since it was a Friday afternoon, nothing else could be done, no appointments could be booked and I couldn’t follow up with my doctor and so the waiting and anxiety began. I work in a business environment in accounting and all I could think is, you don’t fire someone on a Friday, so how could you give someone a cancer diagnosis on a Friday afternoon.
During my diagnosis I experienced a lot of anxiety waiting for appointments and results, knowing I had an invasive form of cancer. The internet is filled with so many sad stories of people who have had tragic outcomes from their melanoma diagnosis but I often found comfort in reading the good news stories shared by MNC. It gave me hope that there is a light at the other end of the tunnel.
The first person I spoke with at MNC was Annette, she helped me understand my test results, prepare for treatment, and armed me with the right questions to ask during my appointment. One month after my diagnosis I was supposed to attend a charity golf tournament for work and the thought of spending the day in the sun was terrifying. My husband called Annette and she reassured him that I could resume my normal activities in a sun safe way, MNC even hosts a golf tournament.
The first year after my diagnosis was challenging, I had a wide-local excision on my right arm and a sentinel node biopsy with 4 nodes removed. Originally, I was self-conscious about my scar but now it reminds me to be sun safe. Two years since my diagnosis I realize that it has impacted my life in many positive ways. I’m much healthier – eating well and exercising regularly. I do my monthly mole checks and follow up with my dermatologist every three months. I’ve realized that I don’t need to be afraid of the sun because I’m in control of my own environment. I always wear my sunscreen, sun protective clothing, and a hat. I avoid peak UV hours (11am-3pm) when possible, seek shade, and use an app to track the UV levels. Having this knowledge is empowering. Now I’m able to continue to do the things I love, like walks with my baby granddaughter while ensuring we are all staying sun safe.
Skin cancer and melanoma can be prevented if we protect ourselves. Educate your loved ones and friends. I’ve even convinced my mailman to wear a hat. Sun safety can save your life!