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My Stylist Caught My Cancer: My Experience with Melanoma

The Call

I was parking my car in the garage on a normal weekday afternoon when I received a call. The caller identified himself, and I had such a strong feeling of dread: it was my doctor, calling with routine biopsy results from the mole he had removed from my forehead a few days ago.

“Your results came back, and it’s melanoma,” he said.

I remember thinking, “Melanoma? Is that cancer?” The doctor went on to explain that it was the best-case scenario as far as melanoma was concerned (stage 0), and the cure would simply involve removal of the melanoma.

This meant I would need to have another procedure so that he could make sure to clear the margins. To get a diagnosis, I had already been through a procedure that had been harder to sit through than I anticipated. So, I was relieved to hear him say that for the next procedure I could be put under general anesthesia.

My Stylist Caught My Cancer: My Experience with Melanoma
What a difference! (2010 vs 2019)

The Backstory

When we ended the call, I felt stunned. I was 35 years old and both my primary care physician AND this surgeon assured me that this mole on my forehead looked benign and should be nothing to worry about. I had only decided to schedule an appointment in the first place because my stylist expressed concern about it. She remarked that the mole had been growing over the years; I hadn’t even noticed!!

After consultation, I opted to remove it because the closer it grew to my eyebrow, the more difficult it would be to remove later on. I had made ZERO mental space for the possibility of cancer. 

After the Diagnosis

When I feel powerless, one of my go-to coping skills is doing, so I immediately started seeking recommendations for dermatologists. Most dermatologists have a substantial wait to get an initial appointment, but as it turns out a new diagnosis of melanoma opens doors, so I was able to see my choice of provider that week for a full body check.

Yes, let me just say that again… a FULL BODY CHECK. (Did you know that melanoma can exist ANYWHERE in your body?)

I was terrified of stripping down and being assessed from head to toe, but the idea of NOT being checked over was even more frightening. I had never had any of my moles checked over before, which sounds crazy as I type it out!

Let’s keep it real, friends – after sitting in a freezing cold exam room with only a large papery sheet and a paper vest to cover you, the full-body skin check is as invasive as it sounds. No area of skin is left untouched (ALLLLL the cracks and crevices, if you know what I mean.)

Now, my provider is absolutely incredible. She not only walked me through what to expect, what she was seeing, and planning going forward, but she held space for all of the fear, anxiety, and helplessness that I was carrying. She didn’t minimize the mental and emotional toll that this was taking on me in the ways that other providers had done. Yes, this was COMPLETELY curable and the best-case scenario. But also, I was a mother to three young children and this situation made me keenly aware that I was not, in fact, invincible.

This is a difficult reality to face. 

A few days after second procedure
Getting back to it!

The Lessons

Since that time three years ago I have had skin checks every 3-4 months. Despite the awkwardness, it brings me incredible peace of mind knowing that both my provider and I are keeping a close watch on potential problem areas.

I have taken both of my big kids in for a routine body check as well as education and documentation of the markings on their bodies as they seem to have inherited some of my skin’s qualities. I believe it is so helpful for them to learn about the markings on their bodies that make them unique and special, and to be empowered to know when something isn’t right and who to see about it. 

Skin check time!

I write this to you on the 3-year-anniversary of my melanoma diagnosis and removal to encourage you to prioritize your health and receive skin checks as regularly as they are recommended for you. Is there something in/on your body that you’ve put off having it checked?

Now is the time to schedule that check.

Are you someone that like me, didn’t pay much attention to moles on your body? My dermatologist encourages me to take and keep photos on my phone, as this is the best way to identify changes early on. 

As moms, it’s so easy to put prevention at the bottom of our priority list, but we do this to the detriment of ourselves and our families.

Please, let this serve as your reminder and call to action. Take care of you, Mama.

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