Melanoma at 24 vs. Metastatic Melanoma at 29
When I was just 24 years old, I had a mole on my shoulder biopsied. It had been there almost my entire life and always looked a little strange. It was difficult to tell if it had changed because it was on the back of my shoulder and I couldn't see it very well. My mom insisted that I make an appointment to visit the dermatologist ASAP and have them take a look at it. Something her gut just knew it wasn’t right.
I didn’t used to be a dermatologist advocate
Prior to being diagnosed, I didn’t really see the value in visiting the dermatologist all the time. This sort of blows my mind now, but it’s true! I’ve lived in Arizona my entire life and I was no stranger to sun exposure. Although I never stepped foot in a tanning bed, I would brag about my easily-tannable skin come summertime.
The initial biopsy
After finding a dermatologist that I felt comfortable going to, I had them biopsy the ugly mole on my shoulder. She told me it looked kinda gross, but since I had it my entire life, she wasn’t very concerned. As far as I was concerned, not biopsying it wasn’t an option. My mother was very insistent that I get it tested!
And I became a young melanoma patient
About a week later, my dermatologist called with the biopsy results. I could tell by the tone in her voice she was very surprised and a little uneasy about the news she was about to tell me. “You have melanoma.” Normally people would be insanely shocked, but honestly, I didn’t even know the gravity of the situation. I didn’t know how serious melanoma could be, so I sort of brushed it off. It wasn’t until she started telling me how I’ll need to see a plastic surgeon and another doctor to test my sentinel lymph nodes. I didn’t quite know what all this meant, but it sure sounded scary.
Melanoma: Stage 2A
After a wide-excision and a lymph node biopsy, they determined that I was stage 2A and that they had gotten everything out. It all happened very fast, but I was thankful surgery was the only thing I had to go through. Now, I had to see the dermatologist regularly and see an oncologist every six months. This seemed totally doable and at the time, kind of unnecessary. If they cut it all out, what did I have to worry about?
Sunscreen and dermatology visits were my best friends
After my initial diagnosis, I became a huge sunscreen advocate and I stayed on track with my dermatologist visits. I encouraged everyone around me to do the same. I thought I had a close call and tried to prevent others from going through the same thing. I had more biopsies than I can recall, a few abnormal results, but nothing to be overly concerned with. I always thought I’d have melanoma again at some point in my life, but I anticipated it’d be in the form of another mole on my skin. After all, I was only 24 at the time of my first diagnosis so I was very young for such an ‘old people’s disease.’
5 years later...
Nearly 5 years to the day, I had a regular check-up with my oncologist. I showed her a lump I had found underneath my skin near my groin area. She is a bit of a thorough doctor so she ordered a set of scans. I thought it was incredibly unnecessary and insanely inconvenient but later realized that these scans saved my life. All these scans later revealed that my melanoma had spread to various parts of my body: brain, heart, lungs, legs, and arms. I was 29 years old and now fighting metastatic melanoma.
Now a young metastatic melanoma patient
My first diagnosis was a giant kick in the butt to take sun safety seriously. I thought I had responded well to that, but I was completely unaware of what metastatic melanoma looked and felt like. I had these lumps and bumps for several months before I told my doctor about them because I honestly thought they were nothing. Now, I know that once you’ve had melanoma (even an early stage) you must look over your entire body. Not just your skin, but search for lumps and bumps and mysterious things. And if you’re ever unsure, just ask your doctor.
Do you check the UV index before leaving the house?