Working for UV Skinz, I often come across inspiring and honest men and women who are living with melanoma. I discovered Donna and her blog, “Your Tan May be KILLING You” while doing some research within the melanoma community, and I immediately had to reach out to her and inquire if she’d like to be featured in one of our My Stories. As you can imagine, her blog writings focus on her journey with melanoma, and she actively educates others on the dangers of tanning and the seriousness of melanoma. Her writing is honest, sincere, and her experience is powerful. If you haven’t had a chance to check out her blog, you really should! But for now…
Here is Donna’s Story.
How did you discover you had Melanoma? What type or stage are you currently?
My husband found a mole on my back. Unfortunately, I didn’t do anything about it for over a year. I knew it wasn’t good, and I was terrified. Now I’m kicking myself for the delay, of course. I was diagnosed at Stage 3b, but moved to Stage 4 in November of 2012, when my first met was found.
What has been the primary cancer treatment facility involved in your care? What have your treatments been like?
Other than a very short time I was in a clinical trial last year, all of my treatment and surgeries (and an amazing team of surgeons) have been through Northshore University Health system here in the Chicago area. I’ve been very fortunate to have access to top notch medical care here, where I’ve lived all my life.
What would you say has been the single most impactful experience since your diagnosis?
I’ve had the privilege of meeting some fantastic people along melanoma road through online support groups. Many of us have attended fundraising walks through various organizations, and solidified those friendships in person. I will say that the friendships forged with those I haven’t met in person are just as strong as with those I have met.
What organizations have been the most helpful to you?
AIM at Melanoma has definitely been the most helpful. They provide so much great information and support!
What has been your biggest challenge since your diagnosis? And your greatest source of strength?
This is a tough question. I’m not sure whether it was the yearlong interferon treatments or all the surgeries. I would have been happy to pass on either. Without question my biggest source of strength has been my family, and specifically my husband. From day one of this mess he’s been by my side and hasn’t even flinched. We’ve basically got an army of family and friends who will be there for us whatever we need. We’re very fortunate.
You recently had your fourth craniotomy. Can you tell us about what this procedure is like?
That surgery was last Tuesday, June 2. It had to be moved up a day and was done as an emergency because the tumor had started to bleed into my brain. Darn things are so unstable. I was able to come home Friday and I’m doing my best to rest and heal. Believe it or not, I find craniotomies to be easier to heal from than a belly surgery. And less painful too. They’re also a shorter hospital stay which is good for everyone. In total, I have had 9 melanoma-related surgeries since my diagnosis in 2011.
Do you believe tanning or sunbathing was a significant factor in your development of melanoma?
I absolutely believe that indoor and outdoor tanning were contributing factors to my diagnosis. Science has proven that UV radiation causes cancer. There is zero reason not to believe that.
How has living with melanoma changed your life?
The emotional toll that any cancer takes on cancer patients and their families and friends is tough, but I have far fewer bad days than good. I refuse to let this cancer take over my life. I have cancer. It does not have me.
Is there a quote, song, or book that helps or inspires you that you would like to share with our readers?
My friends send me songs regularly. This is the most recent and one I really love. Rachel Platten – Fight Song.
What advice would you give someone who thinks skin cancer won’t happen to them?
One of the things we say frequently in the melanoma community is that people won’t get til they get it (melanoma that is). Skin cancer can and will happen to you, especially if you’re not protecting yourself. I beg people to use sunscreen and wear protective clothing and sunglasses and a hat, but above all else to stay out of tanning beds at all costs.