I was diagnosed with stage 3a melanoma cancer in July of last year. Melanoma is caused by overexposure to the sun and UV rays. When your skin darkens, whether tanning or burning, that is evidence of skin damage. What I didn’t know about melanoma, and you may not either, is unlike other skin cancers that typically develop on sun-exposed parts of the body, it can form anywhere on your skin, like the palms of your hands and soles of your feet. Melanoma can also spread unpredictably to any organ in the body. It’s the fifth most common cancer in the United States and cases diagnosed annually are increasing faster than any other cancer.
Two years ago, I started work at Jumo Health as a graphic designer. Prior to Jumo Health, I had worked my way up as a designer across various industries from education and public safety to fashion and professional sports only to get let go due to the Covid-19 pandemic. As scary as that was, it challenged my faith and put things in a new perspective. I was grateful when the opportunity at Jumo Health came, but it wasn’t until 6 months later that I realized what a blessing this job would be to me, especially my health.
I was assigned a project for a melanoma clinical study that included logo development, a website, and other print and digital material. I began to research Melanoma in preparation for the client presentation. The presentation was unique to say the least! The client knew exactly what she wanted and abruptly stopped the presentation after she liked the first logo option, an abstract butterfly. It caught us off guard but was a welcomed interruption. I enjoyed capturing her vision of “fashion not pharma” in the pieces, and the more I worked on them and learned about Melanoma, the more I thought I should get checked out myself.
I learned that melanoma could be hereditary. My mom had melanoma, but because of the simplicity of her experience catching it early and getting it removed at the dermatologist, I didn’t think much of it. I had a mole on my stomach that was of concern, but I would convince myself it was fine. I had put it off for years. Coincidentally, the day after I set up my dermatologist appointment, my mom called out of the blue to tell me to see a dermatologist!
The process from the biopsy at the dermatologist, to the diagnoses, to the surgery, and staging, was full of emotion. Waiting was the hardest part. Knowing I had cancer, but not sure how severe it was or if it was spreading, became a regular source of fear, especially with a 2-year-old and a new baby on the way. I waited five weeks for my consultation with the surgeon. She wanted to remove it as soon as possible, but they couldn’t fit me in for another five weeks. I asked if I could get on a waitlist but was told they don’t do that, nobody cancels, it’s impossible. I could barely sleep that night. I had a strong sense the surgeon wanted me back immediately. To my surprise, the nurse called the next morning and asked if I could do surgery the next day! What an answer to prayer!
Thanks to clinical studies, the standard of care looks different now compared to just 5 years ago. They used Lymphatic Mapping to know exactly what lymph nodes to remove rather than taking them all. In my case, they removed lymph nodes from 3 different parts of my body and found cancer in one.
That was tough news to hear. The majority of the projects I was working on at the time were cancer-related. Repeatedly, I kept reading how early detection is key to survival and how aggressive melanoma is if it reaches the lymph nodes. There I was feeling guilty that I didn’t get checked sooner. Maybe I could’ve avoided it and not put my family through this. Thankfully the cancer was microscopic so maybe I did detect it early enough. Now I have different types of scans several times a year to monitor for recurrence.
As part of my checkups, I also see my primary care, dentist, and eye doctor, as they may find things other scans do not. My initial design project came full circle when the dentist found a spot that needed to be biopsied. While he was poking around in my mouth, I was staring at a mobile of butterflies hanging from the ceiling. It was a joyful reminder of the project I was working on during the initial diagnosis and of God’s faithfulness over the year. In those moments when fear creeps in, I have hope, and in tears, I still find joy. I trust in Jesus who says “I have said these things to you so that in me you have peace. In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.” The spot in my mouth was benign.
Like many others, I HATE shots or being poked and prodded. This was a big reason I waited to get my mole checked out. So, for anyone trying to avoid that, go see a dermatologist anyway! Get a full body scan. And remember, any sunburn or tanning bed greatly increases your chances of getting melanoma.
To reduce the chance of getting melanoma, you can:
- Stay out of the sun in the middle of the day (from 10AM to 4PM)
- Wear sunscreen and reapply it often
- Wear a wide-brimmed hat, long-sleeved shirt, or long pants
- Not use tanning beds.
Melanoma often looks like a brown or black mole or birthmark. But melanoma has features that make it different from normal moles and birthmarks. One way to remember the abnormal features of melanoma is to think of the letters A, B, C, D, and E:
- Asymmetry–One half can look different than the other half.
- Border–It can have a jagged or uneven edge.
- Color It can have different colors or a mix of colors (like brown, black, and red).
- Diameter–It is larger than the eraser on the end of a pencil.
- Evolution–Its size, color, or shape can change over time.
Melanomas can also turn into sores that bleed. Many moles and birthmarks are normal and are not melanoma. But if you have a mole or birthmark that you think might be abnormal, show it to your doctor or nurse.
Melanoma can present differently in people of color compared to those with lighter skin. In darker-skinned individuals, melanoma often appears on the soles of the feet, palms of the hands, and under the nails. It can also present as a dark stripe under a fingernail or toenail. Additionally, melanoma in people of color may not have the typical appearance of a dark, irregularly shaped mole and may instead be pink, red, or even the same color as the surrounding skin. These differences can make it more difficult to detect melanoma in people with darker skin tones, leading to later diagnosis and worse outcomes.
Jumo Health develops age-appropriate, culturally sensitive, and relatable educational resources for patients and caregivers. We have experience serving diverse populations, covering more than 160 health topics across 75+ countries and 90+ languages – and we’re always expanding! Our multicultural offerings are designed to explain the latest in evidence-based literature using highly visual elements so that everyone can understand complex medical topics. Jumo Health collaborates globally with more than 180 advocacy groups and community organizations to ensure an authentic patient experience is accurately represented.