During the 14th “Focus on Melanoma” patient and educational conference held in Philadelphia, Troy Aikman joined Lynn Schuchter for a “fireside chat” about his life, football and his journey with stage 2 melanoma.
As a three-time Super Bowl champion, Super Bowl MVP, member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and FOX Sports analyst, Troy Aikman undoubtedly has millions of fans and admirers across the country.
But Aikman focused his admiration on a room of hundreds of patients and survivors of melanoma on Friday, saying that their courage in the face of adversity simply makes him say ‘wow.’
During the 14th “Focus on Melanoma” patient and educational conference held in Philadelphia, Aikman joined Lynn Schuchter for a “fireside chat” about his life, football and his journey with stage 2 melanoma.
Schuchter, the chief of hematology/oncology at Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center, began the conversation by asking Aikman about football — and what it was like to be part of the heated rivalry between the Philadelphia Eagles and his team, the Dallas Cowboys, in the 1990s.
Though it was difficult to play in Philadelphia during his career, Aikman said, the darkest animosity from fans came when he started his career as a TV analyst. As he’s been in the TV booth for nearly 15 years now, the “rabid” Philadelphia fans have finally started to give him a break.
The conversation grew more serious as Aikman detailed the discovery, diagnosis and aftermath of his stage 2 melanoma.
In 1998, Aikman noticed a new dark spot on his shoulder, only the thickness of a pencil’s lead, as he was drying off after a shower. At the time, he said, he thought nothing of it but still mentioned it to his two sisters, both of whom are nurses. They weren’t “alarmed” by the spot, but encouraged him to get it checked out.
During a routine visit to his dermatologist soon after, Aikman nearly forgot to mention the spot to his doctor, but then did just as he was about to walk out the door. The physician, too, thought nothing of the spot, but took a biopsy anyway. Just one week later, Aikman received a call that he had stage 2 melanoma.
“I was fortunate.” he said. “For me, they took it out and that was the end of it. I didn't have any more treatment, the edges were fine and so I've been pretty diligent — I get checked twice a month and try to be careful with sun exposure.”
Though his journey with melanoma is mostly behind him, Aikman can’t help but wonder what could have been.
“It was such a small spot,” Aikman said. “If that had been four inches more to the middle of my back, I never would've seen it.”
Just recently, he noted, his doctor asked if there was anything he was worried about during his yearly physical. Though he stays in shape, Aikman said he is still a bit unsettled by his experience with melanoma.
Though Aikman has been asked before to partner with organizations and groups to raise awareness about skin screenings and skin cancer, he never felt that the fit was right.
“I didn't want to tell my story. I didn't want to talk about it, I didn't want people knowing about it,” he said.
Since January, Aikman has been a paid spokesperson for Novartis, a pharmaceutical company based in Switzerland that develops many drugs, including two agents for the treatment of melanoma.
Aikman felt Novartis’ focus on treatment, even for patients with late-stage disease, was a worthy cause, and one to which he could lend his voice and celebrity.
“[It was about] getting a message out to those that have advanced melanoma and what may be their options, and what they need to know that can help them in their treatments,” he said.
Aikman reiterated that his journey with melanoma was a fortunate one.
“I know there are people out in this audience that are in a fight that's much different than the one I had,” he said. Through teaming up with Novartis, Aikman says he met several patients with “tough stories,” and that it has only opened his eyes even further to the potential threat of melanoma, making him want to give back even more.
“I’m proud of what we’ve done,” Aikman said, adding that he’s received positive encouragement from the public for his efforts.
“Occasionally, there’s some good things that come out of social media,” he joked. “It’s not always people telling me [that the] Cowboys are terrible.”