Storytelling is an important part of our human experience. Through the honest telling of our own stories, we are able to relate to one another. MY Story was first incorporated into the UV Skinz blog so that people touched by melanoma or skin cancer could have the opportunity to share their experience; good or bad, happy ending or not. In the past, we have featured warriors, angels, and survivors in hopes that their stories will leave an impact about skin cancer and melanoma awareness.
This My Story is about Deanna; a survivor of melanoma, wife, and daughter. She bravely reached out to us after seeing our My Story Instagram post.
This is Deanna's story.
What type or stage of cancer did you have?
I was diagnosed with Classification T1 Malignant Melanoma on July 2017 at the age of 42. Prior to July 2017, I had never been to a dermatologist. I had a mole on my arm that had been there for as long as I can remember, but it started to change. It was changing shape, color, and would itch sometimes. I also noticed that I had a new spot on my shoulder that had appeared and never went away. That’s when I decided I should get to the dermatologist. They biopsied about 4 spots and the spot on my arm was the Melanoma and the spot on my back was basal cell.
When it was removed it left me with a six-inch scar on my arm. They removed 6 lymph nodes as well. To find the infected lymph nodes you have to be injected with a liquid that lights up a path to where the melanoma could spread. It has to be the most painful thing I have ever experienced.
What was the primary cancer treatment facility involved in your care and what was your experience there?
I was treated at the Lavine Cancer Institute in Charlotte, NC. I had a good experience there. Dr. White was really thorough and a patient advocate called a week or two before explaining everything to expect, what I should bring and how to be prepared for my appointment. They provided lots of resources and support groups.
What organizations were the most helpful to you?
The American Cancer Society and the Lavine Cancer Institute provided so much information along with my Dermatologist. I was pretty comfortable with the information that I found.
What would you say was the most impactful experience from your treatment?
My lifestyle is completely different because I was such an outdoor person. Now I find myself feeling anxious about staying outside too long. It (melanoma) does make you think about things differently. Rather than doing everything outside, I now do less outside. Then to think about the damage that it does to your body, the sun damage and the biopsies, it can be traumatic because it’s your appearance.
What would you most like people to know about yourself?
That I’m not the type of person to let this hold me back, I don’t want to dwell on it. Instead of living in the problem, I live in the resolution. Not that it doesn’t get discouraging sometimes.
What is your greatest source of strength and/or inspiration?
Both my husband and my mom helped me so much. My mom is my greatest source of inspiration because she went through breast cancer about 4 or 5 years ago. During my treatments, she came up from Florida to help while I was in surgery. Her battle helped me know that I could overcome mine.
Was tanning or sunbathing a significant factor in your developing melanoma?
Oh yes! I grew up in Southwest Florida and the beach was everything to me. I lived there for 30 years. I would run on the beach or take a quick trip to the pool. I wasn’t necessarily going there to get tan, I just loved the beach. The beach is were I relaxed, where I played, where I escaped and where I recharged. I just loved being outside in the natural sun light and feeling the warmth of the sun on my skin and never thought anything of it back then. I used tanning lotion, not sunscreen it wasn’t a thing. I only went to the beach for an hour at a time because I didn’t want to get burned. I was always careful of that.
How did your diagnosis change your life?
When I was told I had Melanoma, that all changed. It was scary to hear those words and wait for all of the tests to come back. The good news is, I had surgery that was successful in that all of the cancer was removed and the lymph nodes came back clear, so it hadn’t spread through my body. I also had Basal cell cancer on my body that has been removed. I was very lucky in that it was caught early enough, it is all gone and it didn’t spread.
My lifestyle is different now, and that’s okay. I wear sunscreen on a regular basis and have UV protective clothing, hats and headbands. I pay attention to the time of day that I am outdoors. I don’t stay in the sun for long periods of time and I keep an eye out for the closest shaded spots. I use my survivor scar on my arm as an educational tool for other people so they can take care of their skin before it’s too late.
Is there an inspirational quote or song that keeps you moving forward and gives you strength in your life?
The thought that other people have it worse, so keep it moving! Other people have it a lot worse than I have. It is just temporary, I’ll be fine.
What is the best advice you can give to someone who thinks that skin cancer won’t happen to them?
It can. I thought the same thing. Skin cancer does not discriminate. Even if you don’t end up with skin cancer the damage that the sun does to your skin will show up as you grow older. Especially people who use tanning beds.
Any final thoughts?
It’s one of the things that I never thought would happen to me and it did. It changed my lifestyle and I still have days that suck. I think it could be worse, but you still don’t want to have what I had because I have scars all over. Going into doctors appointments thinking something could be wrong, is always on my mind. Now that I’ve been through this there isn’t anything that I can’t handle. I would also urge people to use the resources and support groups that are offered.