Sometimes that unimaginable happens. Then, it happens again. This was the case for Leah Adams' family when both she and her father were diagnosed with skin cancer melanoma within only a few months of each other.
This is their story, as told by Leah.I always told myself “it’ll never happen to me”. Until it did. On October 14, 2019, I received the call that totally turned my world upside down: "you have stage IA melanoma". I remember my heart and stomach sinking at the same time, all of my unhealthy skin and sun habits flashing before my eyes, and feeling completely lost. One routine skin check revealed more than I ever thought I had to face at 26 years old. I felt a heavy fear that I've never had before take over my body. This fear lasted for weeks.
After 4 appointments, 1 surgery, and 1 sentinel lymph node biopsy, I heard the incredible news that the melanoma had been removed from my chest and the tests indicated that the cancer hadn't spread to my organs. I am blessed to be one of the lucky ones who received good news: the cancer was caught early through treatment. However, my life has been forever changed from my diagnosis.
My diagnosis was difficult to hear but it was even more difficult to think of all the things I could have done to prevent the cancer from forming in the first place. I can say I’m a melanoma survivor for now, but I still have (and will always have) the anxiety about the cancer coming back. I will have a heightened chance of skin cancer recurrence for the rest of my life.
I don’t think there’s anything to gain by keeping the experience I had with skin cancer to myself. We all had or will have seasons of life like this. Times that feel impossible, unbearable or unfair. But they pass and then you’re left with a battle scar that will tell a story. No matter what kind you have, any type of cancer diagnosis takes both a physical and emotional toll on one’s body. From this experience, my perspective on health and beauty is forever shifted and my heart is forever thankful for all the people that have been with me through this, providing constant support, prayers and encouragement every step of the way.My personal experience with melanoma was only part of what made me so passionate about spreading awareness about the disease. My dad was actually diagnosed with Stage 0 melanoma a month or so before I was initially diagnosed (his diagnoses was actually what brought me to initially go get my skin checked which lead to my diagnoses). His melanoma was removed off of his back in an outpatient procedure and he was told to just return every 6 months for check ups. But, flash forward to January of this year, and my dad unfortunately had a seizure while driving due to bleeding on his brain caused by lesions that resemble metastatic melanoma. He was hospitalized and more tests were done in which they also found similar lesions on his lungs. Instead of going into the brain for a biopsy, the doctors chose a lung biopsy to test what the lesions were. The results came back indicating that the lesions were metastatic melanoma.
Since my dad had his seizure, he has not been able to work or drive. He is currently undergoing treatment for melanoma which includes gamma knife radiation for the brain and immunotherapy for the lungs. Since my dad and I both had melanoma and we are aware that his father (my grandfather) also had skin cancer, my dad and I are both enrolled in a research study and are also currently undergoing genetic counseling. We don’t know if my dad’s prognosis is a Stage 0 that spread or if this is more genetic. We also don’t know if my melanoma was caused by UV exposure over time or if mine is more genetic as well. This whole experience has really shown me how important it is to know your genes, health history and body. Even though I am sad that my dad has to go through this, I am glad that we are able to fight this cancer together. It is something we now share and, since his diagnosis, we have been spending so much quality time together. Having cancer makes you really appreciate the small wins and the little things in life that truly make a BIG difference.
I share my story along with my dad's to (1) raise awareness and (2) encourage everyone who hears or reads it to go get their skin checked. Since my diagnosis in 2019, I have to go to a routine skin check every 3 months. At every 3 month check, there has been at least 1 mole removed off my body for additional testing. These skin checks are anxiety inducing and I relive the fear and worry from October 2019 every single time. Besides my melanoma treatment, in 2020 I had another scare of a Spitz Nevus on my leg which resembled melanoma under a microscope and I had to have another surgery to get that removed. I never thought I or my dad would have to go through this journey, but skin cancer doesn’t discriminate. So moving forward, I plan on using my story and my journey to make others aware of their most important organ; their skin. Since my diagnosis, I no longer use tanning beds, I wear sunscreen & wear UPF clothing. It is so important to take care of our skin. We only have one life and one body so we must take care of it. My dad and I now have this bond and we both know that cancer messed with the wrong family and we will continue to fight.