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Ashley’s personal story

Ashley Michulka
My name is Ashley Michulka, I am a two-year melanoma survivor and this is my story.

I was diagnosed on May 2, 2012, at the age of 29 after a mole check with a dermatologist. I have had moles my entire life—some of them are large and all of them are dark. I have also known that moles and melanoma are closely related—that was all I knew—before my diagnosis. I made an appointment with a dermatologist to have my nails checked because I have pachyonychia congenita, which I did not know before that appointment. I decided to go ahead and have my moles checked too—as I mentioned earlier I was aware that they were related to melanoma. After the nail-check and mole-check, I had a spot on my left hip-region biopsied. The doctor informed me that I should be prepared for the test results to show that the spot would come back as melanoma.

Four days later, I got the phone call informing me that it was, indeed, melanoma. As my head whirled and my composure crumbled, the doctor explained how lucky I was that it was only 0.25 mm deep, that I was stage I. She explained all of the procedures that would follow, including surgery—lymph retrieval to make sure it had not spread into my body. She told me I was going to be fine, but I wasn't fine. After getting off the phone with her, I was overwhelmed by fear and anxiety. I did not know a thing about melanoma, but I knew it was cancer and cancer is often fatal. I researched melanoma in between that phone call and my surgery and realized how serious it actually is.

I went into the surgery terrified of the results and praying that it had not spread. The results showed that it had not spread past the spot that had been removed in my dermatologist's office a month and a half prior. It was a relief that it was not as bad as most of the stories I had read. I was, however, unprepared for the number of doctors I would be seeing afterwards. My summer was filled with going from one specialist to the next. There were no signs that I had cancer anywhere else in my body and it was determined that I would move into the three-month mole-checks. Each one was just as unnerving as the one before.

That was two years ago and since then I have not had any other biopsies come back as melanoma—thank God. My moles are checked every six months, which makes me very uneasy; I would prefer to get checked once a month, but apparently this is typical of the process. The mental toll this disease takes on a person is inexplicable. Though I am extremely blessed to have caught mine so early, I am still in the process of recovering psychologically, and I still panic at every doctor's appointment. I try to stay positive and I take all of the necessary precautions to prevent it from returning. This disease is scary, but the worst of it is avoidable with early detection. I chose to share my story in hopes that it might encourage someone else to get their skin checked and save a life.