I recently had the opportunity to speak with Melissa from the blog Melanoma Sucks! and it was a pleasure. From the  moment we started speaking on the phone it seemed like our conversation could go on forever–she is a special melanoma warrior. We spoke about her childhood and growing up in an environment that didn’t accept “paleness”. With this scewed self-image she continued to practice un-safe habits by “laying out” and eventually (in an attempt to do something for herself) began tanning four to five times a week in a tanning bed. She admits that her teenage daughter wanted to do everything that she did. Not until her diagnosis did the reality of what could have happened to her daughter set in. Lucky for Melissa she is able to be the positive role model for her daughter that someone should have been for her. Now instead of tanning to relax Melissa enjoys photography, writing and the most important of all–spending time with her family.

Here is Melissa’s story…

Q. What type or stage of cancer did you have?

A. I had basal cell carcinoma and I have stage 2 melanoma.

Q. Was tanning or sunbathing a significant factor in your developing melanoma?  

A. Absolutely!  I started sunbathing at age 15 with my friends and liked how it made me look and feel.  I live in Michigan so I would lay out when every it was possible, usually in the summer mostly.  I used baby oil or tanning oil, never sunscreen!  I started tanning indoors at age 39, and I was instantly addicted!  I loved how I would get such an even, quick tan without having to lay out for hours and I could go all year-long!

“In the back of my mind I knew that a mole shouldn’t look like that. I noticed it changing, but I was in denial.”

Q. What was the primary cancer facility involved with your care and what was your experience there?

A. I did not have a good experience there and would rather not say.  I did have a second opinion at the U of M Cancer Center and had a wonderful experience!!  They were so caring and concerned with my well-being.  It was like family!

Q. What organizations were the most helpful to you?

A. Melanoma Research Foundation (MRF) and AIM were the greatest source of info for me and I still refer to their websites for info.  I was contacted by the American Cancer Society to speak at the Relay for Life I was part of this year and they have been a great support also.  Oddly enough, Facebook has been a great place to meet others that are going through this like me and I have made a lot of friends who have a lot of great info that we share with each other.

Q. What would you say is the most impactful experience form your treatment?

A. The thing that impacted me the most was the surgery and the scar.  I was told that the incision would be 2 cm by 2 cm and 2 cm deep.  When I took off the bandages, I was shocked.  I had 22 stitches on the outside, I don’t know how many on the inside, and the incision was 6 inches long and they went all the way down to the muscle.  I was so upset by this.  The recovery was very hard.  I was off work and my family was at work and school, so I was alone a lot.  I had to wait over 2 weeks for my results and got the run around from my surgical oncologist.  I had an infection in my leg that no one would believe was there.  I became very depressed and felt like I was going to die.  A lot of guilt about tanning.  My work was not understanding at all and treated me like I was making a big deal out of this.  I didn’t get the usual flowers from them that they send out to everyone for everything.  I don’t think I would have made it through all of it without my family.  I have learned who matters and is there for me since my diagnosis.

“In the back of my mind I knew that a mole shouldn’t look like that. I noticed it change, but was in denial. Skin cancer to me was not serious–it was something that you just get cut out.”

Q. How did your diagnosis change your life? 

A. It put an immense amount of fear in me.  I became afraid of something I had loved so much.  The sun was my enemy now.  I didn’t go outside unless I had to and I put sunscreen on constantly in the beginning.  I have learned to balance it all out and now I can go outside and know I am protected.  I have become more vocal and I spread awareness anytime I can.  I have done a TV interview and have spoke at the Relay for Life, which is not something I ever thought I would be able to do!  I want people to know it CAN happen to them.  No one is immune.  Age, skin color, social status–it doesn’t care.  I am working on a couple of awareness projects that I am very excited about.  Melanoma forced me to live my life.  I started my photography business after 10 years of wanting to.  I decided it was now or never!

“After this experience I decided that I was not wasting my life anymore.”

Q. How long have you been blogging?

A. I started my blog while I was home recovering from my surgery.  I needed something to help me get through being at home waiting for results.  I have always been one to write things down.  At one time, when I was younger, I thought I would be an author.  I also document with my photography.  I have pictures of my surgery and healing, the good, bad and ugly!  I don’t want to hide anything!  I started blogging to spread awareness with my story and pictures and experiences.  I want the world to know what I didn’t and I am a very visual person.  When people give me positive feedback and encouragement, it keeps me going!   There were many times I had to step back from melanoma and just live, but I always come back to educate and tell my story.  There is not one day that has gone by that I have not thought about melanoma.

Q. Tell me why you chose your blog name? 

A. I choose my blog name, Melanoma Sucks! because it was how I felt at the time and is still how I feel today.   Melanoma really just sucks.  There is NO cure.  I have had several friends who have fought for years and have passed away in the last 14 months.  Mother’s and father’s leaving young children behind, after they watch them battle the beast.  I have friends that have been struggling through treatments and are still fighting.  I have friends who are just like me and are watching, waiting and stressing over a reoccurance.  So I feel the blog name is perfect for melanoma.

Q. What would you most like people to know about yourself? 

A. I am still me.  I am just an average women that had something horrible come into my life. But I am not going to hide.  I am using my experience  to help educate others so they don’t have to go through what I am. I want to make a difference and stop tanning for good.  I know that is a huge goal and I may not ever see that day, but I will work hard to educate and spread awareness for as long as I can.  I do it for the warriors that are no longer able to tell their story.  I still have a voice and I will use it.  I spend a lot of my time educating and I love it.  I love when someone will take the time to tell me that I have changed their way of thinking and that they are not tanning anymore. I know I can’t change everyone, so I just offer the info and move on.  I can’t stress or get hurt because they don’t listen.  All I can do is put the info out there and hope they think of me when they are tanning. It is their choice then.  I am not going to hide the Melanoma Me.  I did that for awhile and realized that I was not happy hiding who I have become.  Life is a journey and we have experiences, some good and some bad.  We learn from them and we go on. Some change us.  Melanoma is horrible, but it has changed me for the better.  I am who I am and that is good enough for me.

“I need people to know because I didn’t know.”