A Day In The Life of a Young Adult Metastatic Melanoma Survivor
If you didn’t know me, I look like your average 31-year old woman. According to societal norms, I’m a fairly successful 31-year old. I own my own home, I have a leadership position at a company I love, I have a loving boyfriend, I have two dogs that are the best addition to our family, and I’m generally super happy.
But, I’m also a metastatic melanoma survivor
I am constantly balancing being proud of my survivorship while also not wanting it to define me. At times, I want to shout it from the mountain tops so everyone knows what I went through. It’s almost as if I want constant recognition for accomplishing such an impossible journey. Then at the exact same time, I want to be “normal” and completely invisible. I don’t want my cancer to define me but I’m damn proud of beating the odds and still being here today.
What it's like to be a young person who survived metastatic melanoma
We talk a lot about what it’s like to be a skin cancer patient, but let’s talk about what it’s like to be a metastatic melanoma survivor:
- Regular dermatology visits are only a small piece of my surveillance. Much like any skin cancer patient, I go to the dermatologist religiously. Biopsies don’t really phase me much anymore because they are so routine. And to be honest, I’m more afraid of the melanoma coming back in my heart, brain, or lungs than I am on the surface of my skin.
- Sun protection is always a priority. It’s an integral part of my daily routine. I always put ample sunscreen on all exposed body parts and I plan my clothes appropriately. I never leave the house without some sort of backup plan - like extra sunscreen in my purse or car in case my plans change.
- Self-checks go beyond the surface of my skin. I look over my skin all the time, but I also feel around to make sure there are any lumps or bumps.
- Routine (and lengthy) tests are part of my everyday life. Every three months, I have bloodwork, a cardiac MRI, a brain MRI, and a PET scan. It’s an entire day spent in some sort of tube at the clinic to make sure my cancer hasn’t returned. Every three months, I take at least two days off of work to accommodate my scans and various doctors appointments.
- I fear little things like a simple headache or a cough. Do I have a headache because it was windy yesterday or has the melanoma returned in my brain? Am I showing symptoms of a common cold or is this cough because there are new tumors in my lungs? These are the thoughts I have when seemingly “minor” things happen. I have a massive mistrust of my body and assume the worst with every little thing until proven otherwise.
- I live my life in three month increments. Some people set two-year and five-year plans for their life goals and I’m hesitant to plan further out than the next three months. Since I had stage IV melanoma, my chances of recurrence are significantly higher. It almost feels like a waste of time to think beyond my next set of scans, because I know just how real it is to have my plans change.
Balancing my past, present, and future
Being a metastatic melanoma survivor means constantly balancing the past, present, and future. I have to learn from the past and let those experiences inform decisions I make today while making sure I don’t dwell on the past. I have to find ways to stay present and enjoy the little moments because those were almost taken away from me. And I have to find ways to not fear the future, but remain hopeful.
When was your last skin check?