In May of 2009, Courtney went to her doctor for a routine visit and happened to mention two moles she thought may be suspicious. The doctor didn’t think they were anything, but removed them anyways. A few weeks later, at the age of 26, she was told she had Melanoma. The first thing Courtney said was, "This is my fault. I spent too much time in the sun and tanning beds." The doctor reassured her that it was not her fault, which helped to relieve her guilt.
Courtney’s past experience with cancer was not good. Three of her grandparents died of cancer, although none of them had Melanoma. She was terrified and feared the worst. Even though the cancer had been caught very early, she worried that it could come back at a more advanced stage later in life.
She met with a plastic surgeon the day following her diagnosis. He told her that he would need to cut down to the muscle to make sure everything was completely removed, but since both moles were in the same general area, he would be able to do it with one large incision. Her surgery was scheduled for 2 days later. While she was glad that everything was moving quickly, it also reminded her of the seriousness of her diagnosis.
After a sleepless night she arrived at the hospital at 5:30 a.m. on the day of surgery. One of the pre-surgery steps was a cancer-dye test, which allows the doctors to see how the dye goes through the lymph nodes and better understand where the cancer has spread when a biopsy is being performed. Courtney describes this as, “quite possibly one of the worst things I have ever experienced in my life.”
Luckily, the surgery went well and it was determined that all of the cancer had been removed. She was relieved, but since she had a lot of moles on her body the concern never fully went away. About six months after her surgery she had 2 more moles removed that came back suspicious, so the doctor wanted more tissue to be removed to make sure it wasn’t more cancer. Luckily, this could be done under local anesthesia and everything came back ok.
The same thing happened a few months later and Courtney decided she could not keep going through this. The surgeon agreed to remove 20 moles, which meant another surgery, but this time Courtney was not as scared because she knew this would relieve a lot of concern and allow her to take control of her health. The surgery was a success and everything came back clear. Yet, Courtney’s fight against melanoma was not over. She had another scare with a swollen lymph node which required surgical removal, but luckily no more cancer.
It took Courtney awhile to recover emotionally from her diagnosis. She knows this is something she will have to deal with the rest of her life, but also knows she was very lucky to have caught it so early. She sees her oncologist and dermatologist every 3 months and her surgeon once a year. While all of these appointments can get a bit annoying, she knows she is in good hands and is being proactive about her health. She is also thankful for the support of her now-husband and parents through the entire process.
|Wearing her trusty sun hat|
She is more careful than ever about sun exposure and encourages others to be careful too. Additionally, she urges everyone to trust their instincts and be persistent if they think something is wrong. Her advice to others: “The next time you are working on your tan, put on a hat and an extra layer of sunscreen. Would you rather have pale skin or lots of scars? Well, I have both.”
May is Melanoma Awareness Month. To learn more visit the Skin Cancer Foundation.