Diagnosed with desmoplastic melanoma, sportscaster Holly Rowe is working with the Melanoma Research Foundation to teach about the disease.
While covering softball these past months, it was hard for Holly Rowe, ESPN sports reporter, 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, invasive 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 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 explains. “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 says. “Once it goes inside your body, it’s not just something on your skin.” Rowe considers this a big misconception about the disease she has found it difficult to come to terms with.
“It's very frightening and very upsetting, because you really feel powerless, like you have no control over where it goes,” Rowe says. “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 why I’m wanting to get the word out.”
LENDING A VOICE
Rowe knows that some people need to be told about the risks, because she herself didn’t know them. “If somebody had told me 20 years ago, ‘Holly, if you cover up now, you won’t have to go through this,’ I would have listened,” she says. Now, Rowe tries to be that voice for others. “I’ve become that crazy lady,” she says, “that is going to go up to strangers to say, 'Please cover your skin.'” Being considered “crazy” doesn’t bother her, though. “If there's one person that won't get cancer because they listened to me and learned from this experience, that's worth everything to me,” she says.
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 says. “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, empowers me and makes me feel I’m doing something in this fight.”
For Rowe, fundraising for research is a vital issue. “The immunotherapy that I’m currently on,” she says, “didn’t exist four or five years ago. The research and the development for melanoma treatment is on the cutting edge right now. Organizations like MRF are crucial.”
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
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 suggests.
She also cited clinical trials — including the one she’s enrolled in — as a path to the future. “I hope whatever we find from my treatment is going to help others,” she says. Finally, Rowe is focused on promoting early detection, because it can be easy for people to dismiss a melanoma on their skin as nothing. “My new mantra,” she says, “is ‘When in doubt, get it checked out.’ If I had 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 admits. “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 and being positive can be its own battle. Rowe recognizes this, saying, “There are some down days. And it’s OK to need help. It doesn’t make you weak to ask for help, or to 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 for some. “When you go through a diagnosis like this, you can feel very alone,” she says.
Her advice is to reach out and see what resources are available; organizations like the MRF and plenty of others are there to provide support. “There are a lot of loving people,” she says, “who want to help us.”
For more information on the Melanoma Research Foundation, visit the organization’s website at melanoma.org.