A melanoma survivor shares her experience and ideas.
Barbara Tako is a breast cancer survivor (2010), melanoma survivor (2014) and author of Cancer Survivorship Coping Tools–We'll Get You Through This. She is a cancer coping advocate, speaker and published writer for television, radio and other venues across the country. She lives, survives, and thrives in Minnesota with her husband, children and dog. See more at www.cancersurvivorshipcopingtools.com,or www.clutterclearingchoices.com.Be smart:
Many years ago I saw a couple of “them” at the local public pool: Pale-skinned women who hid in the shade of a couple of buildings near the pool and covered themselves up more than the majority of us. I reclined in the sun across the pool from them. I toasted and basked in the sun that day and pondered them. I concluded that they were probably women who had gotten melanoma. Now I think back and clearly see that whether they were cancer survivors or not, they were smarter than I was.
Stay away from tanning beds:
I used to tan as a teenager. I used to pre-tan in tanning beds prior to vacations. I used to lie in the sun in the summer with minimal sunscreen because I am fairly dark skinned. I used to not think much about the many moles covering my body, a trait I had inherited from my dad. I used to brag about never (rarely) burning. Ha!
Pay attention to warning signs:
I used to not even think about the fact that starting in my late 20s, my doctor had me seeing a dermatologist annually. The dermatologist sometimes removed things. Sometimes the things removed were dysplastic. Still, I didn’t think much about it or worry. In fact, I spent a lot of time out in the sun on my “celebrating completing chemotherapy and radiation trip” to Mexico. Wow. I still didn’t get it.
I didn’t get “it” until a few years after that, when my annual dermatology appointment followed a warm-weather winter vacation and the doctor took a mole off my tanned left shoulder. Yep, melanoma. I was shocked, yet as a breast cancer survivor, I couldn’t even pretend it was my first dance with cancer. As this was my second cancer diagnosis — my first diagnosis being breast cancer five years prior — I knew the drill. I also started feeling a little pursued by cancer. No, cancer. Get away from me. Please. Not again. Not another cancer in a different part of my body.
It wasn’t even the side that got the radiation treatment for my breast cancer.
Find out the type and stage:
At least as an 'experienced' cancer patient, I knew to ask about the type and stage of my melanoma. I was lucky that it was stage 1. I did go back and had a large chunk of my left shoulder excised. It was called a “larger excision.” It feels and looks like a dog bite — a large indentation on my shoulder that wasn’t there before and a long scar. I left the doctor’s office that day with a sunscreen clothing catalog and a discount coupon for my first order. The catalog brought back vague and disturbing memories of the wig catalog I had been handed almost five years ago. Oh no. Not again.
Keep your dermatology appointments:
Now I see my dermatologist every three months. Now I have had more little pathology results than I can count. Now I have had three other larger excisions: one on my back, one on my calf and one on my thigh. They're not pretty. I'm not trying to win any beauty contests here, but still, not pretty.
Finally, I know, truly know better. Finally, I wear sunscreen. Finally, I still go outside, but I cover up. Be smarter than me. Don’t get caught like me. Melanoma is one of the most common forms of cancer out there. If caught early, it can have a pretty good prognosis. Read up on it, get a full body check annually, and be careful out there.