Since being diagnosed with desmoplastic melanoma in 2016, Holly Rowe has teamed up with the Melanoma Research Foundation to spread awareness of skin cancer.
While covering softball these past months, it was hard for Holly Rowe, ESPN sports telecaster, to keep quiet. “I just want to run through the stands and shake everyone by the shoulders,” she said, in an interview with CURE. “They're out there just baking their skin.”
This urge is personal for Rowe, who was diagnosed with desmoplastic melanoma, a rare form of the disease. It all started with, what Rowe called, “an ugly-looking mole” she hoped to get removed. When the doctor called to tell her it was, in fact, cancer, Rowe wasn’t devastated. “You hear the ‘c-word’ and you freak. But I just thought it was something they'll cut off my skin,” she explained. “I didn't think it was that big of a deal.” Her opinion has since changed.
Since the initial surgery in 2016, Rowe has had two separate recurrences. “Melanoma is a traveler,” she said. “Once it goes inside your body, it’s not just something on your skin.” Rowe considers this a big misconception about the disease. Coming to terms with the “pesky cancer” hasn’t been easy.
“It's very frightening and very upsetting because you really feel powerless,” Rowe said. “Like you have no control over where it goes. I try to be positive. I try to do all these healthy things, and this pesky cancer does not obey you. And that's what I'm learning and wanting to get the word out.”Rowe knows that some people need to be told because she herself didn’t know the risks. “If somebody would have told me twenty years ago, ‘Holly, if you cover up now, you won’t have to go through this in 20 years,’ I would listen,” she said. Now, Rowe tries to be that voice to others. “I’ve become that crazy lady,” she said, “that is going to go up to strangers and saying 'Please cover your skin.'” Being considered “crazy” doesn’t bother her, though. She went on, “If there's one person that wouldn't get cancer because they listened to me and learned from this experience. That's worth everything to me.”
Rowe doesn’t limit herself to just pleading with strangers to protect their skin. On April 26, she was Mistress of Ceremonies for the Melanoma Research Foundation’s (MRF) Sixth Annual Wings of Hope for Melanoma Gala, in Denver, Colorado. Upon learning about the MRF, she reached out and asked what she could do to help. “It was one volunteer opportunity I could do to give back,” Rowe said. “I just want to help. I want to feel helpful in this battle because you feel very helpless, as a patient. Things are happening to you that you have no control over. Giving back and helping to spread the word and fundraise. That empowers me and makes me feel I’m doing something in this fight.”
For Rowe, fundraising for research is crucial. “The immunotherapy that I’m currently on,” she said, “it didn’t exist four or five years ago. The research and the development for melanoma treatment is the cutting edge right now. Organizations like MRF, they’re crucial.”Moving forward, Rowe is hopeful that the issue of prevention will take a more prominent role. “My eyes were closed to it until I was a patient in this community. Our efforts have got to be stronger on prevention.” She also cited clinical trials — including the one she is currently enrolled on — as a path to the future. “I hope whatever we find from my treatment is going to help others.” Another crucial point for her is early detection. For melanoma, Rowe said it’s easy to look at something on your skin and just think that it’s nothing. “My new mantra,” she said, “is ‘When in doubt, get it checked out.’ If I would have gone sooner. I think I would be in a better situation.”
Staying busy has helped Rowe through her own cancer. “Keep living. That sounds so trite, like a T-shirt slogan,” she admitted. “But it’s really an everyday thing. I wake up and I think: What can I do today that I’m going to enjoy?” Finding happiness every day and being positive can be its own battle. Rowe recognized this, saying, “There are some down days. And it’s okay to need help. It doesn’t make you weak to ask for help, or tell people that you’re tired. I want people to feel loved and supported no matter what their mindset is.”
Rowe said she has felt incredibly loved and supported through every step of her diagnosis and treatment, but knows that it can be very difficult. “When you go through a diagnosis like this, you can feel very alone.” Her advice is to reach out and see what is available — organizations like the MRF and plenty of others are there to help. “There are a lot of loving people who want to help us.”
For more information on the Melanoma Research Foundation, visit their website.