According to the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Facts and Figures for 2015, an estimated 73,870 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in the US, with 9,940 men and women dying from the cancer this year. For April Salinas, her world was turned upside down after a biopsy of a spot on her scalp came back as Stage 3 Melanoma. Despite the harrowing diagnosis, April has chosen a life of health and positivity, promoting sun safety and skin cancer awareness whenever she is able.
Here is April’s story.
How did you discover you had melanoma? What type or stage did/do you have?
I suddenly started feeling a small spot on my head, almost like a scab. I wasn’t too concerned about it, until I would feel it again and be reminded that it was still there. Finally, I became concerned that maybe it was a tick or something. I had my Mom look at it, and she recommended I go to the dermatologist asap. By this time, after having the area tested, the results put me at having Stage 3 Melanoma. Never thought to check under my hair!
What has been the primary cancer treatment facility involved in your care? What have treatments been like for you?
I feel like in a span of a few months, I was at many facilities and met so many doctors…all of which have been exceptional and informative. However, my 2 main surgeries were at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, PA. Post surgeries I discussed treatment options and follow-ups at Fox Chase Cancer Hospital in Philadelphia, PA. Since my last scan was found to be clean, I will check in with them sporadically, but for now, I am alternating PET and CAT scans every couple months at Gray’s Woods (through Geisinger), near my home in State College, PA (thank goodness!). And of course regular appointments with my dermatologist. We discussed the choice of Interferon but opted to hold off.
What would you say has been the most impactful experience from your skin cancer diagnosis and treatment?
Honestly, one of the worst things that have impacted me is what was involved in the initial surgery. The fact that the spot was on my scalp, meant that they had to completely shave off the top of my head to get the area and all of the cells around it removed. Growing up with a head of long thick wavy hair, this was extremely hard to cope with at first and was a huge self-confidence check. And it’s not like the surgeons were necessarily skilled hairdressers …needless to say, I have adjusted and made do with my new style, wearing hats and wigs until my hair grows back enough and I feel comfortable sporting a short hairdo. But in the long run, I know that I am blessed to have lost some hair, and not my life. I’ll also never forget when the doctors called me soon after and said my lymph nodes showed signs of the cancer, so I would have to go back for round 2; a complete right neck dissection which involved a drainage tube hanging from my chest for over a week. I was at my lowest point then.
You have plans to run the Ironman in Maryland. Can you tell us a little bit about why you’ve chosen to run this race, and what you hope to accomplish after completing it? How can people help?
Suddenly having to go through some rough surgeries and recovery periods, just made me think about how quickly things can happen and about the type of person I want to be for as long as I can. While I was fortunate enough to get through this battle right now, you never know what can come back or occur down the road. One of my goals has always been to compete in a full Ironman, as I’m a big runner and have done some triathlons, including a half-ironman. I also threw in the aspect of accomplishing it before I’m 30 (1.5 years away!). Not only will it be an emotional indescribable experience to complete the race for myself, but I also want to illustrate to people that despite hardships you may endure, things will get better and life goes on. Keep moving forward, be positive, have faith, and set your mind to accomplish your goals. Never let go of what you’re passionate about. I thought it would be a great way to combine everything by holding a fundraiser to promote this aspect, while also raising awareness for skin cancer prevention and research. People can log on to my Ironrays site through Crowdrise and donate to my cause and follow my journey for the next 10 months. The money goes towards the organization Outrun the Sun, and your support goes towards cheering me and my undertaking on. I want to inspire and protect others! The more money I raise, also leads to occasional prizes be given out to donors and other fun contests. After completion of Ironman Maryland, I plan to continue running and competing and still be an advocate for skin cancer awareness, sun safety, and just being a positive motivated person. Please check out my site!
I want to illustrate to people that despite hardships you may endure, things will get better and life goes on.
What has been your biggest challenge since your diagnosis?
Besides dealing with new hairstyles, as I mentioned before, I also had to get used to having a large scar on my neck that people would stare at. The right side of my face/neck is numb and for a while, I had a limited range of motion in my right side/shoulder but I do feel that gradually coming back. A little over a month after my surgery, I competed in the Spartan Beast World Championships, despite being unable to do a lot of the obstacles. And lastly, I guess another challenge is just accepting the fact that I have some regrets about things I could have done differently in the past to maybe have prevented Melanoma from happening to me. And also acknowledging some precautions I will now need to do in the future to hopefully prevent it from ever coming back. I love the sun and always will….but I also respect it immensely now.
What would you most like people to know about you?
Fitness, food, and fun are who are I am. The important thing is that you keep a healthy and safe perspective on all three. I’ve learned that being an overall in- shape individual not only helps out on the athlete scene but also in the surgery room, in recovery, and in bouncing back on your feet. I love enjoying life, what it has to offer and the many people apart of it. I try to work with what I’m given and not give up. I’m certainly not perfect, I’m just trying to pursue my passion and do some good while I’m at it. In my own way, I will be as strong and as positive that I can be for as long as I can.
Is there an inspirational quote, song, or book that inspires you that you’d like to share?
My Mom raised me to believe that “Everything Happens for A Reason” and just to have faith. I’m a firm believer in this even though sometimes its hard to think of what the damn reason could be. But be patient and time will usually tell. Fighting Melanoma has definitely made me a stronger person and gave me another purpose in life. I felt inspired to create IronRays.
“Don’t think about how weak you are. Think about how strong you’re going to be.”
“Remember, the future comes one day at a time.” (Or in runners’ terms, one “mile” at a time!)
What advice would you give someone who thinks skin cancer won’t happen to them or someone they love?
I guess I would say, that is exactly what I thought too. I was pretty much healthy overall and had (and still do) a good fortunate life going on and basically had the mindset that yes it does happen to people but I’m sure I will sneak by. Things happen in life all of the time to people and you never know when, why or to who. I’m all for living your life, but if there are simple things one can do to prevent deadly or detrimental things from happening to your body then do it! Put on sunscreen, avoid tanning beds, and keep tabs on your body or funny spots. I’ve always considered myself a tough person and I don’t like to rush to the doctors but sometimes you do have to be on guard. I should have gotten that spot on my head looked at right away. But I didn’t. And finally, if you long for that skin color, there are enough decent quality lotions out there that can moisturize your skin as well as give it a pleasant natural-looking hue. Play it safe because you never know when it might be too late.