Being diagnosed with melanoma was an eye-opening experience. If I was not in the right place at the right time or had not been educated by a local dermatologist, I might not have survived to tell my story.
I was 24-year-old medical student who was shadowing a dermatologist and I was listening to him educate patients about the ABCDEs of melanoma. The most common places for melanoma to appear are on the backs of the legs in women and on the backs of men. I still remember the exact moment later that evening when I was at the gym taking a body pump class. I looked at the back of my legs in the mirror. My stomach started turning and I remember feeling diaphoretic. I knew in my gut the lesion on my leg was melanoma.
I quickly made an appointment with a dermatologist and found out that the lesion was suspicious for melanoma. Fourteen days following the biopsy I received the frightening call: It was malignant melanoma. I would need to undergo a wide-margin incision at the age of 24.
The morning of surgery an enlarged lymph node was palpated in my groin on the same side as the lesion. Again, taking into consideration my age at the time of diagnosis and the location of the enlarged glands, I was referred to Moffitt Cancer Center. Fear, anxiety, and tears overwhelmed my soul as I walked through Moffitt. My medical team recommended I either undergo a sentinel lymph node biopsy or an ultrasound for the enlarged gland. I opted for the ultrasound and, fortunately for me, the ultrasound’s result suggested inflammation.
It has been almost two years since my diagnosis and I am extremely fortunate to be alive and healthy. Following the shock, denial, and fear, an altruistic feeling developed within my heart as I realized this was not meant to be my death sentence but rather a gift, an opportunity for me to make a difference and enhance the field of dermatology. Since I experienced this awakening, it has been my passion to educate others about the early diagnosis of melanoma and the most common locations this cancer can appear.
As a future dermatologist, I hope to work diligently to make it a requirement for grade schools to teach about the importance of sun protection and the dangers of tanning beds. I also have a strong interest in melanoma research and will continue to pledge my time to advancements in the field of dermatology.