When I was 18, I was diagnosed with stage II melanoma. I had a strange spot on my back that I mentioned to my dermatologist, almost as an afterthought. It never occurred to me it could be skin cancer, let alone the most dangerous kind. I have fair skin but was by no means a sun worshipper. My dermatologist took one look at it and biopsied it on the spot. After the diagnosis came back, I got the section (2.5 inches wide x 2.5 inches long x 1 inch diameter) surgically removed. It left a huge scar on my back, but I escaped otherwise unscathed.
Lanie Brewster Quinn
For 14 years, I had been bringing up my history with cancer nonchalantly at places like parties and in line at the store.
“Oh, I can’t donate plasma for cash…you know, I’ve had cancer.”
“I see you’re buying SPF 15. Yeah. I’m more of a 45+ girl.” **cough** “Cancer.”
I was a cancer survivor after having a simple surgery and lymph node biopsy. I got to wear the t-shirt and sleep soundly at night knowing I was lucky enough to catch my melanoma early enough to walk away with just a scar on my back. I should have taken it more seriously.
Little did I know, there were sleeper cells hiding out, waiting for the perfect “gotcha” moment.
Huzzah! We’re back!
My official second diagnosis was metastatic melanoma. What that means is those sleeper cells are nasty sons of guns, growing and taking over my insides in the form of tumors—over 20 of them and eventually 50 in my brain. Suddenly, skin cancer was a much bigger deal.
Words to the Wise
The survival rate for a case like mine was around 25%, even lower due to my high number of brain metastases. A friend, close to my age, with my same diagnosis just passed away from this very thing last month. There are incredible and ever-developing treatments like the ones that have worked for me and kept me in remission so far. But I think it is important to understand that melanoma is very dangerous.
So, as we all start (slowly) going outside again, I want to encourage you to wear sunscreen (don’t forget places like fingers and toes!) and hats (I also wear sunscreen on my head because a scalp burn is the worst and it’s hard to detect skin cancer there). And I want to remind you that UV rays are still there on cloudy days. And don’t forget to check your skin (even places usually untouched by the sun). Just remember “Detect and Protect”!
And for goodness sakes: Stay out of tanning beds!
Lanie Brewster Quinn is an editor and writer and resides in Chicago.
Reprinted from Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center. Visit www.cancer.northwestern.edu.