As a child, I was hardly ever in the sun. Then came my teen years and the societal image of the tanned blue-eyed blonde seemed like it was the thing to do. By Grade 12, my fair skinned was brown from using tanning beds and I remembered someone commented on how healthy I looked. Using the tanning beds was the only way I could get a tan.
I was always a “moley” person and knew I needed to see a Dermatologist but never understood why. I would go for my annual checks and never thought twice when Dermatologists removed a mole. I can’t understand why I never even questioned these procedures. I was young and was must of thought I was invincible. I was not aware of the dangers of tanning.
It was my first-year teaching and my daughter was in kindergarten; I was 27. I saw a new Dermatologist, he gave me the once over and I pointed to a mole on my arm that was scabbing and bleeding at times. He removed it promptly. I got a phone call at work from a different Dermatologist, a melanoma specialist, who told me I had melanoma and that I needed to come in for various tests and a wide excision. My appointment was booked for the last day of school; something as a first-year teacher I looked forward to celebrating with students. I told him I couldn’t miss the last day and that HE didn’t get it. He was right that it was ME who didn’t get it. He then used the words skin cancer. Now I got it. A wide excision, lymph node removal and five years of surveillance is what was in store for me. My melanoma was 0.99m and no signs of metastasis. I will always be thankful for the guidance and caring nature of Dr. Thomas Salopek. I joined the Alberta Society of Melanoma and met many people who had experienced what I was going through. I was not alone. I will always remember the wonderful people I met along this journey including Tanny Nadon and Mary Johnston and have so much gratitude to the Alberta Society of Melanoma for having a patient support network.
Fast forward a decade and came a new chapter in my life. The birth of another daughter and son. I continued to see Dermatologists but more frequently. In 2014 I was blessed to come across Dr. Melody Cheung Lee. She met me for the first time and was so caring and empathetic. She saw a mole on my upper thigh and removed it. It came back as a melanoma however caught very early. I will always be thankful for her keen eye and gentle disposition. In 2017, I had 4 additional melanomas removed. In total, I have had 6 melanomas and multiple mole removals.
I am an advocate for myself and for others. I have experienced the wide range of emotions that come with being diagnosed with cancer and have faced misconceptions such as “it’s just skin cancer.” I try to make the most out of each day and live fearlessly.
I continue to teach full-time and enjoy my family. Volunteering for the Alberta Society of Melanoma to educate the public and see change in policies is a goal of mine. Working as a team and collaborating are at the heart of who I am, and I believe that we all have a voice. No matter where we are on this journey, it is our journey. Patient support and advocacy are at the foundation of this society which I hope to develop further. I am excited to be sharing this opportunity with Al Nak and members of the ASM. We are survivors.