I had the honor of speaking with a very passionate melanoma awareness advocate, Susan Hayes. She is a Mother raising awareness for her daughter, Jillian.

Jillian was 19-years-old when an irritating mole became more and more bothersome. It began to bleed and so Jillian saw a Dermatologist to have it removed. The biopsy of the mole came back as Stage 2 Melanoma, but showed no evidence that it had spread. Jillian frequented her surgeon for check-ups every three months for the next year and a half. Then one day the doctor felt it would be a good idea to conduct a PET scan.  A PET scan uses a glucose die to search for areas in the body that could have tumors. The PET scan showed that there were two spots on her lung, one on each, and a large spot on her liver.  Jillian had a biopsy of her liver to determine of the spot was cancerous.

One day before Jillian’s 21st birthday she was diagnosed with Stage 4 Melanoma. Jillian then had half of her liver removed.

Despite the devastating news, Susan explains that she couldn’t be happier with the treatment Jillian has received at the University of Michigan Hospital. She went on to say that, “The melanoma specialist and all of the staff are professional, caring, up to date on their melanoma research and have been like family.” Throughout all of Jillian’s treatments and radiation Susan says that she has remained strong with little side-effects.

Jillian continues to inspire her friends and family by being a determined and courageous woman. A woman who has a zest for life! When there are times the family needs outside support they have found Aim at Melanoma (AIM), The Melanoma Research Foundation and the Skin Cancer Foundation to be great resources.

Jillian’s Motto: “Fall seven times, stand up eight.”

Susan has been diligent in her efforts to raise awareness about melanoma and tanning dangers. She confides that her Faith, Jillian and her family have been her greatest inspiration and source of strength. Susan admits to being very lucky that her family forms such a strong support unit.

So, was tanning or sunbathing a factor in Jillian’s development of melanoma?…”Yes, I believe so.”

Susan explained that in Michigan (back when Jillian was a teenager) you had to have a parent’s consent if you were under the age of 18 to use the tanning salon. Jillian found a way to begin tanning at 16. Those tiny “tanning tattoos” gave it away and Susan remembers she would tell her daughter; “I don’t approve of it and I don’t want you tanning.” Somehow teenagers find a way or maybe the tanning salon didn’t ask for proof of age. Who knows? Jillian was granted unlimited tanning when she turned 18 and began to work for a tanning salon.

Susan admits that even she didn’t know the real dangers of tanning. She said, “I would get a base-tan before vacations.” With the knowledge she has now she wants people to listen–go have their skin checked and urges them to not listen to tanning companies with their false information. This is one of the few cancers that can be prevented. Most people don’t think it can happen to them, but it can. 

It was out of this need to get people’s attention that Susan began Jilly’s Jems.

Jilly’s Jems, named after Jillian, is a non-profit dedicated to raising melanoma awareness through beautiful hand-crafted prayer beads, bracelets and custom designs. The money raised has gone back to the community as scholarships, donations and to fund a melanoma awareness billboard campaign. During May, billboards (pictured below) were erected with Jillian’s picture throughout Grand Rapids, MI to show that melanoma affects real people. Young people.

Jillian and her family.

It was a pleasure speaking with Susan. I want to Thank her for being so open and for sharing Jillian’s story. Everyone at UV Skinz will keep Jillian, Susan and their family in our thoughts as they fight this battle! You can follow Jillian’s Journey With Melanoma, show your support and learn more about Jilly’s Jems.

Please feel free to leave your comments or words of encouragement.