A woman is looking at a mole on her arm looking confused, in her right hand she's holding a book that details what various skin melanomas look like.

Portrait of a Melanoma

I have been teaching since 1997, and this is my fall portrait from 2002. There are many things going on here–many, many things. For starters, my necklace is inside my shirt. Why, though? Secondly, I am about two months post-partum with my second child and still not feeling or looking like myself. In addition, if you take a glance in the lower lefthand corner, you will see the top of my toddler’s head. My mom brought him for picture day, and he refused to leave my side. This resulted in the strangest school portrait of all time.

My melanoma appears on my photo

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, my melanoma is center stage.

Photo of a portrait of a woman

If I am thinking correctly, and that’s hard to do this time of year after teaching all day, this is the only photo I have that fairly clearly shows the mole on my left arm that turned out to be melanoma. This spot started my skin cancer journey and began my path for advocacy and dedication to year-round sun protection. I was diagnosed in 2007 before taking photos with a cellphone was a daily event. While I am sure my doctor took a before photo of my mole, I don’t have any other evidence of what it looked like.

My mole changed slowly

Over the years, I have been asked many times to describe my melanoma. To the best of my knowledge, and from what I can tell in this photo, it was fairly round and regular throughout my life. I can’t tell you when it appeared or how quickly it changed. Prior to 2007, I was not the least bit interested in sun-safe practices. I didn’t know what a skin exam was and had little to no knowledge of cancer as it related to the skin. I had heard of melanoma but assumed cancerous moles looked like they sounded–big, black, raised, misshapen, and obviously horrible. As far as the young mother in this photo knew, she was in the clear.

That mole, basically flat and round, evolved over the years. At some point, it began to morph into a horseshoe-shaped lesion that was a little irregular in color and more raised on one side than the other. I washed it every day, ran my hands over it daily when I applied body lotion, and looked right past it in the mirror morning and night when I dressed and went about my routine. Never did the thought cross my mind that that little mole could be deadly. In my inexperienced mind, it was another freckle–one of the hundreds that covered my body.

I paid no attention to my mole, until a friend noticed it

Five years after this picture was taken, my best friend took one look at it and told me to make an appointment for a biopsy. Between the time I sat for this photo and the afternoon my friend wagged her finger at me, I added five years of tanning visits and unprotected days doing yard work and walking through amusement parks to this little mole. This spot that could easily be covered by the eraser end of a No. 2 pencil changed all of that.

In March of 2007, I lost that melanoma to an excision and gained control of my senses. Many things have changed since this photo was taken, and I thank my lucky stars and my best friend that I am here to appreciate that fact.

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